January 22, 2024

The Dialectics of Remembering and Forgetting

Uncanny Atonement in Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”

Event Series: Cultural Encounters: Books that Have Made a Difference

Showing the The Dialectics of Remembering and Forgetting Video

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) is the narrative of a young woman who encounters one fated tragedy after another due to her deep empathy for both the less able and less careful. While Tess’ consciousness is one of dynamic feeling and yearning, she suffers from a social conscience denied reciprocated respect for her autonomy and dignity. In this talk Rebecca Boylan looked at this classic tale, bearing in mind Pope Francis' call for a culture of encounter in Fratelli Tutti, in which we are encouraged to recognize others in their otherness. In his regard for Tess’ suffering, Hardy uncannily cannot forget this woman wronged. He resurrects her in a poem, Tess’s Lament (1901), 10 years after her demise at the novel’s end, in which Tess beseeches the reader to forget her existence as one that troubled the only man she ever truly loved, Angel Clare. How does the creator’s inability to forget Tess, who begs to be forgotten, provide a means for the creature to forgive the sins of her creator? This brief study invited Hardy’s readers to ponder how the meeting of narrative Tess with poetic Tess begs a twenty-first century trust in this writer’s vulnerability to expose his own complicity in oppressing women—even as he longs to recognize their strength with compassion.

This event was sponsored by the Future of the Humanities Project, the Georgetown Humanities Initiative, and Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. It is part of the year-long series, Cultural Encounters: Books that Have Made a Difference.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Alwyn Ladell


Rebecca Boylan

Rebecca Boylan

Rebecca Boylan is a lecturer in the Department of English at Georgetown University and a master instructor in the Department of English at Howard University. Her teaching focuses on ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful. With a value for the humanities’ reach beyond the classroom, Boylan initiated a yearly symposium for English majors and minors at Georgetown. Several of her papers have been published studying the collaboration of perspective, the arts, and justice in Emily Brontë, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf. Boylan earned a Ph.D. in English from George Washington University.

Michael Scott

Michael Scott

Michael Scott (moderator) is senior dean, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, college advisor for postgraduate students, and a member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior advisor to the president of Georgetown University. Scott previously served as the pro-vice-chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University, where he is professor emeritus.