1 Main Ideas
- Many critics have praised the continued reading of Hardy, but in doing so approved of it as a kind of regionalist storytelling: some read him as the “last voice of a great rural civilization.”
- Instead, his ideas have a place in the continuing world and continue to be relevant. Williams argues that Hardy is writing about the problem of relation between custom and education.
- Customary life is one’s familiar upbringing and background; educated life is the life after leaving home, a life full of new ideas. We don’t even realize that our former life setting was customary until we leave it. When we leave we are challenged with the idea that customary= inferior.
- Hardy describes rural Wessex, but his writing also takes place in a “border country” that lies between customary and education / work and ideas / love of place and experience of change.
- Williams argues that this border country exemplifies a shift in all of England.
- Hardy speaks to us from the middle place where customary meets experience. He does not belong wholly to urban or rural life, his family above some but below many others in standing and opportunity. He is connected to the educated but also to his family back home.
- According to Williams, the idea of Hardy chronicling a disappearing countryside is too simple an idea. The countryside has always been changing, and Hardy’s characters are affected by its own forces rather than exclusively from outside, urbanizing ones.
- Thus, Hardy’s writing is more complicated than a tale of a disappearing rural life. It involves “what happens to people and to families in the interaction between general forces and personal histories.”
2 Discussion & Analysis in Tess
- Tess herself seems the epitome of the “in between.” As an educated woman from the country, does she, like Hardy, occupy a “border space” between customary and educated? How does this affect her actions?
- Angel comes to the countryside from a more urban space. How does the idea of “education” in the rural world affect his views? What is his view of the “custom” under which he was brought up?
- What other characters show the tension between these two points of view?
- Williams believes that Hardy’s ballad forms (i.e. describing the countryside in rustically poetic prose) is his weakest point, because it gives city folk what they expect from a tale of the countryside: pastoral descriptions of a kind of “lost civilization.” Do you agree or disagree? If in agreement, how should Hardy have gone about visualizing Wessex in the book?
- Where can we see instances of people and families being affected by “the interaction between general forces and personal histories?”