Hardy.s Tess and Winterbottom.s Trishna – two victims of love and the society
Undoubtedly, Thomas Hardy belongs to the pantheon of the most famous writers of all times and nowadays his novels are widely known in the world. With precision typical of the realists he depicts the hypocrisy of the Victorian society, class division as well as the painful transition from the old to the new – “the ache of modernity”, as he wrote in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). But apart from that, what is striking in his novels, is the presentation of characters who are unable to adapt to the society they live in, outsiders suffering a great deal because of loneliness and frustration.
Many of Hardy.s characters are female. Some critics admire the author.s ability to describe the insight of women.s mind and soul. Some, even, argue that Hardy.s male characters “suffer from pathological unaggresiveness” and “drift as sleepwalkers through scenes in which men, and women particularly, love and hate with passion.” (Guerard, 1949) This remark seems not to be true, when we take into consideration the relationship of two major characters –Tess and Alec in Hardy.s Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891). In the novel, the roles are reversed, it.s Tess who.s more passive, though not devoid of passion, whereas Alec is a kind of a predator. The publication of the novel brought Hardy a lot of trouble, the passages with Alec.s rape on Tess and the burial of their child Sorrow had to be bowdlerized from the book as considered inappropriate in the eyes of the Victorian society. Before it was published as a whole in 1891, the novel had appeared in 24 instalments in Graphic magazine. What is interesting, however, is the fact that despite mixed reviews at the beginning, with time it gained immense popularity and belongs to one of the most famous novels in the history of literature. The subjects of love and passion, purity and sin, sexual double standard, turned out to be universal. For this reason, filmmakers have always been interested in Hardy.s fiction and in Tess especially. The story has been filmed at least eight times, four for the purposes of the television and four film-length productions, with the oldest dating back to 1913.
The latest unusual and very controversial adaptation of Tess has been made in 2011 by Michael Winterbottom, who has already taken two successful attempts at filming Hardy.s prose. In 1997 his penchant for filming Hardy resulted in Jude, a gloomy but straightforward adaptation of Jude the Obscure (1895). Then in 2001 Winterbottom decided to experiment with The Mayor of Casterbrigde (1886) filming The Claim, where he shifted the action from the English rural countryside to the severe snow-covered mountains of Sierra Nevada and placed it during California Gold Rush of 1860s.
Trishna, the modern Tess of the d’Urberville’s (1891) is so far Winterbottom.s most courageous take on Hardy.s novel. Tess of the d’Urberville’s is a story of a young country girl whose dreams of finding happiness beside Angel, whom she loves dearly, are shuttered when he finds out that her maidenhood was taken by Alec, her former employer. Winterbottom relocates the action of the film from XIX century England to modern India, where the issues of unhappy marriages, disproportion between the poor and the rich as well as double standards between men and women still haven.t out-dated.
The film tells the story of Trishna (Freida Pinto), 19-year-old poor girl living in one of the villages of Rajasthan in the northwest of India and her relationship with Jay (Riz Ahmed), the Anglo-Indian son of a hotel tycoon. Pinto created a convincing portrait of a bright young woman with “dewy eyes” and “wounded-deer vulnerability (…) who dares to dream big, but lacks the courage, confidence or education to follow through on her dreams and suffers tremendously as a result.” (O.Hehir, 2013). Jay, on the other hand, a thoughtless and spoiled man, leads a comfortable and privileged life. He is a blend of Alec.s arrogance and Angel.s judgmental character.
One of the problems in Hardy.s novels is a class disproportion in the society. The author shows that the relationship of people from different backgrounds often brings misery to both sides. The social and intellectual discrepancies as well as the differences in perceiving the world may have tragic consequences. In Trishna Michael Winterbottom uses the subject of class misalliance to prove that what Hardy wrote in his novels lost nothing in its universality a century later. That.s why in the article I will try to explain the reasons why the relationship of the leading characters is a misalliance doomed to failure.
The love affair of the main heroes unfolds around three significant stages: the meeting – when they get intrigued by themselves, the illusion of happiness – when they are grasped by the overwhelming feeling of love, and the collapse – when they become disillusioned with their situation.
