Treatment of Nature in Tess of the DUrbervilles

Question: Comment on Hardy’s Treatment of Nature in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.Treatment of Nature in Tess of the DUrbervilles


Nature is an important theme that has been employed in many novels, especially throughout the Tess of D’Urberville. Hardy, however, skillfully uses nature to express Tess’s emotions. He is able to express those emotions with natural images which are well known and understandable. He presents various aspects of nature such as weather, landscape, and animals, using their meanings to illustrate Tess’s feelings of happiness and sadness. When Tess is lonely, she walks in the barren fields of Flintcomb-Ash; However, when she is satisfied, she is depicted in flowers, blue skies, and Lucius spring dairy.

Innocence and purity of nature

Tess of the D’Urbervilles begins in May that is a hopeful time when life renews. The first pictures that Hardy uses depict the feelings of innocence and purity about the tragic heroine of the novel, Tess. By saying;

“every girl carried in her left (hand) a bunch of white flowers. . . their hair reflected in the sunshine every tone of gold. . . each had a private little sun for her soul,”

Hardy becomes immediately able to present Tess as an innocent and untouchable girl, although he has not specifically mentioned Tess in this quote. The image of the white flower conveys a sense of cleanliness and purity, which is in line with the way Hardy initially chooses to portray Tess. The sunlight and the golden color indirectly indicate the happiness and exuberance which Tess expresses at the beginning of the book. Tess has never left Marlot, and she has little experience in caring for her siblings. The concept of a “private sun” refers to an image of a heavenly world centered around Tess, hence the joy. Despite the book’s ongoing conflicting feelings, Hardy is able to impress his character’s initial emotions of joy in the rest of the novel.

Dark and gloomy forest

Being manipulated by her parents to claim kinship, Tess goes to Tantridge where her personality starts to change with the environment around her. Upon her arrival in Tantridge, Tess has to face Alec D’Urbervilles’ relentless pursuit. Because of Alec’s behavior, Tess is forced to become less naive and more acute to her environment, just as the law of nature needs any inhabitant to be equally decisive in their habitat. It is at night when Tess is returning home through the forest, Alec persuades her to let him take her home. After a long time, Alec leads Tess into a thick patch of fog and Tess realizes that Alec is not taking her towards the house and quickly rejects Alec declaring “she’ll find her own way.” Tess finds herself very drowsy and lays on the ground. This is the place where Alec seduces Tess, leaving her pregnant and changing her life forever. Thus, Hardy declares that crime takes place in the gloomy atmosphere of nature.

Serenity of nature

Talbothays is an undisturbed place where Tess can quickly make friends and perform light work. The environment of Talbothays is refreshing calm and serene which is similar to Tess’s present feelings. Tess’s job at the dairy such as milking cows, stirring the milk to keep it fresh, and various other light labor jobs illustrate that things are starting to look better for her. Such jobs and lifestyles are the direct opposite of the ones which she experiences while working at Flintcomb-Ash. Flintcomb-Ash was indeed a starve-acre place:

“as Tess’s inner being is just as hard and hurt there. The sky wore, in another color, the same likeness; a white vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone.”

At Flintcomb-Ash Tess has to work hours after hours. She is forced to labor in the heat of the day and on machines driven by men. This drastic work and environment resemble the rough relationship between Tess and her estranged husband. She chooses to endure the harsh climate and rough terrain because she chooses to continue her own rough marriage. Thus, Hardy’s faith is also reflected in the seasonal nature of life, in the constant movement of human feelings between pain and joy. In this novel, readers notice how the character’s emotions and destiny are reflected in the seasons and environments in which they lead their life. By this opposite working place, Hardy makes it clear that the light working atmosphere of nature begets passion and compassion within human beings.

The seasonal significance of nature

Tess falls in love with Angel Clare, the son of a minister who is studying at Talbothays  Dairy. Their love begins to bloom in late spring and throughout the summer just as the plants are fertile and ripe. Tess is raped and loses her child in September when nature is slowly dying and decaying. In the middle of winter, Tess marries Angel, which predicts the final death of their marriage. Just as all the leaves have fallen from the tree and apparently all living things have died, so too did Tess’s wedding in short four days. Also during the winter months, Tess works at Flintcomb-Ash, where not only her fidelity to her husband is tried but also her physical body is tested in harsh environments. Tess’s life is coincidentally related to nature. Just as there are seven stages in Tess’s life in the novel, there are seven stages in the lunar cycle.


It is noteworthy that he uses nature, because by doing so Hardy is not only able to convey feelings, but also shows the change in Tess’s emotions by using it in parallel with the change of nature. Thus, different images of nature are used to explain Tess’s different and different feelings.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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