Sunday, June 16, 2013

tess of the d'urbervilles

Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a tragic story, but this is necessarily so. The logic of Tess, the meaning of the book, is inseparable from what Hardy wanted to achieve with it, which is the liberation of love from the tragic and needless qualms of an overdeveloped sense of propriety. Tess is, as the original title stated, 'a pure woman', but her life is hexed by an innocent moment of weakness, hexed not by some vaulted and inscrutable higher power but by her own sense of guilt and by extension her guilt in the eyes of those around her. This guilt, though entirely of human creation, is enough to deny Tess the life and love she deserves. Why do we not get what we want? because we prevent ourselves from getting it.

The character of Tess is one the most cherished in all literature. So finely and completely wrought is she that the reader cannot help but love her and love her completely. For men, because she is so beautiful and sensitive yet strong, for women because she is so humbly noble and tender. Of course I fell in love with Tess and hoped against reason that she would find her love with Angel Clare, that she and he would rise above the petty cruelty of social mores but their milieu stymies such a simple equation, and then the carefully measured pace of the novel does the rest: it becomes a matter of time. The necessary transmutation of Clare....will it happen soon enough?...well it does and it doesn't...it is as it must be, for the beauty of a tragic near thing is enough to inspire a million successes. Yes books like Tess can inoculate the mind against pursuing those tyrannies it wages over the heart and it is in this arena that the war, the holy war is fought.

To see, just a hundred years ago, that to be a woman in England was to be in an nigh impossible position. Dominated by men and the church of men she is at the mercy of a rigid morality, a morality that is skewed, in which the woman is judged more harshly than the man for similar transgression. Can all that much change in 100 years? Is woman still not, as John Lennon said, 'the nigger of the world'? For all the real and imaginary gains of the liberation movement are we not more than ever in a man's world? A man's world where more and more women play the role of men. I imagine a world where woman is truly and equally established alongside man to be quite something else, a world where war between peoples is unthinkable; where the earth is respected, cherished, nurtured; a world where the child is loved and is free to be the child til his childhood is complete; a world where the rhythm of life is not a monomaniacal race for rats, but flows languidly...where that most essential feature of music keeps time: silence.

For woman is nature and this mutual identity is what Hardy uses as his backdrop, his metaphysic. Tess and her fellow women are part of the land in which they toil.  The men are different: they establish themselves against the land. The men impose themselves on each other and the environment and of course on woman. It is the men that tend the new fiery demons of the day: the threshing and harvesting machines....

To see that the treatment of woman and the treatment of the earth as one and the same...this is the key to a true liberation and more: it will be the inauguration of a new epoch, one not seen before. But the weapons of man have changed with the times. No longer able to dominate overtly, man now dominates through a sort of hypnotic suggestion...or should I say 'the man', for no one is as cruelly exploited in a patriarchal world as man himself. While woman is still able to feel one within herself, even if it means to feel simultaneously the repression that goes with it, man is torn in two. Man is so estranged from his feminine core that only woman can heal him. He can go part of the way with a keen mind but it is only love of women and the courage this requires that transforms the unconscious and destructive adolescent into a man.

Man's role now, his noble duty: to activate the feminine. A woman needs love and this means love unconditional. Only this will do. Love respects no boundaries. If a man is called by a woman, as woman,  it is his duty, to her and himself to respond. I think the woman is the initiator usually, but often in a subtle way... she is the gatekeeper in any case. If the invitation has been given a man must be damn sure he's doing the right thing if he doesn't accept, otherwise he may have transgressed the only law that really exists: the law of the heart, and this always has consequences.

What stops a man's hand? What makes him hesitate when his body wants to rise up? That little tyrant within that rules by doubt; that ever present 'nay' to the worlds yesses. He is 'the man'; not a real man of course, quite the opposite, but he holds most 'men' in check doesn't he? He is your adversary.

Yes we have all been burnt before, but that pain you have felt at 'her' hands, were they not growing pains? Are you not become a better man each time round? With each foray into the wilds of the heart you become stronger, braver, capable of more, until you are fearless, until you are able to give of yourself and ask nothing because you are complete within yourself and you do not need woman (for you have found the feminine within yourself), you simply and purely desire her. Then it is all joy and gain, because that final sacrifice has been made - man giving himself, through woman, to the world...to the service of the earth.







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