I. The meeting
Critics say that Tess has always been attracted to men from higher social classes than her own. It.s already visible in the club-walking scene when she sees Angel for the first time. She cannot forget about him for a long time because he distinguishes himself from men she has known or seen so far. He seemed educated and surely had good manners. However, it.s Alec, who determines her future. The meeting with him is the result of two significant events. One of them is the alleged kinship of Tess.s family with the rich d.Urbervilles. The other is the road accident which happened at night when Tess and her brother Abraham were travelling to town in order to sell beehives. The passing mail-coach bumped into Tess.s cart causing the death of Prince – the horse. Tess.s feeling of guilt for the accident as well as her mother.s forcible persuasion accelerated her decision to pay a visit in Trantridge (the d.Urberville.s mansion). Instead of meeting the lady of the house she is welcomed by Alec, her son, who immediately gets interested in the girl. She feels embarrassed with the reason of the arrival and intimidated with Alec.s courtship. In the opinion of some critics, the encounter with Alec opens a new chapter in Tess.s life. For the first time she is perceived as a woman who is able to arouse admiration and desire in men. Ahmad Abuzeid states that “Alec d.Urberville represents the world that Tess cannot entirely resist”. (Abuzeid, 1987) She slowly succumbs to Alec.s more and more persistent advances. From the beginning, he constantly demonstrates his sense of power over Tess to which is she is expected to respond submissively. It.s especially visible in the scene where Alec feeds Tess with strawberries. Although she finds it uncomfortable and is reluctant to eat the fruit, she is definitely attracted to him. Also: “on their second meeting, after she is forced to hold on to his waist, her submission is symbolized when she receives “the kiss of mastery”.”( Abuzeid, 1987) What follows is the Chaseborough dance which is a prelude to the seduction scene in the woods of The Chase. When the party of people is coming back from Chaseborough, one of the girls. dress gets dirty and everybody starts to laugh. Tess.s laughter, however infuriates the girl the most and they start to argue. Then comes Alec to rescue Tess from an uncomfortable situation. As Abuzeid says: “on the way to The Chase, Alec gradually and intelligently reduces her mood of aggressive triumph over her companions to one of defeat and submission to him.(…) She even accepts the nest of dead leaves he makes for her. When he mentions the horse and gifts he has given to the family, Tess is reduced to tears. She has become completely passive”.(Abuzeid, 1987) This obviously gives Alec the opportunity to take advantage of her. His infatuation rises to its climax in The Chase. As Hardy avoids describing the scene directly, it leaves an open field for speculation. Ian Gregor states that the scene is rather ambiguous as it is both: “a seduction and a rape.”(Gregor, 1974) He says that a rape justifies Tess. feelings of „belonging. to Alec, as he was the one who “brought to consciousness her own sexuality”.(Gregor, 1974) At this moment Tess realizes that the world outside her hometown Marlott can be really unwelcoming and traitorous. Her instinctive apprehension and reluctance to leave the family proved justified. Tess decides to come home.
In Winterbottom.s film, Trishna meets Jay when she works in one of his father.s hotels in Rajashan. She is doing a traditional dance performance and she attracts his attention due to her unusual beauty and delicacy. But actually, Jay probably would have never got interested in the girl if it hadn.t been for the road accident, in which Trishna and her father got seriously injured. What.s more important, however, is that the car – the family.s way of earning a living is crashed and they have no money either to buy a new one or pay the loan for the old one. To help the family Jay offers Trishna a job in a hotel in Jaipur, the largest city of Rajasthan. Although at the beginning he seems really enchanted by Trishna.s charm and innocence, he becomes more and more desirous of her. The future of the relationship is symbolically illustrated in the scene where Trishna whistles for the birds. They are kept in huge cages in a beautifully colourful garden. Jay finds the girl when she.s in the cage trying either to catch or feed the birds, but they keep flying away. Jay suggests that whistling might help calm them down and he starts teaching Trishna how to do it. He stands outside the cage. With Trishna inside it, it looks as if she was also a beautiful bird captured to sing for Jay.s pleasure. The feeling between the characters starts to develop. It is visible in the way they look at each other or how they smile but it progresses in two different directions. While Trishna.s feelings transform into genuine love, Jay.s become more and more possessive. He wants her for himself and himself only. His desire of the girl slips out of control and finally finds its fulfilment in a rape. The opportunity appears when Trishna comes back home from her friend.s wedding through gloomy and dangerous rooks of the city. While she is being harassed by unknown men there comes Jay to rescue her only to take advantage of her in the secluded woods outside the city buzz. The rape scene is offscreen but Trishna.s tears afterwards cause troubles for critics to interpret. Farihah Zaman believes that she cries either because she realizes that what happened was a rape or the tears simply represent: “guilt at having given in to temptation forbidden by her chaste upbringing.”(Zaman, 2012) The second option seems more probable taking into consideration her love for Jay. Also, she comes from the world where sexual relationship of unmarried people is out of question. That.s why she leaves the hotel and comes back home where she feels comfortable and safe. Unfortunately, the consequence of the seduction – pregnancy becomes obvious to everybody and Trishna has to go through the hardship of abortion and painful exclusion from the family. From now on she belongs to nowhere. She cannot stay with her family as they consider her deed shameful and is forced to work in her uncle.s factory far away from home.
