In Tess of the d’Urbervilles critics have often drawn attention to the way all the characters, but especially Tess herself, seem to be under the control of an external force that conspires against them. Tess Durbeyfield is an ordinary country girl, but her life and death are affected by the fortunes of her predecessors, the ancient d’Urberville family. She is bound by the past; doomed from the outset, she will inevitably repeat what has gone before. Her death seems inevitable and also insignificant – Angel is able to replace her with her younger sister, ‘Liza – Lu. Even when she is at her happiest, in the Valley of the Great Dairies, her position is likened to that of ‘a fly on a billiard table of indefinite length, and of no more consequence to the surroundings than that fly.’ The past is shown to determine the present and this is depicted in the landscape, in communities and in the lives of individuals.

Tess tries to cope with the constriction of fate by trying to capture and live just for the present:

"‘Don’t think of what’s past!’ said she. ‘I am not going to think

outside of now. Why should we! Who knows what tomorrow has

in store?’"

She learns to reject history (Chapter 19) and the future (Chapters 15 and 19), and she tries to teach this to Angel, her attitude being then means through which she creates the short period of happiness they have together. However, this is brought about by a deliberate act that both makes this interlude possible and also is the means for its end: Alec’s murder. Thus Hardy seems to be telling the reader that the individual is never totally free to act. Life is predestines and so passivity is preferable to willfulness.


Hardy explores in extensive detail the relationship of humanity to nature. This is done by juxtaposing nature with social convention. The dictates of society condemn Tess. The event in The Chase would have been seen as simply a lesson learnt within nature. This would have allowed her simply to "veil bygones" as the "recuperative power which pervaded organic nature was surely not denied to maidenhood alone". Nature brings pleasure and happiness to the lives of people; Tess is uplifted by her wanderings in the world around her:

"…some spirit within her rose automatically as the sap in the twigs.

it was unexpected youth, surging up anew after its temporary

check, and bringing with it hope, and the invincible instinct towards


The other side of nature, though, can be immensely cruel: "the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing". Hardy does not present an idealized portrait of nature. In presenting it honestly, describing its charms and also its more unattractive features, his depiction of nature is fuller and sensual. Hardy presents a certain malignity in nature, and Hardy uses it both as a presence and as an idea. In the form of the seasons it is used to add structure to the novel and to people’s lives. It is used as the norm against which characters and situations are judged, as well as a force acting on them:

"A particularly fine spring came round, and the stir of germination

was almost audible in the buds; it moved her, as it moved the wild

animals, and made her passionate to go."

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