Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles are powerful examples of the American and British realist novel. Both depict the harsh Victorian society in which women were held to unattainable standards of perfection, and both are social commentaries about the economic situations in their respective countries in that time period. While their main characters, Lily Bart and Tess Durbeyfield, are very different characters, they experience similar circumstances which lead to similar tragic endings. Both Lily and Tess undergo a dramatic fall caused by the actions of someone with power over them, and their socially-inflicted inability to save themselves. For both women, this fall begins the downward spiral of a continually degenerating existence; they become ostracized and find themselves deserted by all those they'd been close to before.
[...] This standard is clearly unattainable for any person because of the absolute perfection it implies, and it is the standard by which Lily Bart and Tess Durbeyfield were measured, found wanting, and subsequently destroyed by society. Lily Bart's death is caused in great measure by the events occurring with Bertha Dorset and her dramatic expulsion from society, for which society itself is at fault in two ways: first, in that it places people with money in positions of great power over everyone else, socially and economically; and second, in that it sets in place impossible standards of perfection for women which are not equal for men. [...]
[...] Lily Bart and Tess Durbeyfield are similar literary portrayals of the economic and social circumstances of the time, both in England and in America; the women are subjected to the unyielding standards of the Victorian era, and, like so many others, cannot withstand the measurement. Victims of their circumstances, Lily and Tess experience the judgment and condemnation of society, and are tragically destroyed by it. Works Cited Ammons, Elizabeth. “Edith Wharton's Hard-Working Lily: The House of Mirth and the Marriage Market.” (1980) Reprinted in: The House of Mirth. [...]
[...] Like everything else of the time period, Bertha and Alec are harsh and cruel realities which Lily and Tess can do nothing to overcome. Women of the Victorian age were objectified and made into symbols. They were admired for their beauty, not loved for their selves. When she sees Angel's reaction to the revelation of her great secret, Tess cries, thought, Angel, that you loved my very self! If it is I you do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? [...]
[...] “Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Some Ambiguities About a Pure Woman.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction Vol pp. 397-401. Davis, William A., Jr. Rape of Tess: Hardy, English Law, and the Case for Sexual Assault.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Vol pp. 221-231. Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d'Urbervilles. New York: Penguin Moss, Joyce and George Wilson, ed. “Thomas Hardy: Tess of the d'Urbervilles.” Literature and its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Gale Research Vol Showalter, Elaine. "The Death of the [...]
[...] Both Tess and Lily find themselves in breach of societal standards because of the actions of someone more powerful and wealthy than themselves—in Lily's case, Bertha Dorset, and in Tess's case, Alec d'Urberville—and both are eventually destroyed because of it. Tess's downfall is, like Lily's, the result of the culture in which she lived, through the actions of Alec d'Urberville and subsequently through the reaction of Angel Clare, whose role is parallel to that of Lily's society friends. At the beginning of the novel, Tess goes to the d'Urbervilles at her parents' instruction, hoping to find wealthy relations who could help her family. [...]
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