Thomas Hardy’s treatment of nature in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a notable literary work by Thomas Hardy. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.


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Thomas Hardy’s (1840-1928) novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” (1891) investigates the complex relationship between humans and nature. Hardy portrays nature as beautiful and indifferent through vivid descriptions and poignant moments. He uses it to reflect the characters’ experiences and emotions. Let us discuss how Hardy treats nature in the novel.

Nature’s Beauty and Bounty: In “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” Hardy describes the natural world in a way that highlights its beauty and abundance. He portrays the overgrown landscapes of Wessex, such as the Vale of Blackmoor. Tess is connected to nature, and her physical beauty is compared to natural elements. For instance, when Tess is introduced, Hardy writes, 

“She was a fine and handsome girl—not handsomer than some others, possibly—but her mobile peony mouth and large innocent added eloquence to color and shape.”

Nature’s Indifference: Despite its beauty, Hardy also shows how nature can be indifferent to human suffering. He uses natural events to mirror Tess’s tragic fate. The novel begins with the image of a red rose. It symbolizes Tess’s beauty and purity, yet it turns black and foreshadows her downfall. This contrasts nature’s indifference with Tess’s vulnerability.

Agricultural Cycle and Tess’s Struggles: Throughout the novel, nature’s cycles parallel Tess’s struggles. Tess works as a farm laborer and is deeply involved with the land. The changing seasons, the harvest, and the toil of the farmworkers all mirror Tess’s life stages and her emotional journey. Nature’s cycles represent the ebb and flow of Tess’s fortunes.

The Symbolism of Stonehenge: Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument, becomes a powerful symbol in the novel. Tess and Angel Clare visit it on their honeymoon, and it represents the ancient and enduring aspects of nature. Hardy writes, 

“The great stones of the circle… their presence, to her consciousness, expressed the greatest force in the universe.”

Stonehenge symbolizes fate’s timeless and unchanging nature, which plays a significant role in Tess’s life.

Tess’s Connection to Animals: Tess’s connection to nature is also evident in her interactions with animals. She is compassionate and gentle, caring for injured or suffering creatures. Her love for animals reflects her innate goodness and desire for a more harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world. For instance, she saves a wounded pheasant. It symbolizes her vulnerability and the world’s cruelty.

The Tranquil and the Menacing: Nature in the novel has both tranquil and menacing aspects. The serene landscape of Talbothays Dairy provides a temporary pause for Tess and Angel. At the same time, the looming presence of Flintcomb-Ash, the desolate farm where Tess later works, represents nature’s harsh and unforgiving side. Hardy writes, 

“A pale nebulousness… showed where the sun was.”

This contrast highlights the impact of the environment on Tess’s life.

Nature as a Moral Judge: Hardy often uses natural settings as a moral background. The landscape reflects the moral choices and consequences of the characters. For example, the description of Tess and Alec’s meeting at the Chase portrays nature as a silent witness to their actions. 

The Eclipse as a Symbol: One of the most significant moments involving nature is the solar eclipse during Tess and Angel’s honeymoon. The eclipse symbolizes Tess’s darkest hour and foreshadows her tragic fate. The heavenly event is a powerful symbol of the forces beyond human control.

To conclude, in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” Thomas Hardy masterfully weaves nature into the story’s fabric, using it to mirror the characters’ experiences and emotions. Nature is both beautiful and indifferent. It serves as a background for Tess’s tragic journey and the moral complexities of the novel. Through his vivid descriptions and symbolism, Hardy invites readers to contemplate the role of nature in shaping the destinies of his characters.