Feminist Critique of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Feminist Critique of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

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Feminist Critique: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D’Urbervilles November 19, 1999 Ellen Rooney presents us with a feminist perspective which addresses a few key conflicts in the story, offering qualification if not answers. Essentially, Rooney argues that: Hardy is unable to represent the meaning of the encounter in The Chase from Tess’s point of view because to present Tess as a speaking subject is to risk the possibility that she may appear as the subject of desire. Yet a figure with no potential as a desiring subject can only formally be said to refuse desire…Hardy is blocked in both directions. (466) According to Rooney, we do not hear from Tess in this instance, for if we were to, it would only reinforce the notion of “Tess the seductress.” Yet, in various versions, Tess is presented as a seductress. Even by her nature as a beautiful women, Hardy presents the reader mixed messages; should we see her as a willing seductress, or as a victim who must suffer because of her body’s effects on others? Rooney argues that Hardy never comes to a conclusion on this issue, but “enables Tess to give over [her body], utterly silenced and purified, not by Hardy’s failure to see that she might speak, but by his unflinching description of the inexorable forces that produce her as the seductive object of the discourses of man” (481).

Rooney writes a capable piece of gender criticism, in that it is defined as “how women have been written.” Gender issues seem permeate the story and the author doesn’t take a definitive stand on them. Rooney attempts to examine what role Tess plays in the story, how her interactions with Alec and Angel Clare form her identity, and how she triumphs over her afflictions. Ironically, her biggest affliction is her natural beauty; it’s something men simply cannot pass up, and just by her looks, she becomes seductive.

Rooney brings this point up, but much to her credit, does not unleash an attack on Hardy or men because of it. Often feminist critics bear the burden that they are out to “get” men, yet when there is an apt argument for doing so in Tess, Rooney refrains and simply addresses the issues. Overall, her article was quite helpful in addressing the most resonate conflict in the whole story.

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Hardy doesn’t give us a reason, nor does he give us even the actual event at The Chase. The reader is left to deduce from the rest of the text whether or not it was rape that took place, and Hardy gives us mixed messages. Rooney broke down these messages, presented text from prior versions, and offers a fairly deep analysis of the evidence for both sides. While at times it could be long and very academic, the criticism did help in the overall understanding of the story.
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