Cultural differences between the book by Thomas Hardy – “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” and its movie adaptation
Through the years, the idea about good and bad in life changes according to the time people live in. Thomas Hardy presents to us a complicated picture of a woman in Victorian England. This is the story about the life of a girl who is first seduced and then sexually abused. After that she married to her first love but she is rejected by him afterwards and finally she killed her rapist. This story is regarded extremely scandalous in those days.
Hardy wants to show the society, which according to him, have no fault about her mistakes. He wants to provoke his readers to look deeper in themselves and to value the world around him in another perspective. Difficult task, indeed, especially because most people could not understand that the blame and the fault lay mainly in the moral and social demands placed on her. Probably, if Hardy wrote this novel in 21th century, the society would not accept it as scandalous and inappropriate. The purity of Tess would not be discussed in the same way that it is discussed in that period. And maybe this is the most obvious cultural difference.
At a first look, the character of Tess, which Hardy describes is typical for a girl of her class – she is submissive, shy, has high morals and all that is expected of a young girl in those days. But after that, if we take deeper look, we can see that she is in some way mysterious. She is described by the author as some kind of divine creature, who is smart, pretty, sensitive and passionate. This, indeed, evokes the question if this girl really has to be judged as a wicked woman? First, she is a creature, which for some people, made a sin against the good being lured by the lust of a man she regarded to be her relative. Second, she is brave and strong enough to have a baby without wanting any material security from him. Third, she shows again her strength sharing her darkest secret to her husband and to suffer from his rejection. Can this girl be wicked? I do not think so. This is what is called a good girl and then a dedicated wife and woman.
A few words can be told about Alec – the person, which has a main role in Tess’s life. His description suggests that he is more interesting in physical point of view rather than a spiritual one. “He had an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly moulded, though red and smooth, above which was a well-groomed black moustache with curled points, though his age could not be more than three-or four-and-twenty. Despite the touches of barbarism in his contours, there was a singular force in the gentleman’s face, and in his bold rolling eye” (44).
Actually, I could not get that feeling of a superb man while watching the movie adaptation. There is no sign for this “barbarism”, which suggests bravery; there is no sign of those “bold rolling eyes”. Which makes you blood freezing when he looks at you in that lustful way. Probably this is the idea about a seducer in 20th century. And this is where I can see the difference. The way he talks to her is like he is kidding with her, but Hardy wants to achieve the feeling that we are dealing with a smooth operator.
The scene of the rape is presented in a different way. I believe that Hardy choose his word to describe this scene very carefully. His readers are very politically correct that is why he could not be very direct. „“He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.” (90 ). This is the whole description of the act of rape, while in the movie the act reflects very strong to the audience. Again the reason for this difference is because of the year we live in. in 20th century a writer or a director can clearly draw and present to his audience such intensive scenes while in Victorian England this could not happen. Even the smallest detail evokes the feeling of cultural difference between the people in these two periods.
“The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves” (90) The “white muslin figure “ is about to be darkened for all her life. Not by chance did Hardy use this means of expression. White symbolizes purity and this pure woman soon would no longer going to be the same. In the movie we could not observe such symbolic and impression that Hardy wanted to give to his readers. We see Tess dressed in a greenish dress and under it we see a white cloth .
After her first experience with a man that ended with disaster comes the second one .Angel Clare whom she idealizes blinded by love:” Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him in this respect… Though not cold-natured, he was rather bright than hot–less Byronic than Shelleyan; could love desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to the imaginative and ethereal; …. This amazed and enraptured Tess, whose slight experiences had been so infelicitous till now; and in her reaction from indignation against the male sex she swerved to excess of honour for Clare.” (246-247)
From this brief but quite accurate description that Hardy gave for Tess and Angel’s love we could see that she was a girl immersed in love for him. A girl that wants to leave her past behind and move on searching for true happiness. But Angel’s love is simply imaginative, he believes in what he wants to putting Tess on a pedestal created only by his imagination. And again the end is crucial for her. When she reveals her secret he and his feelings change to her. She becomes another time victim of her feelings and desires and mostly a victim of a man’s actions (in this case inactions because he leaves her for an year)
After that Angel has vanished for an year leaving Tess without any news for him she decides to move on with her life again with Alec. A decision dictated mostly by falling again in his games and being deluded by his words. Of course, her desperation and anger to Angel influenced as well but is normal, I think. She didn’t have to suffer that Angel’s love wasn’t as pure as hers no matter what happened in their past. She accepted the sin he had committed with the older woman letting himself to his lust just for one night. But, of course, in those days men were “allowed” to commit such sins . Women were the ones who were called wicked if it happened the vice versa. This is what Hardy wanted to portray and show to his readers as well.
And there comes the falling action – the murder of Alec . This immediately raise another time the great question – how can Tess be considered as a pure and a good woman when being a murderer? No she isn’t because “Tess’s loyalty to her family has overmastered her integrity. Torn apart, Tess now kills her lover in a murderous rage out of love for her husband.” (SparkNotes) .
Hardy describes the scene as if this is not a murder but an impulse for freedom. An act of confused and scared creature, which is so lost in her destroyed world. Killing Alec brings her back to her heartsease, letting her go out of his egoistic love cage. Again I noticed the difference in representing of this scene between the book and the movie. In the book we see how Hardy describe this scene, giving very little details of it and did not show to the readers that a murder is done. As if he wants to emphasize on the Tess’s emotions and her pain, not on the consequences of them. “They might have quarreled, or Mr.d’Urberville might still be asleep ,for he was not an early riser” (488) . We see the fact there was a murder only when the “gigantic ace of hearts” (488) was observed by Mrs.Brooks . In the movie adaptation, however, we see a more intense scene that there was a fight between them and Tess killed him probably in a moment of self-defence.
The choice of a title “A Pure Woman” suggests that Hardy wanted to stress that the society’s ideas about purity are wrong. The society claims that Tess in not pure, because she is not a virgin, because she gives a birth to a child without being married, because she lied her husband about her pure past and finally killed a human being. But what really happens is that these are just the bad consequences of her good intentions. It is what we call “fate “. It is so because what she only wanted to do is helping her family’s fortune by going to work for Alex d’Urbervilles. However, the result of this is that she is ” maiden no more”. Angel’s rejection of Tess creates the circumstances for her downfall and turns her into the murderess she never would have become, if society had not pressed Angel Clare into thinking of her purity as so important.
Finally, Tess of the d’Urbervilles is regarded a tragedy because of the catastrophic failure of the main character – Tess. Every male character in her life is a proof of that theory. First, the author of the novel and after that the director of the movie adaptation, reveals to us how a woman can be destroyed by the three of the most important people in her life and then blamed for this. 21th century shows different values than Victorian England. As a person who lives in this century I believe that she could not be blamed for this and she is not a wicked woman. She is pure woman, who became a victim of the decisions which she had to take in her life and a victim of the idea about men’s domination over the women in those days.
Bassnett-McGuire, Susan. Translation Studies, 3rd ed. London and New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2002.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Tess of the d’Urbervilles.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2003. 14 Jun. 2012. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/tess/section13.rhtml