Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and David Herbert Lawrence’s Odor of Chrysanthemums and Horse-Dealer’s Daughter

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and David Herbert Lawrence’s two short stories, Odor of Chrysanthemums and The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter show significant breaks from the Victorian beliefs, styles, and techniques. These two authors found in the world around them significant sources for their literature, they did not depend on their predecessors for models and often deliberately abandoned the works of the nineteenth century. Hardy and Lawrence planted their fiction in “the private world [which] is the real world in which we live” (Abrams 1689). This “private” world did not exclude human sexuality in the works of these men.

Hardy was the first to approach the nature of human sexuality and the conflicts that result from it. He uses a nostalgia of the past, physiological development, and his fundamental religious views in Tess of the d’Urbervilles setting him apart from the Victorians. Lawrence’s fiction extends a hatred for Victorian social class structure. His style reflects an interest in individual development of characters and their personal lives involved with male and female relationships. He drew from his own life to construct his works. Lawrence also directly looks at human sexuality that his predecessors neglected.

Hardy is described as Late-Victorian by some who consider his views toward literature and life in his poetry to be clearly Victorian (Abrams 1612). But, he is also called the first modern novelists by others, a novelist who portrays the enchanting time of the agricultural world that was fading and who abandons Victorian social ideals. Irving Howe explains, “Tess derives from Hardy’s involvement with and reaction against the Victorian cult of chastity. . . She violates standards of her day. . . yet, in her incomparable vibrancy. . . she comes to represent a spiritualized transcendence of chastity” (Howe in Hardy 408). Hardy directly addresses the issue of rape in the novel and the lingering affects of the out-of-wedlock child had on Tess’s life. Hardy does not adhere to the ideals of the popular culture of the late nineteenth century. As he surveys the clash of culture, class, and cosmos, he finds and gives us allowances to respect Tess for what she is not for what society is or thinks is right.

Like this simplistic view of Tess, Hardy proposes the order of the world to function in the hands of fate and the cosmos. Hardy read Darwin at an early age and he found reason to abandon popular views of Christianity. Through Tess, Hardy expresses his opinion about our world being cursed. When Tess’s brother, Abraham asks about the differences of the stars and whether ours is a “splendid” or “blighted” one, Tess, affirms, “A blighted one.” (Hardy 21). Hardy’s doubt of God and allegiance to chance and fatalistic outlook on life is displayed through several events in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. When Tess wears her red ribbon that makes her stand out, but coincidentally is not approached by Angel at the May-Day dance in Phase the First, part II. Later, when Tess writes her confessional note and “owing to her haste thrust it beneath the carpet as well as beneath the door” of Angel’s bedroom, Hardy reflects for us the interference of “chance” in life very realistically (Hardy 165). Hardy uses the elements of his fatalistic point of view and a nostalgia of the simplistic and peaceful fading agricultural life to fill the pages of his novel.

In Tess, we see evidence of rural folklife and superstition that Hardy gathered from his own life. We find Joan, Tess’s mother consulting the “Complete Fortune-Teller . . . an old thick volume . . . so worn by pocketing that the margins had reached the edge of the type” (Hardy 14). The rural folk culture is seen in the beliefs Tess exhibits, for instance when she and Clare come upon a gravel cliff where the murmur of streams “force upon their fancy that a great city lay below them” and Tess exclaims “It seems like tens of thousands of them. . . holding public meetings in their market-places, arguing, preaching, quarelling. . . ” (Hardy 157-158). The rural heritage and folksy attitudes of Hardy’s characters appear as an aspect of culture and social customs virtually untouched by earlier novelists. Along with the modernists, Hardy looks towards psychology to define his character, Tess.

Hardy’s characters exhibit psychological progress. For instance, nearing the end of each “Phase” of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the heroin advances through psychological development. We see traces of this in each instance, but perhaps the most eloquent of examples is nearing the end of the novel when Angel has a vague conception that “his original Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize the body before him as hers – allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will. . . Tess was gone” (Hardy 299). The terrible fate of Tess’s physic marks an irreversible devastation brought on by her life of struggle. This psychological development in Tess as an individual is a break from the mainly “social” focus of the Victorian literature.

Hardy wrote about the things that the Victorians did not want to talk about. Hardy presented his heroin as chaste even though she was not the Victorian ideal, he allocated his own religious views that the earlier writers “tip-toed” around. His style and technique, along with his subject matter served the purposes of the modernists. Hardy addresses the struggles of the “man and woman” relationship and focuses on the individual development of his characters opposed to the society as the nucleus. Hardy clearly exemplifies “the ache of modernism” with the loss of the old ways without different new ways to replace them in his characters especially Angel Clare (Hardy 98). His modern novel places him in the same class as D.H. Lawrence whose voice was modern in the way “He looked at the world freshly, with his own eyes” (Abrams 2083).

