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Sexual Morality and the Tragedy of Love in Tess

Author WangHaiRong
Tutor XuQingHong
School Anhui University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords tragedy hypocrisy love attitude sexual morality Tess of the D ’Urbervilles
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Thomas Hardy is an extraordinary poet and outstanding writer who lived across the nineteenth and twentieth century in Great Britain. Hardy’s works not only reflected the great changes of the British countryside in the aspects such as social economy, politics, morality and customs, but also reflected the tragic fate of people (especially women) after the invasion of capitalism, which exposed the hypocrisy of the bourgeois morality, law and religion. "Tess of the D’Urbervilles" is the representative novel in Hardy’s "Character and Environment Novels". Since the publication in 1891, despite much academic attention, this novel’s research results are somewhat monotonous. Most studies have focused on the tragedy resources of Tess, character analysis or feminism, the results of which revealed the ugliness of the social system or come to such a conclusion as "characteristics decide the fate". As for the theme of love, there has been little research on it, among which, authors analyze the factors of love tragedy by comparing Tess with other women characters, but the research is still not related to Hardy’s search for the nature of love. Besides, the analysis of the protagonist Clare’s concept of love is also not enough and thorough.This thesis holds that, in "Tess", Hardy used the tragedy of Alec and Tess to reveal that the absolute sexual morality of being chaste before marriage preached by Christianity is rather absurd. So he courageously put forward his own view of sexual morality which shocked the world--the sexual behavior before marriage shouldn’t be the sole basis to determine whether a woman was pure or not, and he held that the motive which promoted the sexual behavior should be the most important evaluation criteria. Additionally, Alec leads a loose and dissolute life in the novel, but he does not have the punishment by law; Clare has an absurd past but he can not tolerate that Tess is not a virgin, from which it can be seen that Hardy also criticizes the hypocrisy of the upper-class towards sex, and the sexual morality in patriarchal society is extremely unfair to women. Although Hardy’s works focus on exploring the subject of love, his opinions and attitudes seem to be quite pessimistic when facing love because of his own pessimistic complex as well as his own emotional experiences. The thesis re-reads this novel on the basis of analyzing the sexual morality and the tragedy of love in this novel, then studies Hardy’s own sexual morality as well as his rather tragic views on love revealed in his work. To start with, the author of this thesis analyzes the mutual relationships of various characters in Tess, then comes with the analysis of their different value orientations of sex. The author analyzes and resolves the characters’love attitudes from the aspect of personality traits. Combining Hardy’s own emotional experiences with the given social background at that time, the paper explores the sexual attitudes and the tragedy of love embodied in this novel.The whole thesis is divided into five parts. To begin with, the author states the thesis of the paper and the origin of the research, then briefly reviews the results of criticism accumulated from the research on Hardy as well as his representative "Tess" by the literary critics both at home and abroad. The author believes that the critics have little study on the sexual morality and the basic theme of love in Hardy’s novels. It’s just this defect that leaves us more research space. The paper chooses to discuss sex and love as the research focus through analyzing personality traits and human psychology together with Hardy’s own emotional experiences.In chapter two, the thesis focuses on the writing background of the novel and Hardy’s own emotional experiences. In that special era, the whole society was deeply influenced by many old and decadent customs and systems, especially in the aspect of sex. As for Hardy himself, he has experienced such a complex and uneven emotional life and marriage, so definitely, he would unconsciously blend part of his own feelings or emotions into his works. All of these will pave the way for the thesis to analyze the different sex views of the characters in Tess.Chapter three mainly introduces the complicated emotional relationships among Tess, Alec and Clare, then reveals the hypocrisy of sexual morality in Tess. It can be said that from the very beginning to the end, Tess never loves Alec. She is forced to submit herself to Alec just because of the dilemma of life and helplessness. Tess’s love for Clare is pure and strong, though too simple and blind. The two male protagonists are both in love with Tess, but because of their different natures and different education environments, their ways of expressing love are not the same. After Tess has been deflowered, she feels herself evil and unchaste, while Alec has been protected by the upper class that he belongs to and enjoyed the "privilege" in terms of sexual morality; Clare himself also has had a ridiculous love affair, but he can not forgive and accept Tess’s being unchaste. By analyzing the characters’different value orientations in Tess, this chapter reflects Hardy’s criticism towards the decadent sexual concepts under that special social system at that time.Chapter four mainly explores the characters’different love orientations by analyzing their respective characteristics, and then studies the profound factors of their love tragedy. Tess comes from the poor working class, and when her pure and good nature meets the harsh and real life, her fight against her fate seems to be more and more feeble; Alec is a dude, uninhibited and dissolute, even in the face of his true love, he still follows his usual temporal and overbearing means to possess her; Clare belongs to the middle class, whose comfortable living environment enables him to receive a quite good education, and although his thoughts have been mixed with quite a few of deviant liberalism and non-secular elements, he is still confined to the traditional secular bias in his inner heart. It is this contradiction along with the followed clash that not only keeps torturing Clare himself but even destroys Tess.Chapter five makes a conclusion about what has been discussed in the previous chapters, indicating that by exploring and analyzing each character’s sexual morality as well as the tragedy of love in Tess, the author expresses her own understanding of sex and love from a new perspective, and at the same time explores the profound factors of the tragedy of love.

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