This novel being one wherein the great campaign of the heroine begins after an event
in her experience which has usually been treated as fatal to her part of protagonist, or
at least as the virtual ending of her enterprises and hopes, it was quite contrary to
avowed conventions that the public should welcome the book, and agree with me in
holding that there was something more to be said in fiction than had been said about
the shaded side of a well-known catastrophe. But the responsive spirit in which Tess
of the d'Urbervilles has been received by the readers of England and America, would
seem to prove that the plan of laying down a story on the lines of tacit opinion, instead
of making it to square with the merely vocal formulae of society, is not altogether a
wrong one, even when exemplified in so unequal and partial an achievement as the
present. For this responsiveness I cannot refrain from expressing my thanks; and my
regret is that, in a world where one so often hungers in vain for friendship, where even
not to be wilfully misunderstood is felt as a kindness, I shall never meet in person
these appreciative readers, male and female, and shake them by the hand.
I include amongst them the reviewers - by far the majority - who have so generously
welcomed the tale. Their words show that they, like the others, have only too largely
repaired my defects of narration by their own imaginative intuition.
Nevertheless, though the novel was intended to be neither didactic nor aggressive, but
in the scenic parts to be representative simply, and in the contemplative to be oftener
charged with impressions than with convictions, there have been objectors both to the
matter and to the rendering.
The more austere of these maintain a conscientious difference of opinion concerning,
among other things, subjects fit for art, and reveal an inability to associate the idea of
the sub-title adjective with any but the artificial and derivative meaning which has
resulted to it from the ordinances of civilization. They ignore the meaning of the word
in Nature, together with all aesthetic claims upon it, not to mention the spiritual
interpretation afforded by the finest side of their own Christianity. Others dissent on
grounds which are intrinsically no more than an assertion that the novel embodies the
views of life prevalent at the end of the nineteenth century, and not those of an earlier
and simpler generation - an assertion which I can only hope may be well founded. Let
me repeat that a novel is ail impression, not an argument; and there the matter must
rest; as one is reminded by a passage which occurs in the letters of Schiller to Goethe
on judges of this class: `They are those who seek only their own ideas in a
representation, and prize that which should be as higher than what is. The cause of the
dispute, therefore, lies in the very first principles, and it would be utterly impossible to
come to an understanding with them.' And again: `As soon as I observe that any one,
when judging of poetical representations, considers anything more important than the
inner Necessity and Truth, I have done with him.'
In the introductory words to the first edition I suggested the possible advent of the
genteel person who would not be able to endure something or other in these pages.
That person duly appeared among the aforesaid objectors. In one case he felt upset
that it was not possible for him to read the book through three times, owing to my not
having made that critical effort which `alone can prove the salvation of such an one'.
In another, he objected to such vulgar articles as the Devil's pitchfork, a lodging-house
carving-knife, and a shame-bought parasol, appearing in a respectable story. In
another place he was a gentleman who turned Christian for half-an-hour the better to
express his grief that a disrespectful phrase about the Immortals should have been
used; though the same innate gentility compelled him to excuse the author in words of
pity that one cannot be too thankful for: `He does but give us of his best.' I can assure
this great critic that to exclaim illogically against the gods, singular or plural, is not
such an original sin of mine as he seems to imagine. True, it may have some local
originality; though if Shakespeare were an authority on history, which perhaps he is
not, I could show that the sin was introduced into Wessex as early as the Heptarchy
itself. Says Glo'ster in Lear, otherwise Ina, king of that country:
As files to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
The remaining two or three manipulators of Tess were of the predetermined sort
whom most writers and readers would gladly forget; professed literary boxers, who
put on their convictions for the occasion; modern `Hammers of Heretics'; sworn
Discouragers, ever on the watch to prevent the tentative half-success from becoming
the whole success later on; who pervert plain meanings, and grow personal under the
name of practising the great historical method. However, they may have causes to
advance, privileges to guard, traditions to keep going; some of which a mere taleteller,
who writes down how the things of the world strike him, without any ulterior
intentions whatever, has overlooked, and may by pure inadvertence have run foul of
when in the least aggressive mood. Perhaps some passing perception, the outcome of a
dream hour, would, if generally acted on, cause such an assailant considerable
inconvenience with respect to position, interests, family, servant, ox, ass neighbour, or
neighbour's wife. He therefore valiantly hides his personality behind a publisher's
shutters, and cries `Shame!' So densely is the world thronged that any shifting of
positions, even the best warranted advance, galls somebody's kibe. Such shiftings
often begin in sentiment, and such sentiment sometimes begins in a novel.
'A fair vestal, throned in the west'
Elfride Swancourt was a girl whose emotions lay very near the surface. Their nature more precisely, and as modified by the creeping hours of time, was known only to those who watched the circumstances of her history.
