Thomas Hardy was considered a fatalist. Fatalism is a view of life which insists that all action everywhere is controlled by nature of things or by a power superior to things. It grants the existence of fate, a great impersonal, a primitive force, existing from all eternity, absolutely independent of human wills, superior even to any god whom humans may have invented. The power of fate is embracing and is more difficult to understand than the gods. The scientific parallel of fatalism is determinism. It acknowledges, that man’s struggle against the will behind things, is not to take advantage, but does decree that the laws of cause and effect must not be suspended. Determinism explains the conditions which fatalism describes. The use of fatalism for extending the plot was a technique used by many Victorian authors, but with Thomas Hardy it became something more than a simple device.
Due to his fatalistic view of life, Hardy presents the character of Tess as having a many forces working against her efforts to control her destiny. Fate approaches Tess in many different forms. Fate is through chance and coincidence, and the manisfestations of nature, time, and woman. The basis of Thomas Hardy’s fatalism is seen in his youthful actions and the very first works he wrote, and there is a gradual development up to the day of his death. He had a fatalistic outlook throughout his whole life. In fact, even his birth seemed to be caused by a twist of fate.
When Hardy was born, the doctor pronounced him dead. He was thrown aside until fate stepped in and a nurse realized that Hardy was in fact alive. Probably because of this, Hardy never felt that his life was worth it. He felt that his stoically born life was a record of unhappiness. He believed that fate gives it?s back to man. Hardy incorporates these feelings into the novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Fateful incidents, overheard conversations, and undelivered letters are symbols of how fate can be against man.
Hardy grew up in the countryside of a small village of Egdon Heath. There he could carefully observe the regularity of natural changes. Hardy lived in an age of transition which added to his melancholy view of life. The industrial revolution was in the process of destroying the agricultural life and the nature that he was so fond of. The shift of population caused a disintegration of rural customs and traditions which meant security, stability, and dignity for the people. It was a period when fundamental beliefs (religious, social, scientific, and political) were shaken to their very core and brought in their stead the “ache of modernism”. Hardy’s early struggle with religious problems was an important factor in in viewss of fatalism.
As a child, it was Hardy’s dream to become a parson. He had several clerical relatives who supported him in his goal. His grandfather, father, uncle, brother, cousin, and two sisters had been musicians in various churches. As a young man, he read church lessons and became curious of the different religions of Christianity. He couldn’t understand that if each religion believed in the same god how they could practice their faith so differently. This bothered him and eventually resulted in his conversion to a fatalistic approach to life. Hardy’s loss of religious belief was very painful and this brought deep struggles, but his new belief of fatalism helped him to write many great works.
Hardy’s fatalistic philosophy is expressed the most in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, than in any of his other pieces. Actually there is similarities between Tess’s life and Hardy’s life. Chance and coincidence is present in Tess but in a negative way. Throughout the novel it is often realized that coincidences could have taken place but they didn?t. Meetings which might have saved many lives are usually missed by a few moments. A good example of this can be found in the beginning pages of Tess. When Angel Clare and his two brothers, pass through Tess’s village and see her and her friends dancing on the grass. He observes for a while and then chooses a partner. He “took almost the first that came to hand”, but he didn’t take Tess. After dancing a short time he left, not noticing her at all. Hardy probably adds this part to make the readers realize that if Angel had selected Tess for his dancing mate, both of them would have escaped their tragic end.
In fact, almost every chance that Tess takes and every coincidence she encounters, brings her sadness. For example, she took a chance and helped her parents by going to the market for them, but she ended up killing the family’s horse. A similar desire sends her to the d’Urbervilles. In her desire to escape from a group of vulgar women, she is thrown into the clutches of Alec d’Urberville. Later, her baby dies of cold and hunger, because for the sake of honor, she refuses to take another chance with Alec, by refusing the help he offers. Her marriage with Angel Clare is wrecked because by her code of honor she must tell him of her affair with Alec. What a different story this would have been if Angel had not caught sight of the d’Urberville lady outside Tess’s chamber. He probably would have weakened and entered the room with similar results. If Tess had not overheard the conversation of Angel’s brothers and had followed through on her plans to visit her parents, she probably would not have met Alec again and her entire life would have been changed.
Nature is used as an evil agent in Hardy?s works. Fate appears in the form of nature, and it affects the lives of each character. It’s main function is to show how man is defenseless against fate. Nature usually gives the impression of being content, but as Hardy shows us, nature can be sinister, becoming more of a character than a setting. This can be seen with this description “The night came in, and took up its place there, unconcerned and indifferent; the night which had already swallowed up his happiness, and was now a thousand other people with as little disturbance or change of mien” (Chapter 35).
Hardy has shown very clearly in Tess that he considers time one of the principals of Fate. Hardy uses time with the importance of the moment, and the disillusionment and change that come with the years. First is how important just a couple of seconds are the other how little really matters in a thousand years or more. There is huge importance placed on the moment, for time is a many great moments. Moments of joy may be turned into bitterness by time. Love may be changed by time. For example, when Angel and Tess knew that “though the fascination with each had exercised over the other…would probably in their first days of separation be even more potent than ever, time must attenuate that effect…when two people are once parted…new growths insensibly bud upwards to fill each vacated place; unforeseen accidents hinder intentions, and old plans are forgotten” (Chapter 36). To be summed up, this means reason should triumph over passion. That?s they way it shouldn?t be, but the novel is portraid in that way.
Woman is fate’s most important instrument for opposing man’s happiness. Hardy believes that woman is helpless in the hands of fate and carries out fate’s work. Hardy unifies his action around a central figure, usually a woman. In search for love, the motivating passion of her life, women become the true carriers of thier own destiny. Tess and the dairy maids are a good example. Tess sees no harm in deceit, if there’s anything to be gained by it. Deceit leads to tragedy. Had Tess told Angel of her secret affair with Alec, both, perhaps, would have been spared. She was undecided about telling him, and waited until her confession led to the disaster.
It is in the combination of these characteristics that most often destroys man. In the hands of fate, woman act as an agent in carrying out it?s work for man in Tess. Fate is also revealed by means of many omens and signs. Joan d’Urberville lives by her fortune-telling book, although she is afraid to have it in her house when she sleeps. Almost everything has significance. For example, the cows will not let down their own milk, the butter will not come in the churn, the cock crows in the afternoon. The vision of the d’Urberville coach is a bad omen, as is the stone of the “Cross-in-hand.” Fate is a part of life, and much can be explained by it. Angel chooses Tess, but it is really fate which has made the choice, therefore the dairy maids do not blame Tess for any part of it. Marian says it must be something outside both Angel and Tess which has caused their separation, for she knows neither of them had any faults. It was to be that Alec should seduce Tess, she is not to blame. The death of the horse, the knowledge off Tess’s bad luck with Alec, even the failure of her marriage with Clare, but her mother accepts all these dissapointments.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a novel about Tess from the time she is sixteen to the age of about twenty-one. Above all the characters, Tess herself is the fullest expression of fatalism. From the begnning is hopelessly resigned to her doom. There is a continuity of events from the time she is introduced until she dies. We are told of her actions, her qualifications for them, her trials and tribulations, and her efforts to overcome the fatalistic will against her enjoyment. The novel is divided into seven phases. At the end of each, a fateful incident has changed Tess’s life. I feel that she begins each phase of her life with an altered and weak view of her life and her destiny. I have seen that Hardy’s conception of fate as an artistic motif divides naturally into a series of distinct yet related themes, which run through Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Over all Tess’s character seems to be a mirror image of Thomas Hardy.