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Only A Woman

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The Victorian Age was a virtuous era, full of chaste women and hard-working men. As with any seemingly utopian society, there are the misfits: those who always seem to go against the grain. Hidden in the shadows of towns were bastardized babies and public outcasts. The flourishing literature of the era attacks the societal stereotypes and standards that make for such failures and devastating tragedies. In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, Tess Durbeyfield's initial loss of innocence brings her down to an insurmountable low, and the victorian society, of which she is a part, dooms her to a horrible fate with its "normal" shunning of her innocent misbehaviors. Tess' rapid downward spiral to her death is caused by the chauvinistic actions of the men in the story, solidified by society's loss of acceptance of Tess based on the actions taken against her, and brought to home by Tess' imminent doom to the rigid ways of the Victorian society.

Tess' two "choices" as her husband, Alec d'Urberville and Angel Clare, hold many of the patriarchal stereotypes of the Victorian Age, chasing Tess as more of a metaphorical piece of meat than a passionate lover. As their secrets are revealed on their wedding night, it becomes harder and harder for Angel to love Tess, seeing her as "another woman in your shape" (Hardy 192). The author, at this point in the relationship between Tess and Angel, perfectly exemplifies the values and culture of the Victorian age. Though both Angel and Tess are guilty of the same misbehaviors in their pasts, Angel believes that "forgiveness does not apply to [Tess'] case" (Hardy 191). Under the reign of Queen Victoria, the role of men in sexual relations was strictly reproductive, and the sex act was considered a release of helpless energies, basically holding no sins of love or conjugal travesties. For women, however, it was a softer, more passionate act, meaning more of the love than the fertilization, and emotionally pulling the sex partner too close to just scoff the happening off and move on with life (Lee 1). Such conflicting views in the perspective of sexual intercourse make it nearly impossible for Angel to "forgive [Tess] as you are forgiven! I forgive you, Angel" (Hardy 191). Jeremy Ross also believes that Hardy "abandoned his devout faith in God, based on the scientific advances of his contemporaries" (Ross, Jeremy 1). The men in the novel are Hardy's satirical creations, mocking the "old-fashioned" Christian ideals and showing the unfairness of traditional Victorian thinking. Angel's parents want him to marry Mercy Chant because she "is of a very good family" and she "is accomplished" (Hardy 138). They would much rather him marry a good, innocent Christian girl than a low-class farm girl, no matter where his love lies. Tess is not in Angel's parents' favor because society does not allow "her kind" to deal with his sophistication. Alec d'Urberville's supposed transformation from rapist to evangelist apparently vanquishes the demon inside him, though it really only hides his true self from plain sight. His evil is brought back out to the surface when he comes upon her again, asking her to not "look at me like that" for it " might be dangerous" (Hardy 257). Alec knows he still lusts for her, and Hardy's attention to this shows how he feels that religious conversions do not greatly affect the soul; they just cover the tempted soul with a protective blanket of salvation, until someone like Tess comes along and stirs the fires back up. His "conversion" almost seems like an excuse to stalk Tess and throw her life back downhill.

One would think, based on the rights and freedoms given, that the Victorian age was a utopian age. However, this declaration tells a half-truth, and cannot be accepted as an omnipresent belief. Much to the chagrin of many Victorian women, the female way of life sang a completely different song. For one, rape was not looked upon with such passive disappointment as is accepted as the norm in the twenty-first century. According to Owen Hufton, Alec's attack wouldn't even be considered a rape by society. As a standard in the Victorian society, it was apparent that "a woman could not claim that rape was responsible for her pregnancy since her very impregnation was held to demonstrate her active consent" (57-58). Such beliefs ultimately lead to Tess' demise. In the minds of the people around her, Tess can only become pregnant if she demonstrates a willingness to participate in sexual activities with Alec. The very fact that she bears the child, and subsequently attempts to raise it, is enough to condemn her to a fate of ridicule and hatred. Her neighbors and relatives are left wondering how such a formerly innocent, pure girl could love a being created in such vile and loathsome ways. Even the bastard baby's name, Sorrow, connotes nothing but negative emotions and hides all joy from the heart of the reader. Society begins to harshly look down upon Tess with scorn and hatred, perfectly captured in the hopeless name of the illegitimate product of such tragic relations. Even the local priest regrets to inform Tess that he cannot give the recently deceased baby a Christian burial, on account of "its irregular administration" (Hardy 82). Not only is her society completely astounded by her irreversible sins responsible for her fall into the role of a public outcast; Tess is also expected to portray the "typical" housewife, begging and pleading for forgiveness if

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