Thomas Hardy was a naturalist, part of a Darwinist-influenced literary movement at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century that saw nature as indifferent to humankind. Obviously, nature plays in important role/element in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Nature as a subject has been treated by different poets, novelists and dramatists. Everyone analyzes this subject according to his own mind. Shelley got the lesson of optimism from nature. He says:
If Winter comes can Spring be far behind
Keats talks about mellowing season, flowers, new trees and beauty of nature. Wordsworth’s treatment of nature made him a prophet and he calls nature a ‘mother’ or a ‘friend’.
Hardy was deeply interested in nature. He has a sensitive temperament about nature. An average intelligent observer notes small things and forgets the drawback of nature. Hardy, what he talks about the nature, results from the direct impressions of nature which he receives after observing it very deeply and carefully. Hardy’s concept is more realistic than romantic.
Nature is the important element in Hardy’s novels and especially in “Tess” nature serves as a living character and not for the background of the novel. Nature is not more friendly, almost in all of his novels, rather cruel and crashing. Hardy confines himself only to the dark aspects of nature. It is mainly because of his temperament that he does not turn to other aspects. He got the lesson of pessimism from nature. In his opinion:
Happiness is but an occasional episode in a general drama of pain.
He seems to believe that all is not right with the world. He studies nature in its all aspects; ordinary, grand, sad and happy. Nature does not have all the time a holy plan. In this novel, we find different shades of nature as we see it a holy, guileful, relentless and even romantic sometimes.
In “Tess”, Hardy calls nature a villain character. Tess would have definitely escaped from the painful act if nature had not covered the place with darkness and coldness. Nature has nothing good to offer to Tess but only destruction and suffering. Hardy paints the bitter picture of life. He regards human beings as puppets in the hands of nature. All the misery and sorrows that we see in the world are there because of some external power called fate or nature. Tess did her best to avoid the sufferings and went for some positive work but it was the nature that left her alone with no destination. She was caught up by cruel clutches of nature that comes into the shape of Alec. Tess becomes a victim in the Alec’s lustful and wanton nature.
In the seduction scene, we see the major influence of nature. Nature welcomes its friend in the appointed place that is covered with romantic atmosphere. Darkness and quietness is prevailed everywhere. Seduction is a sort of intoxication. No one is willfully seduced. As Tess fell a victim to seduction, anyone would have been seduced under such romantic circumstances. So, all the elements of nature contribute to make her seduced.
Hardy discloses the rude aspects of life. He says where the guardian angels were when Tess was being raped. Nature is just like a director and she handles her victim without knowing their will. It seems that Hardy’s concept of nature is like that:
As flies to wanton boys,
Are we to the gods,
They kill us for their sport.
Once again Hardy rejects the idea of Wordsworth who says that birth of a child is the beautiful scheme of nature, but Hardy ironically says that what kind of beautiful scheme is that a poor family has been awarded through a lot of children, which became the cause of Tess’ sufferings. Due to a lot of family members she faces so many sufferings. A critic says:
The elementary, grand and sad aspects of nature are the land which appears to him most is that which is freest from human beings.
In Tolbathays, nature seems very friendly. The Angel-Tess affair wouldn’t have been so beautiful, but for its being among nature. The atmosphere of Tolbathays is very pleasant. Angel proposes Tess in that romantic atmosphere. Sometimes nature seems to share in reality. It is her reflection of human moods, feelings and passions which are the percipient human mind observes in nature.
In fact Hardy is himself not satisfied by nature. He thinks that nature is always struggling against mankind in which physical comfort is nothing as compared to the mental anguish. Nature has the malaise treatment with human beings. She takes the cares to Tess’ sufferings in its bosom and places it one by one. It was a pre-planned work. All the elements of nature like fate, chance and incidents to hand to hand on Tess’ tragedy.
It looks that God is looking us just to feel pleasure. We have no guardian angels, no backing force on our difficulties. Hardy did not see anywhere ‘nature’s holy plan’ on the earth. So hardy seems unique who always sees the dark side of the picture and negates the bright one. Actually Hardy born on the lap of nature and what dark effects he extracts from nature, he employs all it in his novel “Tess” which darkens the life of all characters. Nature is just like ever awaking phenomenon of man’s life.