Howe, Irving. "Let the Day Perish." Twentieth Century Interpretations ofTESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES. Ed. Albert LaValley. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice--Hall, 1969. 62-68. Howe explains that Hardy's frequent concern is based on the development of the full and complete woman, not a stereotype. He also contends that Hardy was effective in showing that Irving Howe's article on Tess of the D'Urbervilles focuses on the characterization of Tess and the dominant role she plays in the novel. Howe believes she is both the central or key character of the novel and a model of perfected behavior, a natural woman rising above the repressive morality of her times. Howe's opening passages deal with the full range of Hardy's work and his patterns as a novelist. "And he had a strong appreciation of the manipulative and malicious powers that might be gathered beneath a surface of delight" (Howe 62). Howe explains that Hardy's frequent concern is based on the development of the full and complete woman, not a stereotype. He also contends that Hardy was effective in showing the domestic side of women as a kind of nobility. Tess, according to Howe, is both milkmaid and model of feminine strength. What happens to Tess throughout the novel is always the reader's primary concern. "In her violation, neglect and endurance, Tess comes to seem Hardy's most radical claim for the redemptive power of suffering" (Howe 63). Her emotions are genuine and her suffering tends to make her stronger, qualities the reader must admire. Howe explains that the character development of Tess is done in opposition to the Victorian values of his time. Hardy is able to "... take hold of a cultural stereotype and, through the sheer intensity of his affection, pare |
|and purify it into something that is morally ennobling" (Howe 63). Her basic nobility of character and sense of honor become more important than moral codes. Howe shows that her mistakes are enacted through Christian beliefs as opposed to social morality. Related to the previous concept, Howe feels it is unfair to consider Tess as an immoral person. Hardy never intends to have the reader judge her. "...we do not care to judge Tess at all: we no longer feel ourselves qualified" (Howe 64). Hardy, according to Howe, wants to show the pure and innocent side of life, qualities of an innocent person who can be admired but also exploited. Though Hardy was a writer of the modern period, Howe states that his works reflect romantic values. "His romanticism enabled Hardy to break past the repressions of the Protestant ethic and move into a kindlier climate shared by Christian charity and pagan acceptance..." (Howe 64). Howe adds that this background made Hardy unique among the writers of his time. Howe shows the reader that Tess practices true Christian virtues, virtue that Hardy highly values. "Tess is finally one of the great images of human possibility, conceived in the chaste, and chastening, spirit of the New Testament" (Howe 65). According to Howe, Tess has an understanding of true human values that she knows through instinct, not religious teachings. Howe believes that this novel provides few important elements beyond Tess's characterization. This was done so the focus would be fixed on Tess. "None of the secondary figures has much interest in his own right, apart from his capacity to illuminate and enlarge the experience of Tess..." (Howe 65). The other characters, states Howe, are only there for expanding the reader's understanding of Tess. |
| Howe contends that the plot is not very important to the quality of the novel. "As for the plot, it seems in isolation a paltry thing, a mere scraping together of bits and pieces from popular melodrama" (Howe 65-66). Howe also explains that the plot links a series of episodes in which Tess is the chief figure. Tess takes "... a journey in which each place of rest becomes a test for the soul and the function of plot is largely to serve as an agency for transporting the central figure from one point to another" (Howe 66). Thus, while the plot serves an important function, it lacks in complexity. The reader, in Howe's opinion, admires Tess because she rises above unjustified mortality and continually rebounds from tragedy:
What matters in Tess of the D'Urbevilles, what pulses most strongly
and gains our deepest imaginative complicity, is the figure of Tess herself...
She is human life stretched and racked, yet forever springing back to renewal
Howe, again, contends that, as a character, Tess is unique and the author's chief reason for writing the novel. According to Howe, while telling Tess's story, Hardy makes his perceptions of life and fairness equally important to those of Tess. "Only one 'character' is almost as important as Tess, and that is Hardy himself" (Howe 68). Still, Howe contends that Hardy's sympathy does not make him protect Tess from the impending tragedy she must face. In the end, Howe believes that this novel may more about Hardy's feelings on human tragedy than the story of one tragic character: These passages [Hardy's philosophizing] are not merely inert bits of intellectual flotsam marring a powerful narrative. They are evidence of Hardy's concern, tokens of his bafflement before the agony of the world (Howe 68). For the astute reader, both elements, Tess's tragedy and Hardy's philosophizing on man's state, have great value.