Personally, she was the combination of very interesting particulars, whose rarity, however, lay in the combination itself rather than in the individual elements combined. As a matter of fact, you did not see the form and substance of her features when conversing with her; and this charming power of preventing a material study of her lineaments by an interlocutor, originated not in the cloaking effect of a well-formed manner (for her manner was childish and scarcely formed), but in the attractive crudeness of the remarks themselves. She had lived all her life in retirement—the monstrari gigito of idle men had not flattered her, and at the age of nineteen or twenty she was no further on in social consciousness than an urban young lady of fifteen.
One point in her, however, you did notice: that was her eyes. In them was seen a sublimation of all of her; it was not necessary to look further: there she lived.
These eyes were blue; blue as autumn distance—blue as the blue we see between the retreating mouldings of hills and woody slopes on a sunny September morning. A misty and shady blue, that had no beginning or surface, and was looked INTO rather than AT.
As to her presence, it was not powerful; it was weak. Some women can make their personality pervade the atmosphere of a whole banqueting hall; Elfride's was no more pervasive than that of a kitten.
Elfride had as her own the thoughtfulness which appears in the face of the Madonna della Sedia, without its rapture: the warmth and spirit of the type of woman's feature most common to the beauties—mortal and immortal—of Rubens, without their insistent fleshiness. The characteristic expression of the female faces of Correggio—that of the yearning human thoughts that lie too deep for tears—was hers sometimes, but seldom under ordinary conditions.
`Yea, many there be that have run out of their wits for women, and
become servants for their sakes. Many also have perished, have erred,
and sinned, for women.... O ye men, how can it be but women should be
strong, seeing they do thus?' - Esdras.
The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry. The miller at
Cresscombe lent him the small white tilted cart and horse to carry his goods to the city
of his destination, about twenty miles off, such a vehicle proving of quite sufficient
size for the departing teacher's effects. For the schoolhouse had been partly furnished
by the managers, and the only cumbersome article possessed by the master, in
addition to the packing-case of books, was a cottage piano that he had bought at an
auction during the year in which he thought of learning instrumental music. But the
enthusiasm having waned he had never acquired any skill in playing, and the
purchased article had been a perpetual trouble to him ever since in moving house.
The rector had gone away for the day, being a man who disliked the sight of changes.
He did not mean to return till the evening, when the new school-teacher would have
arrived and settled in, and everything would be smooth again.
The blacksmith, the farm bailiff, and the schoolmaster himself were standing in
perplexed attitudes in the parlour before the instrument. The master had remarked that
even if he got it into the cart he should not know what to do with it on his arrival at
Christminster, the city he was bound for, since he was only going into temporary
lodgings just at first.
A little boy of eleven, who had been thoughtfully assisting in the packing, joined the
group of men, and as they rubbed their chins he spoke up, blushing at the sound of his
own voice: `Aunt have got a great fuel-house, and it could be put there, perhaps, till
you've found a place to settle in, sir.'
`A proper good notion,' said the blacksmith.
It was decided that a deputation should wait on the boy's aunt - an old maiden
resident - and ask her if she would house the piano till Mr. Phillotson should send for
it. The smith and the bailiff started to see about the practicability of the suggested
shelter, and the boy and the schoolmaster were left standing alone.
`Sorry I am going, Jude?' asked the latter kindly.
Tears rose into the boy's eyes, for he was not among the regular day scholars, who
came unromantically close to the schoolmaster's life, but one who had attended the
night school only during the present teacher's term of office. The regular scholars, if
the truth must be told, stood at the present moment afar off, like certain historic
disciples, indisposed to any enthusiastic volunteering of aid.
The boy awkwardly opened the book he held in his hand, which Mr. Phillotson had
bestowed on him as a parting gift, and admitted that he was sorry.
`So am I,' said Mr. Phillotson.
`Why do you go, sir?' asked the boy.
`Ah - that would be a long story. You wouldn't understand my reasons, Jude. You
will, perhaps, when you are older.'
`I think I should now, sir.'
`Well - don't speak of this everywhere. You know what a university is, and a
university degree? It is the necessary hallmark of a man who wants to do anything in
teaching. My scheme, or dream, is to be a university graduate, and then to be
ordained. By going to live at Christminster, or near it, I shall be at headquarters, so to
speak, and if my scheme is practicable at all, I consider that being on the spot will
afford me a better chance of carrying it out than I should have elsewhere.'
The smith and his companion returned. Old Miss Fawley's fuel-house was dry, and
eminently practicable; and she seemed willing to give the instrument standing-room
there. It was accordingly left in the school till the evening, when more hands would be
available for removing it; and the schoolmaster gave a final glance round.
