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To What Extent Can Hardy's Tess Be Seen As A Femme Fatale?

979 words - 4 pages

Tess's sexual agency, - to what extent can Tess be seen as a femme fatale figure?Tess had heard those notes in the attic above her head. Dim, flattened, constrained by their confinement, they had never appealed to her as now, when they wandered in the still air with a stark quality like that of nudity. To speak absolutely, both instrument and execution were poor; but the relative is all, and as she listened Tess, like a fascinated bird, could not leave the spot. Far from leaving she drew up towards the performer, keeping behind the hedge that he might not guess her presence.The outskirt of the garden in which Tess found herself had been left uncultivated for some years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass which sent up mists of pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells-weeds whose red and yellow and purple hues formed a polychrome as dazzling as that of cultivated flowers. She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made madder stains on her skin; thus she drew quite near to Clare, still unobserved of him.(Tess, p.179)Thomas Hardy's Tess is popularly seen as the archetypal victim, the opposite of the femme fatale figure who brings calamity through her sex. She is not seen as experimenting with her power over men; rather as a casualty of her society she is exploited and harmed. Although Hardy names Tess "a pure woman" there are many contradictions in his presentation of her sexuality. Tess is a character presented as evading generalization just as she simultaneously remains a site of masculine attempts to fix and name her. Tess should not be regarded wholly as a victim of masculine sexuality, importantly she contains both extremes of the virgin-whore split: she is both passive (desired, hunted, victim) and active (desiring, murderesses). I would argue that Tess holds and at times displays a sexual agency; in almost all of the erotic passages in the novel Tess's dual (active/passive) sexuality is stressed. In the famous garden scene (p179) Tess makes steps from her previous passivity towards activity and energy.The scene shows Tess in the outskirts of the garden, where she hears Angel Clare privately singing to himself. To some extent, this scene feels déjà vu, Tess has overheard Angel singing previously, "Tess had heard those notes in the attic above her head." However in this scene her receiving of Angel's notes alters showing her passive to active sexual transformation. An examination of the verbs used in this passage hints at her alteration; previously Tess merely "heard" the notes but in the garden she "listened" to them. The change in verbs is subtle but significant, "Hear" has connotations of being informed...

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