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Victorian Novels

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2156
  • Category: Novel

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Financial insecurity is a major theme in both Tess of the D’Urbervilles and in The Mill on the Floss with the consequences of it severe in both cases. In the former it causes the protagonist of the novel, Tess, to seek help from her wealthy ancestors – causing the tragedy of the story to unfold – and in the later, it results ultimately in the death of Mr Tulliver and the pressures on family relations that ensue. The differences in the depiction of financial insecurity in both novels are, at times, obvious, yet each book successfully portrays the financial struggles of the characters as having a significant impact on their lives.

In both plots, the family is thrown into economic ruin by key events; these act as catalysts for future hardships and give the reader an idea of how quickly one can descend into a life of poverty. However, whilst the effects of this financial descent may be depicted as equally devastating in both novels, the attitude to it is often very different. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, there is a sense that, not only the Durbeyfield family, but most of the local young women, are anxious to escape their poverty and low social stature.

Mr Durbeyfield feels immediately uplifted upon hearing the news that he is descended from a noble family and becomes captivated in a dream that delivers him from rags to riches – “Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles . . .? ” This dream is to prove crucial in determining the outcome of the novel as although providing a sense of hope, it becomes an instrument in the catastrophe that fate causes.

Similarly, at the May Day dance, the young women are keen to be chosen by Angel, a handsome man from high society, and thus gain a possibility of being freed from their life of struggle. This attitude established in the novel, is what makes the consequence of Prince’s death (the key event in causing financial ruin) so devastating. Thoughts of a lofty life are brought crashing back down to earth as the reality of economic ruin are forced upon the Durbeyfield family. “‘Tis all my doing – all mine! ” the distracted girl cried, gazing intently at the spectacle. “No excuse for me – none.

What will father and mother live on now? ” Tess is selfless in that she blames herself for the death and is determined to make amends, however, in a cruel twist of fate, she agrees to her mother’s plan and is resigned to seek help from the noble family of which Mr Dubeyfield has such high ambitions of joining. This causes Tess to meet Alec D’Urberville, the nemesis and downfall of her life. In this respect we can see the effect of financial security as having a broader scale rather than an immediate impact in that it effectively maps out Tess’s life for her and leads her into the tragedy she experiences.

Indeed the financial problems of the Durbeyfield family are consistent throughout the novel – they never disappear, and are a constant reminder to the reader of the importance of this theme in shaping the family’s life. Alec, throughout the novel, uses Tess’s financial plight to his own advantage. He, and indeed Tess, is fully aware of the social and financial advantage a marriage with him would have but Tess refuses because she does not sincerely love him. The irony of all this is that Tess is actually the real possessor of the D’Urberville name, while Alec is simply an impostor, the amoral son of a merchant and, therefore, a commoner.

However, Tess constantly has to avoid the temptation to give in to Alec in order to help herself and her family – he offers money and security, the two things that would help her family the most: “The little finger of the sham d’Urberville can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath… Now command me. What shall I do? ” She remains stubborn, though, as if the financial burden she bears causes her to grow as a person and resist the advances of dangerous men.

In going to work for the D’Urbervilles earlier in novel and falling prey to Alec, Tess has seemingly learned her lesson about risking herself and her happiness for the sake of money. However, it is not just her happiness – it is her family’s too, and in the end her great sense of loyalty towards them overcomes her own integrity and she is forced to relent to the forces of Alec for a second time. Financial insecurity is not only depicted as a tool which can be used to manipulate people but also as a cause of inner turmoil resulting in the making of undesirable decisions and sacrifices.

There is also the sense that the financial constraints on Tess prevent her from rising to a higher platform in life. Possessing an education that her unschooled parents lack, since she has passed the Sixth Standard of the National schools, Tess does not quite fit into the folk culture of her predecessors yet the financial burden she carries prevents her from achieving her deserved status. Although belonging in a higher class of world, she is forced to work as a farmhand and milkmaid.

However, she lacks the same polished diction as Alec or Angel and is therefore placed in a middle area both socially and culturally – whilst early family lines retain their glamour for her, the cold economic realities of her world make sheer wealth more important. In The Mill on the Floss the issue of finance hangs on two events rather than on one as in Tess of the D’Urbervilles with the death of Prince. In the former book Mr Tulliver is firstly involved in an argument with Mrs Glegg about Tom’s education and this results in him promising to reimburse the five hundred pounds she lent him.

Secondly he becomes involved in a lawsuit against Mr Pivart over waterpower. This he loses and is subsequently bankrupt. The two events are linked in a cruel fashion as in order to repay the loan, Mr Tulliver must go outside his family structure and borrow the money from a client of Lawyer Wakem – the man representing Mr Pivart in the case. When compared to Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the way in which this financial insecurity is depicted has important differences. There is a sense that, unlike the Durbeyfields, the Tullivers are economically stable at the opening of the novel.

