Thomas Hardy as a Pessimist: Tess of the D’urbervilles

Question: Discuss Thomas Hardy as a Pessimist: Tess of the D’urbervilles.


Pessimism refers to the feeling that bad things will happen or something will not succeed. A pessimistic worldview indicates that the worst will happen or evil will eventually prevail over prosperity. Pessimism dominates the plot of the novel “Tess of the D’urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928).

Missing of harmonious order

The main reason for Hardy’s frustration or pessimism was the absence of divine command. This harmonious order is also missing in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The world depicted in Tess of the D’Urbervilles comes as a hostile world deprived of a merciful God. In the absence of a benevolent God, human suffering seems meaningless. Moreover, the absence of God makes the possibility of revenge a myth. As a result, people have no reason to hope for an optimistic outcome. This point of view is highlighted throughout the novel. For example, after revealing her past to Angel, Tess utters the following verse to express her heartache;

God is not in heaven –

All the wrong in the world!

These lines are a variation of the characteristic features in Robert Browning’s poem “Pippa Passes”. So, for the betterment divine order is a must.

The plight of humanity

The presence of an indifferent universe or a cosmic order that does not sympathize with the tragic situation of humanity. This is another factor that contributes to the pessimistic nature of the novel. This notion of human weakness and isolation in a carefree universe is reflected in the following song played by Tess and her siblings last night at their home in Marlott;

“Here we suffer grief and pain,

Here we meet to part again;

In Heaven, we part no more.”

This song will make anyone very sorrowful. From a pessimistic point of view, Hardy has in fact tried to rise compassion among his readers.

Short-term happiness

Pessimism also means that sorrow and tragedy will always surpass happiness. This aspect of pessimism is also evident throughout the novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”. moments of happiness, purity, and contentment are short-lived. By the end of the novel, Tess highlighted this point before her arrest when she said:

“It is as it should be…Angel, I am almost glad – yes, glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much!”

As a pessimist, Hardy is unique because his pessimistic views have universality. None can deny this universality because this world is a place of an exam center.

Depressing and comforting escapism

The common denominator at the end of the novel is not that humanity will win, but that death brings an end to human suffering. This disturbing view also reinforces the pessimistic tone of the novel. Tess’s tragic misery only ends with her execution. This notion of death as a promising escape from a tortured life is perhaps best expressed through the tragic death of Tess’ son named “Sorrow” which has been described as “the hour of emancipation for that little prisoner of flesh”. An aspect of obscurity and heartache pervades even to the end of the novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”. The final image is not of salvation or happiness but of the dark, endless suffering that has been highlighted with “pale faces” and “bowed heads” of Angel and Liza Lu since they walk together and the “grief of sun’s rays” smile“ on pitilessly”.


The most pessimistic aspect of the novel is the absence of divine compensation or poetic justice. Tess lives in a society where corrupt people like Alec are allowed to prolong their conspiratorial plans while vulnerable people like Tess are forced to pay a price for their transgressions. Despite Tess’s tragic death, the chaotic and unjust force of life moves on.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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