Contrary to Roland Barthes post-structuralist theory on The Death of the Author, the context of Hardy’s background is extremely relevant when critically evaluating any of his novels. Tess of the D’Urberville is saturated with examinations of the class issues of his contemporary society. It is clear he posses’ a strong sense of moral value toward the rural classes and Tess's own class issues ultimately determine her downfall. Most of Hardy's novels are very typical in depiction of the people, life styles, moral constructs and personal dilemmas of his contemporary society, especially regarding cross-class conflicts. This essay aims to discuss Hardy’s thematic depiction of class within the novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles Hardy’s views on the subject of the peasant classes and the portrayal of class conflicts within an early Victorian society which are examined throughout the text.
Hardy originated from a working class family. The son of a master mason, Hardy was slightly above that of his agricultural peers. Hardy’s examination of transition between classes is usually similar to that of D.H. Lawrence, that if you step outside your circle you will die. The ambitious lives of the characters within Hardy’s novels like Jude and Tess usually end fatally; as they attempt to break away from the constraints of their class, thus, depicting Hardy’s view upon the transition between classes. Hardy valued lower class morals and traditions, it is apparent through reading Tess that her struggles are evidently permeated through the social sufferings of the working class. A central theme running throughout Hardy’s novels is the decline of old families. It is said Hardy himself traced the Dorset Hardy’s lineage and found once they were of great importance, which Thomas Hardy no longer possessed, a distinct manifestation to that in Tess of the D’Ubervilles.
Hardy’s Neo-Darwinist beliefs are embedded throughout the text; theories on heredity are ultimately portrayed within the fatalistic aspects of Tess’s life. Peter R. Morton commentary on this states that in fact Tess’s fate ultimately lays within her lineage and ancestral heredity. Although, she believes she has free will it is at these times her fate is most deterministic. Her mother’s ancestral sexual charm ultimately determines her downfall. Tess is ultimately ‘shackled by ancestry’ and is bound to the fate of the class she was born into.
The nostalgia of the past D’Urbervilles lineage is prevalent from the opening chapters of the novel. John Durbeyfield’s acquisition of his past nobility from a parson establishes his childlike behaviour towards the revelation, and eventually brings the family great suffering. The drunken disclosure prevents John from attaining a job and he regards everything in association with his ‘high nobility’. This knowledge of the family descending from a noble class establishes the events within the remainder of the novel, and is the critical aspect towards Tess’s downfall....