Final Essay of English Literature
- With reference to a passage in Chapter 47 of Tess (p. 255), Williams writes:
But this powerful vision of an alien machine must not blind us to thefact that this is also an action in a story—the action of a real threshing-machine.It stands in that field and works those hours because it has been hired, not byindustrialism but by a farmer. And there are whole human beings trying to keepup with it and with him (Williams, TheCountry and the City, 212).
Writean essay responding to this statement. You should pay special attention to thepassage Williams cites and its context in Tess.
As Williams mentioned in Wessex and the Border, the famous descriptionof the thresher in Tess has alwaysbeen proposed by critics as the evidence to prove that the novel intends topresent the opposite relation between foreign industrial civilization and thesimple country life.
However, this kind ofinterpretation tends to be idealized and simplistic. Williams' comments pointedout that the former critics could only see the strange machine, and theyconsidered it as a symbol of industrial civilization sloppy and roughly. Industrialwas simplified into several machines and was considered a monster ruining thepeaceful country life. On the other hand, they tended to emphasize the idealharmonious communion between man and nature, taking rural life as a flawlessand natural abstraction, rather than focus on the complexity of real ruralsociety. We can call it a kind of imagination or psychological projection ofthe country. The problem is that it only wants to focus on the purity and peaceof country life, but hides the miserable life of laborers in different classes.
If we investigate the Hardy'svernacular narrative in a historical background, such as the structure of ruralclasses and the situation in economic changes of the era, we will find that hisnarrative essentially reproduces the phenomena of alienation and estrangement betweenman and nature, and the historical inevitability of this phenomenon. That’swhat Williams wanted to present through citing the plot of thresher.
According to Williams, there were threebasic classes in the country of England in the 19th century, which were therelatively rich land owners, tenant farmers and poor agricultural laborers.However, In the country there was another group of people who didn’t own landsor engage in the agricultural. Hardy mentioned this in Tess：
However, all the mutations so increasinglydiscernible in village life did not originate entirely in the agriculturalunrest. A depopulation was also going on. The village had formerly contained,side by side with the agricultural labourers, an interesting and betterinformed class, ranking distinctly above the former - the class to which Tess'sfather and mother had belonged - and including the carpenter, the smith, theshoemaker, the huckster, together with nondescript workers other than farm-laborers;a set of people who owed a certain stability of aim and conduct to the fact oftheir being life-holders like Tess's father, or copyholders, or, occasionally,small freeholders. （chapter51）
Tess's father was a small dealer, and Hardybelonged to the same class. Most people of the class was educated in somedegree, and was different from agricultural laborer in many aspects. We shouldn’tblur the boundaries of different classes in the countryside or consider all themain characters in Hardy’s novels as literately farmers. It is not accurate toconsider Hardy as a farmer, either. And Hardy is very sensitive about classesin his novels.
This kind of classwas relatively free but unstable, so they has a unique liquidity and a special sense ofinsecurity. In economic changes, the fear of falling into agricultural laborerswas all around Tess. From this aspect we can understand why Tess was out ofstep with agricultural life. Despite Tess thought herself higher than theagricultural laborers, but she just keep the surface of this scenery. The deathof the old horse indicated that Tess’ family will face the embarrassedsituation of life. If Tess did not back to Alec after her father’s death, herfamily would fall into the lowest working class.
This kind of situation forced Tess totry to escape from the rural life and use marriage to change the situation andrise her class. Tess was in the face of a dilemma: departure or return; go forwardor backward? Hardy arranged two men in Tess’s life, one represents thedeviation of rural life and nd the other one represents the return and movingbackward. However, due to the contradiction of Tess's personality, she didn't catchany one.
When she firstcame to Alec’s house, she could see the new grange, which was different fromthe ancient grove and the contrast between old aristocracy and new squire, whichshows the great changes in rural life. But Tess failed when she foundthat Alec was unwilling to marry her. When she worked in Alec’s farm, although shehad to do agricultural labors along with the lowest class, she kept distancewith them, which proved the former point:
To Tess'shorror the dark queen began stripping off the bodice of her gown - which forthe added reason of its ridiculed condition she was only too glad to be free of- till she had bared her plump neck, shoulders, and arms to the moonshine,under which they looked as luminous and beautiful as some Praxitelean creation,in their possession of the faultless rotundities of a lusty country girl.
She closed her fists and squaredup at Tess.
“Indeed, then, I shall not fight!'said the latter majestically; “and if I had known you was of that sort, Iwouldn't have so let myself down as to come with such a whorage as this is!” (chapter 10)
For Angle, the naturalenvironment cured his lost in spirit. Obviously his love for Tess was based onnatural imagination of woman and the country life. Angel thought Tess was"natural" and gave her a pure innocence and imagination. Since hedidn’t get rid of the traces of the city, it’s quite normal that theimagination burst when he knew Tess’s past experience. The relationship betweenman and nature is similar to the relationship between Tess and Angel, and is unableto return to the original harmonious state. Considering women as naturalagents is a kind of fixed understanding and imaginative projection of man. Thiskind of relationship is very similar to the projection of country from city:
But those of the other sexwere the most interesting of this company of binders, by reason of the charmwhich is acquired by woman when she becomes part and parcel of outdoor nature,and is not merely an object set down therein as at ordinary times. A field-manis a personality afield; a field-woman is a portion of the field; she hassomehow lost her own margin, imbibed the essence of her surrounding, andassimilated herself with it.(chapter 14)
We can interpret thepassage Williams cited in the same way, and the former description can beconnected with it. Williams said, “Hardy thus achieves a fullness which isquite new, at this depth, in all country writing: the love and the work, theaches of labor and of choice, are in a single dimension.” Hardy's vernacular narrativehas an inner tension. On one hand, he reproduced the natural images in the perspectivefrom the city as well as the natural images of rural women. On the other hand, heindicated the contradiction between Tess and agricultural lifestyle.
By reading Williams’ Wessex and the Border, we can know thatmost critics consider the narrative of the natural environment in Hardy’snovels as real objective things, but neglect the subjective fiction of natureand the cultural connotation in it. There is no denying that Hardy's Wessex isa fictional world based on his hometown Dorset. His nature is the humanizednature, containing the projection of his individual personal emotions and thecognition of cultural psychology of this era. Different from Williams, mostcritics ignored the inspection of Hardy’s special social status and livingconditions, and they also ignored the fact that Hardy's thought had experienceda process of gradually development. It’s an important view that will help meread books in the future.