The boy Jude assisted in loading some small articles, and at nine o'clock Mr. Phillotson mounted beside his box of books and other impedimenta, and bade his friends good-bye.
Description of Farmer Oak - An Incident
When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an
unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging
wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a
rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.
His Christian name was Gabriel, and on working days he was a young man of sound
judgement, easy motions, proper dress, and general good character. On Sundays he
was a man of misty views, rather given to postponing, and hampered by his best
clothes and umbrella: upon the whole, one who felt himself to occupy morally that
vast middle space of Laodicean neutrality which lay between the Communion people
of the parish and the drunken section, - that is, he went to church, but yawned
privately by the time the congregation reached the Nicene creed, and thought of what
there would be for dinner when he meant to be listening to the sermon. Or, to state his
character as it stood in the scale of public opinion, when his friends and critics were in
tantrums, he was considered rather a bad man; when they were pleased, he was rather
a good man; when they were neither, he was a man whose moral colour was a kind of
Since he lived six times as many working days as Sundays, Oak's appearance in his
old clothes was most peculiarly his own - the mental picture formed by his neighbours
in imagining him being always dressed in that way. He wore a low-crowned felt hat,
spread out at the base by tight jamming upon the head for security in high winds, and
a coat like Dr Johnson's; his lower extremities being encased in ordinary leather
leggings and boots emphatically large, affording to each foot a roomy apartment so
constructed that any wearer might stand in a river all day long and know nothing of
damp - their maker being a conscientious man who endeavoured to compensate for
any weakness in his cut by unstinted dimension and solidity.
Mr Oak carried about him, by way of watch, what may be called a small silver clock;
in other words, it was a watch as to shape and intention, and a small clock as to sic.
This instrument being several years older than Oak's grandfather, had the peculiarity
of going either too fast or not at all. The smaller of its hands, too, occasionally slipped
round on the pivot, and thus, though the minutes were told with precision, nobody
could be quite certain of the hour they belonged to. The stopping peculiarity of his
watch Oak remedied by thumps and shakes, and he escaped any evil consequences
from the other two defects by constant comparisons with and observations of the sun
and stars, and by pressing his face close to the glass of his neighbours' windows, till
he could discern the hour marked by the green-faced time-keepers within. It may be
mentioned that Oak's fob being difficult of access, by reason of its somewhat high
situation in the waistband of his trousers (which also lay at a remote height under his
waistcoat), the watch was as a necessity pulled out by throwing the body to one side,
compressing the mouth and face to a mere mass of ruddy flesh on account of the
exertion, and drawing up the watch by its chain, like a bucket from a well.
But some thoughtful persons, who had seen him walking across one of his fieldn a
certain December morning - sunny and exceedingly mild - might have regarded
Gabriel Oak in other aspects than these. In his ace one might notice that many of the
hues and curves of youth had tarried on to manhood: there even remained in his
remoter crannies some relics of the boy. His height and breadth would have been
sufficient to make his presence imposing, had they been exhibited with due
consideration. But there is a way some men have, rural and urban alike, for which the
mind is more responsible than flesh and sinew: it is a way of cling their dimensions by
their manner of showing them. And from a quiet modesty that would have become a
vestal, which seemed continually to impress upon him that he had no great claim on
the world's room, Oak walked unassumingly, and with a faintly perceptible bend, yet
distinct from a bowing of the shoulders. This may be said to be a defect in an
individual if he depends for his valuation more upon his appearance than upon his
capacity to wear well, which Oak did not.
He had just reached the time of life at which `young' is ceasing to be the prefix of
`man' in speaking of one. He was at the brightest period of masculine growth, for his
intellect and his emotions `were clearly separated: he had passed the time during
which the influence of youth indiscriminately mingles them in the character of
impulse, and he had not yet arrived at the stage wherein they become united again, in
the character of prejudice, by the influence of a wife and family in short, he was
twenty-eight, and a bachelor.
The field he was in this morning sloped to a ridge called Norcombe Hill. Through a
spur of this hill ran the highway between Emminster and Chalk-Newton. Casually
glancing over the hedge, Oak saw coming down the incline before him an ornamental
spring waggon; painted yellow `and gaily marked, drawn by two horses, a waggoner
walking alongside bearing a whip perpendicularly. The waggon was laden with
household goods and window plants, and on the apex of the whole sat a woman,
young and attractive. Gabriel had not beheld the sight for more than half a minute,
when the vehicle was brought to a standstill just beneath his eyes.
`The tailboard of the waggon is gone, Miss,' said the waggoner.
`Then I heard it fall,' said the girl, in a soft, though not particularly low voice. `I heard a noise I could not account for when we were coming up the hill.'