Thursday, January 08, 2009

Booker on Tess

It is not surprising that Tess [of the d'Urbervilles] was Hardy's own favourite character, for she really was the deepest projection of all of his own inner feminine. And once we see her in that light, how even more poignant does her story become. We see Tess, the 'persecuted maiden', Hardy's anima, wandering blindly and distractedly across the face of an ever bleaker and more inhospotable Dorset countryside, looking for a home and a resting place where she might be whole, but eventually so tortured that she kills and is killed. In Hardy's oft-quoted phrase at the close of the book, 'the President of the Immortals' had 'ended his sport with Tess'. But of course the real power manipulating Tess from one improbable coincidence to the next, remorselessly stacking up the odds against her to such deadly conclusion, was not some vengeful deity, that God in whom the atheist Hardy no longer believed. It was Hardy himself. Even in the story we can only too easily see aspects of Hardy in both the men, unworthy of her, who make her their victim. D'Urberville is the recurring, heartless predator who represents the shadow of [Hardy's] unrealised masculinity. Angel Clare is the weak, high-minded progressive, first foreshadowed in Yeobright, who echoes what Hardy himself had been in his own youth. The story Hardy was unconsciously recording was nothing less than the stifling of his own soul.

"The Seven Basic Plots", Christopher Booker, p.421
Booker analyses Hardy's work at some length, in a chapter entitled "Losing the Plot". Hardy's novels start with the most cheerful, "Under the Greenwood Tree", which follows fairly conventionally the Comedy plot archetype. This doesn't mean that the story is necessarily particularly funny (I'll try and explain more about the basic plots themselves at some stage), but that it resolves at the end with the hero and heroine united, and a disordered world being ordered again.

But as Hardy loses his own way in psychological and spiritual terms, so do the plots of his novels. They cease to resolve, the main characters face agony and disillusionment. In actual fact, Booker convincingly shows that the whole of Hardy's life itself traces out one of the other archetypes, the Tragedy plot, in which he dies having failed to realise his feminine (again, I'll try and expound that a bit another time! Sorry!).
The way in which the gradual disintegration of Thomas Hardy's inner world was reflected in his novels gives us a particularly vivid picture of a process which was more generally taking place all over the Western world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Europe and America were carried by the advance of science and technology ever faster towards the modern world, as hundreds of millions moved from the country side into the newly industrialised cities, as ancient ways of life vanished, as social hierarchies began to break down, as old forms of religion and morality began to dissolve, people were losing touch on an unprecendented scale with that framework which had given them so much of their sense of outward and inward identity. In psychological terms, they were losing contact with much of that which had helped root human existence in the Self. What we see reflected in stories is a perfect model of what then happens, as the ego comes increasingly to the fore.

Ibid. p.423

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