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The face of nature in Tess of the D’Urbervilles

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Philosophy Teacher's Assistant
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Dordt College

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  1. Introduction: The avatar
  2. Druids and holy-days
  3. The face of the face of nature
  4. The sacrifice of nature to religion and society
  5. Conclusion

A cruel realization overtakes the sensitive convert to Naturalism. Seldom has there been a more sensitive convert than Thomas Hardy, who, although he flirted with Anglicanism because of his family and with the Baptists because of a friend, ended his days with a troubled faith in the indifferent, all-powerful will of the universe itself. As a sensitive man?a poet, primarily, in his self-conception?Hardy struggled to salvage some nobility for humankind, some meaning for their blind-fated condition. In his worldview, however, humanity could never be something that transcended the natural order; men were always only one kind of life in a teeming cosmos. So in order for man to be ennobled, nature had to be ennobled (because a fragment of the whole cannot be nobler than the whole).

[...] This symbolic sacrifice seems intimately tied to the execution that we know occurs shortly afterward?although that execution is not shown to us in the words of the novel, this symbolic sacrifice powerfully standing in for an explicit description. Mini sacrifices are also strewn about the novel. The cart-ride to deliver honey, for example, is an expiatory sacrifice (that ends in blood?though not her own on this occasion) for the rowdy false jubilation of her father. In conclusion, Tess unquestionably functions as the face of nature throughout Hardy's [...]


[...] Tess seems to be having a mystical experience of touching the soul of nature consciously?an instantiation of the constant communion she typically experiences without noticing it. The novel in a microcosm then occurs: because of a society-instituted concatenation of events, tragedy strikes. In the middle of Tess's vision, her cart crashes and her horse dies. Child of nature, Tess is the collateral damage of unnatural events. The Face of the Face of Nature One of the extraordinary proofs of Tess's role as the face of nature is the way that nature serves as her face. [...]

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