“Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?” “Never heard it before, sir!”
Taken from Chapter I, the local parson advises Mr. Durbeyfield of his lineage to the wealthy d’Urberville family, thus setting in motion the turn of events that will forever alter the fate of Tess Durbeyfield. Interestingly, the tone used by the parson remains casual, almost as if he is incapable of imagining how this news might result in tragedy later on. The parson sees this as genealogical trivia, but Mr. Durbeyfield believes it to be fate.
Clare came close, and bent over her. “Dead, dead, dead!” he murmured. After fixedly regarding her for some moments with the same gaze of unmeasurable woe he bent lower, enclosed her in his arms, and rolled her in the sheet as in a shroud. Then lifting her from the bed with as much respect as one would show to a dead body, he carried her across the room, murmuring, “My poor poor Tess, my dearest darling Tess! So sweet, so good, so true!” The words of endearment, withheld so severely in his waking hours, were inexpressibly sweet to her forlorn and hungry heart. If it had been to save her weary life she would not, by moving or struggling, have put an end to the position she found herself in. Thus she lay in absolute stillness, scarcely venturing to breathe, and, wondering what he was going to do with her, suffered herself to be borne out upon the landing. “My wife—dead, dead!” he said.
In chapter XXXVII, Angel starts to sleepwalk on the 3rd night of his fight with Tess, he has rejected his wife due to her earlier problems. Angel’s sleepwalking reveals an inner struggle with a character that is convinced that he can be in control of his own moral ideas. He consciously maintains that Tess is corrupt, bad and incapable of his forgiveness. But, while asleep, his conscious self reveals her to be worthy of his love.
Under the trees several pheasants lay about, their rich plumage dabbled with blood; some were dead, some feebly twitching a wing, some staring up at the sky, some pulsating quickly, some contorted, some stretched out—all of them writhing in agony except the fortunate ones whose tortures had ended during the night by the inability of nature to bear more. With the impulse of a soul who could feel for kindred sufferers as much as for herself, Tess’s first thought was to put the still living birds out of their torture, and to this end with her own hands she broke the necks of as many as she could find, leaving them to lie where she had found them till the gamekeepers should come, as they probably would come, to look for them a second time. “Poor darlings—to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours!” she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the birds tenderly.
Towards the end of chapter XLI, Tess stumbles upon a group of pheasants. The dying birds are said to symbolize her own condition. The scene is unexpected and out of character as there have not yet been scenes of killing in the novel. The farming imagery was associated with production, but never with loss or sacrifice. Hunting is different, hunting kills animals, sometimes without reason.
As soon as she drew close to it she discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she was quite overcome, and sank down nigh to fainting, not however till she had recognized Alec d’Urberville in the form. He leapt off the slab and supported her. “I saw you come in,” he said smiling, “and got up there not to interrupt your meditations. A family gathering, is it not, with these old fellows under us here? Listen.” He stamped with his heel heavily on the floor; whereupon there arose a hollow echo from below. “That shook them a bit, I’ll warrant,” he continued. “And you thought I was the mere stone reproduction of one of them. But no. The old order changeth. The little finger of the sham d’Urberville can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath. . . . Now command me. What shall I do?”
Having sought shelter in the church in chapter LII, Tess ventures out on a walk one evening, and comes upon her family vault and Alec d’Urberville. The irony expressed by the author is: the knowledge that Tess is part of the d’Urberville line results in her tragic encounter with Alec, and, here her ancestors and Alec are united in front of her eyes. The two main factors in her depressed fate are joined for her to bare witness.
“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing. The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to the earth, as if in prayer, and remained there a long time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on.
The final passage in Chapter LIX, at the end of the novel. Its tone suggests the narrator is weak to the ways of the world, and is familiar with the tendency of life to always end this way. There is nothing great achieved by this ending. Liza-Lu and Angel ‘went on’ in the end, just as life will ultimately ‘go on.’
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