tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
Important Quotations Explained
1. “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!”
In this passage, from Chapter I, the local parson informs Mr. Durbeyfield of his grand lineage, thus setting in motion the events that change the fate of Tess Durbeyfield forever. Interestingly, the parson's tone is casual, as if he is unable even to conceive of how his news might lead to tragedy later. For the parson it is genealogical trivia, but for Durbeyfield it feels like fate—the deepest truth
about himself, like Oedipus's discovery of his own identity. The fact that this prophetic news is delivered on the road, in an open field, right at the beginning of the work is reminiscent of the opening of Macbeth. There, the witches address Macbeth as “Thane of Cawdor” and “King of Scotland,” just as the parson addresses Durbeyfield as “Sir John.” As in Macbeth's case, the noble address leads to disaster and death—in this case, the death of the “rightful”
Hardy emphasizes the irony of Durbeyfield's situation not only by contrasting the common peddler on the road with the image of the “renowned knight” who was his forebear, but also by contrasting the modes of address of Durbeyfield and the parson. The parson has just addressed him as “Sir John,” which sets the whole conversation in motion, but we see here that the parson soon lapses back into the familiar tone more appropriate to one addressing a social inferior: “Don't you really know, Durbeyfield. . . . “ Durbeyfield does the same: despite his discovery that he is Sir John, it is he who calls the parson “sir” here. The ironies multiply, making questions of class and identity complex and unstable, as Hardy intends to depict them.
2. 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 Clare begins to sleepwalk on the third night of his estrangement from Tess, having rejected her as his wife because of her earlier disgrace. Like Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene, Angel's nighttime somnambulism reveals an inner conflict within a character who earlier seems convinced of a moral idea, in control, and inflexible. For Lady Macbeth, her earlier cold protestations that killing a king is justifiable are belied by her unconscious fixation on being bloodstained. For Angel, the situation is reversed. He consciously maintains a conviction that Tess is bad, corrupt, and cannot be forgiven, but his unconscious sleepwalking self reveals the tender love and moral respect for her (“so good, so true!”) that he feels somewhere inside him. This revelation foreshadows his final realization, too late, that his condemnation of Tess was wrongheaded. Angel's words “dead, dead, dead” hint at Tess's future death, but they also signal Angel's conception of Tess. She is alive physically, but for him she is dead morally, as dead as an idea of purity that he once revered.