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Compare and contrast the ways in which Hardy and Fowles present Victorian morals and values

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One of the most prominent Victorian values present in both novels is the issue of purity in a woman. Both novels contain a ‘fallen’ women as a protagonist, however, Charles in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ seems to be drawn to this flaw where Angel in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ finds Tess’ impurity unforgiveable for one part of the text. “You were one person, and now you are another” portrays how Angel treats Tess “as though associated with a crime” after her finds out she is “a young woman whose history will bear investigation”. Hardy is highlighting the injustice of Victorian double standards on purity.

I forgive you Angel, but you do not forgive me” illustrates how Tess is willing to immediately forgive Angel for his sin out of her love for him. Victorian men are presented as being attracted to chastity in a woman above most other qualities. Sam in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ dreams of Mary, whom he is courting, as being “prettily caged”. This metaphor suggests that he too was magnetised by Mary’s chastity by depicting her as being enclosed in an environment where no other man has ever been. Hardy once again stresses the inequalities between the sexes through his character of Alec.

Alec ironically says that Tess “has not a sense of what is morally right and proper any weight with you”, when actually he is the malcontent. “The serpent hisses where the sweet bird sings” reflects Hardy’s use of biblical imagery from the Garden of Eden story to show how Alec corrupts Tess, just as the snakes corrupts Eve. This part of the plot is echoed in Chapter 47 of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ where Charles “forced a virgin”. However, the distinct contrast between these two plots is that Charles thought Sarah wasn’t chaste, but Alec knew that Tess was.

These differences could be to do with the perspective of the time of writing, where Hardy knew some Victorian men were that cruel, but Fowles makes the double standards slightly less rigid in his novel, probably due to the influence of modern society. The Clare family in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” are portrayed as kind and charitable due to their religion. Hardy depicts Tess as “a fairly choice sort of lost person for their love”. This contrasts with Alec’s religious endeavour in the same chapter: “his face blackening with something that was not Christianity”.

Hardy is demonstrating how good Victorian morals are not always dictated by religion. Tess is a victim of society’s morals and values. If the Victorians had not enforced the idyllic perception of the ‘virginal bride’ then Angel would not have left Tess. Everywhere Tess goes she is dealt a rough hand in life due to her class and her impurity. Hardy expresses her death as particularly poignant because the reader’s understand her to be a victim of her external circumstances, thus making it an undeserved punishment.

As soon as they had strength they arose, joined hands again, and went on”- Hardy’s unemotional and detached use of the ‘life goes on’ metaphor, (from Angel and Liza-Lu walking on) depicts how Hardy imagines this happens frequently in Victorian society, and he is almost weary of it happening. This is an effective way of making the readers consider their own morals through their attachment to the character of Tess and then leaving on such a flat note after her tragic death. Hardy wants the reader to have faith in the fallen woman and to be more caring towards those who do not meet the expectations of Victorian standards.

Fowles gives the reader a choice of three endings, illustrating how Charles and Sarah’s story ends however you decide to change it, portraying the human decisions made in life and how they can effects other people so greatly. If Charles had not been influenced by society then he wouldn’t have got engaged to Ernestina, and she wouldn’t then have become tainted because of his betrayal. Fowles, unlike Hardy, is not writing for a change in society’s morals, he is writing to comment on Victorian morals.

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