Like Hardy, D. H. Lawrence examines the relationships between man and woman, psychological development in characters and an abandonment of Victorian ideals. Lawrence was among the leaders of the modernist movement who were influenced by a shift in social values to “more personally conceived notions of value. . . drawing their criteria of significance in human affairs” (Abrams 1688).

In Odor of Chrysanthemum, the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bates is closely inspected. We find that the class structure of the day was despised by Lawrence. Elizabeth Bates, not unlike Lawrence’s mother, married below her social class. Also not unlike Lawrence mother, Mrs. Bates belittled her husband because of it. We find Lawrence drawing from hi own life experiences to give the reader an example of “counterfeit” love. This love being unfulfilling to the participants. Mrs. Bates thought of her husbands death and the future of her children: “What sentimental luxury was this she was beginning? She. . . consider[ed] her children. . . They were her business” (Lawrence 2091). The relationship Lawrence examines in this short story is one that has led to insensitivity and, according to his “love ethic,” forbidden the personal growth of this woman.

We see Lawrence’s modernistic technique of observing the psychological development of characters in Mrs. Elizabeth Bates in Odor of Chrysanthemums. Upon realizing the failure of her marriage, Mrs. Bates “was grateful to death, which restored the truth. . . . She felt that in the next world he would be a stranger to her. . . they would only be ashamed of what had been before” (Lawrence 2096). This mystic idea of “the beyond” also sets Lawrence apart from the earlier writers that faithfully adhered to Christianity. As the story ends, we find a psychological advancement in Mrs. Bates which is comparable to that of Hardy’s Tess: “Now that he was dead, she knew how eternally apart he was from her, how eternally he had nothing more to do with her. She saw this episode of her life close” (Lawrence 2096). The modernistic use of psychological development is best seen in this short story by D.H. Lawrence, but in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter are an excellent examples of other modernistic views and techniques.

In The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, we see the painful existence of a young women and her sensual encounter with a doctor. The issues of technological change, social structure and human sexuality make this story a prime example of modern fiction. Like the opening of Odor of Chrysanthemums where Lawrence blatantly matches up two symbols of past (the cantering colt) and present (the number four locomotive), this story faces the consequences of technology for an agrarian family.
The change of the times resulting in the complete disruption of a family: “They were all frightened at the collapse of their lives and the sense of disaster in which they were involved left them no inner freedom” (Lawrence 2097). The emptiness felt by the characters is shown through Lawrence lush and concise imagery as we are bombarded with looks of helplessness, absent eyes, and empty stables. Mabel’s comfortable attachment to her dead mother emphasizes this pitiful existence as suicide appeals to her naturally. These are the results of a technologically advancing world when families have a hard time adjusting. Lawrence, in addition to this, looks at social structure and human sexuality in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter.

Lawrence, again in this short story, expresses his disgust with social class structure through the encounter between Mabel and Doctor Ferguson. Although something about Mabel held him almost captivated in the kitchen of her home, he struggled with the thought of loving her, the horse-dealer’s daughter. Ferguson, at first, could not disregard his position, a doctor. “He had no single personal thought of her. Nay, this introduction of the personal element was very distasteful to him” (Lawrence 2105). He was reluctant to view her as a person, and even though he had undressed her, “he had never intended to love her” (Lawrence 2105). These aspects of Lawrence’s modern traits are good examples of how his vision was new, but even more distinguishing from Victorian style is the treatment of human sexuality.

In The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, passionate scenes, that could never have been accepted in the time of Dickens for example, are related was grace and integrity. After the near-death experience, Lawrence demonstrates his “love ethic” once again through with Mabel’s “life urge.” During this mystic, cosmic state of being, Mabel experiences a powerful love for the doctor as “she was passionately kissing his knees, through the wet clothing, passionately and indiscriminately kissing his knees, his legs, as if unaware of everything” (Lawrence 2105). Such desire and lust shown in David Herbert Lawrence’s short story The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, is unparalleled by any works of the Victorian age.

These individual works, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and David Herbert Lawrence’s two short stories, Odor of Chrysanthemums and The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, and their styles are quite different from the Victorian era. These two authors found themselves in an age that allowed them to reject their immediate past, and make their work new. They took to different means to define their characters, instead of using social and financial they focused on the individual characters. They talked about their personal religious beliefs and human sexuality which their forefathers could not. And they were proud to detach themselves from the Victorians. In the words of Lawrence himself, “What we need is to smash a few big holes in European suburbanity, let in a little real fresh air” (Lawrence qtd. in Bain 255).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


8 − = seven