This is enhanced when we look at the socio-economic differences portrayed in the landscape – the Tullivers live at Dorlcote Mill, a secure establishment providing a regular income. When this is compared to other areas such as Basset (where the Mosses live) which contains unfertile lands and subsequently a rational explanation for the Mosses’ poverty, it serves to develop our understanding of the relative privilege enjoyed by the Tulliver children in their household.

This may be a reason why the financial downfall of the Tullivers’ is depicted as more shocking than that of the Durbeyfields – a family already struggling with their way of life. Indeed Tom, on hearing of his father’s bankruptcy, is shaken for he had foreseen nothing but perpetual success for himself and his father: “Tom had never dreamed his father would ‘fail’: that was a form of misfortune which he had always heard spoken of as a deep disgrace, and disgrace was an idea that he could not associate with any of his relations, least of all with his father.

However, although only contemplating success, as with Tess and the middle area that she is placed in, there is a sense that the Tullivers are just short of breaking into the higher plateaus in life. When compared to men like Mr Stelling and Mr Pivart who have arrived recently on the scene and intend to make money quickly, the Tulliver men are vague to this ethos of rapid wealth. They do not have the minds for sophisticated ways of making money and the image making that arrives with it, as it is so foreign to their own culture of cumulative saving.

In referring to Mr Pivart’s claim to waterpower, Mr Tulliver remark that it’s “a very particular thing – you can’t pick it up with a pitchfork. ” Unlike in Tess, there is a sense that the financial ways of the world are portrayed on a broader scale as we are constantly reminded of the clash between the Tulliver’s older, provincial way of life and the newer aggressive materialism of men like Stelling and Pivart. At the start of Book the Second, the narrator warns us of the danger of unchecked materialism: “who knows where that striving might lead us” and speaks of the important affection for tradition.

However, Tom soon recognizes the shift in worlds and means to be a part of the newer model of venture capitalism: “he did not want to save money slowly and retire on a moderate fortune like his uncle Glegg, but he would be like his uncle Deane – get a situation in some great house of business and rise fast. ” There are key similarities and differences in the consequences of the financial insecurity. Like Tess, Tom takes it upon his shoulders to alleviate the financial worries and repay the debt.

However, we see Tom as more independent, striving to prove himself – Tess on the other hand seeks an easier way out in reducing the financial burden by asking her wealthy ancestors. Tom also actually succeeds in his aim to ease the financial strain when he manages to pay off the debt. Tess, in contrast, is seen struggling throughout the novel to give money to her family with the result being that they are forced to move out of their house. The Tulliver’s however, are able to return to their former home and the novel switches direction away from the money troubles and towards Maggie’s relationship with Stephen and Philip.

In this respect we can see that the financial matters in Mill on the Floss seemingly have their designated place in the novel and although it affects events later, the actual telling of Mr Tulliver’s fiscal problems are retained in one section of the novel. In Tess, there is constant reminder throughout the plot of the Durbeyfields financial plight and this gives the reader a sense that they will never exit their life of poverty – this arguably makes it a more pessimistic novel.

The feuds that are caused by Mr Tulliver’s downfall are important as well. He blames the “raskills” of the “law” for his downfall and admonishes Tom to get back at Wakem, if ever he has the chance. The fact that Tom writes his pledge in the bible makes the desire for revenge all the more spiteful and also makes Maggie’s life more hurtful as she is prevented form seeing Philip because Tom associates all the Wakems as having an evil mind. We also see how the monetary problems have caused family relations to suffer.

It is not only Tom and Maggie who are distanced, but also Maggie and her father – the one person in her life whom she trusted and loved the most. Mr Tulliver develops a one-track mind – his only aim is to pay the debt and keep a rigid hold on the house. He still enjoys Maggie being near him but this is more out of desire than love and Maggie feels ostracised from her father and Tom who have the worries of money to contend with. Relations among the Dodsons also suffer. Mrs Glegg, on hearing of Tulliver’s bankruptcy, now has the ammunition with which to launch a damning attack.

She blames Tulliver entirely and criticises Mrs Tulliver for having married him and allowing herself to enter into this situation. The bankruptcy has tainted the Dodson family name and in a society where status is everything, this will not do. Mrs Tulliver even begins to blame her husband and is dramatically pessimistic about their future: “we shall be beggars… we must to the workhouse. ” In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the conflicts that arise are not within the family but are with the new people that Tess meets in trying to ease the financial problems – Alec and Angel.

Financial insecurity and its consequences are key to the plotline of both novels – in Mill because it acts as a catalyst for changing relations and in Tess because it maps out Tess’s life and introduces her to the people and places that will shape it for the worst. However, as we have seen, there are significant differences in the portrayal of these financial predicaments and, whilst there is no difference in their importance in comparison to each other, they offer a different outlook into the effects that poverty has in the Victorian age and the attitude taken to combat it.

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