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