II. The illusion of happiness
Tess. homecoming doesn.t help her forget about the shameful incident in The Chase. Whether it was a seduction or a rape it changes her into a benumbed unhappy woman who feels so depressed that she wishes to die. Her parents. dreams of former grandeur bring about Tess.s remorse and build a sense of guilt for squandering a chance of improving the family status. What.s more, the death of Tess.s baby Sorrow deepens her isolation from the society and accelerates the decision to leave Marlott. She departs as a changed woman. She wishes to be nothing more than a plain milk-maid. In the Valley of Great Daires at Talbothays she meets Angel Clare whom she falls in love with. He.s a parson.s son and an aspiring farmer. The relationship of the two develops. Her feelings for Angel are honest and pure to such an extent that lead her to self-abnegation. She is ready to retreat in order to give Angel the opportunity to choose a wife from other maids. However, Angel.s persistent advances overcome Tess.s fear of getting married and she finally consents. The illusion of happiness that they together create lies in the way they perceive each other. When Tess agrees to marry Angel, she is constantly afraid and undecided whether to tell him about her past relationship with Alec. Angel, on the other hand, loves the vision of Tess created in his mind. They don.t understand each other because: “Tess.s inability to reveal her past to Angel corresponds with his inability to sense that she has something to say.” (Abuzeid, 1987) The confession moment at Welbridge Manor is the kingpin in their relationship. Tess doesn.t have a problem with forgiving Angel his former mistakes. Her vision of him is so idealized that to her reasoning what he did in his past cannot be compared with her own wrongdoings. Also, as Ian Gregor states that for Tess: “Angel is not flesh and blood in that kind of way, he is Justice itself and such Justice will surely not just see her, it will see through her, and this she cannot bear. She longs to continue simply to be.”(Gregor, 1974) The moment of disillusionment for Tess comes when Angel leaves her and departs to Brazil. He rejects her because the image of Tess.s purity and innocence is destroyed by the confession she makes. Humiliated as she is, Tess cannot return home without shame. Her constant feelings of unworthiness of Angel.s love still ban her from blaming him for the situation. She finds work at Flintcomb-Ash where she experiences the hardship of physical work and life without hope. It.s also the place where Alec reappears in her life.
As opposed to Tess, Trishna doesn.t become a mistress out of desperation. She just easily surrenders to Jay.s will. He finds her in the factory and persuades to become his live-in girlfriend. The couple moves to Mumbai, where he takes a try at film industry. Trishna is surprisingly passive and agreeable. At first, she thinks nothing about the consequences of their elopement, she is driven by love. They live in a big city where tight rules of propriety are definitely looser. The society is less conservative. It.s easier to vanish in the crowd where everybody is occupied with himself. At the beginning, Trishna seems to flourish, changing from “a slightly awkward provincial girl into an urbanite with full makeup.” (Feinstein, 2012) She doesn.t wear her traditional clothes anymore and she is surrounded by Bollywood film artists. She also takes her first steps in professional dancing. Unfortunately, the difference between Trishna and Jay.s backgrounds is quite visible. Her insecurity of the people and places is in contrast with his social refinement. Trishna sees the world through Jay.s eyes. She observes the reality without full understanding of the world he lives in. Besides, he allows her to see as much of it as he wishes. Soon, he starts to treat her as his own property, for instance when tells people, without asking her first, that Trishna would never want to be a professional dancer. They also start wearing clothes in the same colour. However, soon it becomes really obvious that their relationship is based on nothing more than sex. For Trishna it.s still how she imagines love whereas for Jay it.s the fulfilment of his desires. How fickle his heart is, she finds out really quickly. Black clouds over their relationship gather when Trishna confesses the pregnancy and abortion of their child. Jay feels offended that she dared to keep it a secret from him. His father.s deteriorating health serves as a convenient excuse to leave, he goes to the UK and Trishna is on her own again.
III. The collapse
Embittered by Angel.s departure and aware of her family.s tragic financial situation Tess decides to return to Alec. She becomes his mistress. What young d.Urberville has always wanted was Tess.s body. Her personality or feelings have never been much to his interest. The heroine, on the other hand, believes that her physical attractiveness is, to some extent, the reason for the misery she experiences. That.s why, while with Alec, she behaves like a lifeless marionette. Although, she seems emotionless on the surface, deep down she cries of despair. When Angel returns to claim back his wife, Tess.s deepest feelings of suppressed rage burst out with full strength. Soon, her immense sense of guilt heightened by the renewed relationship with d.Urberville pushes her to murder. She kills Alec blaming him for destroying her chances of happiness. She reunites with Angel but cannot avoid death penalty for a murder. Their idyllic time together doesn.t last long. For a short while they live in a secluded place and in a perfect harmony. What.s more, “Tess is glad because at last she has vindicated herself, and has fused for Angel the image he adored, “the visionary essence of woman”, with the woman he rejected”. (Abuzeid, 1987) When the policemen come to arrest her, she is surrenders with dignity.
In the film, Jay returns from the UK and tracks Trishna down again. This triggers the last and the most tragic phase of their relationship. He asks her to be with him again but as his employee in one of the hotels which he has to take care of. Humiliating as it is, she agrees. In fact, she becomes nothing more than a “personal servant and concubine”. (O.Hehir, 2012) As Farirah Zaman states: “The regression of the relationship from one with the illusion of equality to one that is undeniably, irreparably unbalanced triggers a downward spiral in Jay.s treatment of Trishna that she feels powerless to fight because of ingrained feelings of inferiority and a burdensome debt to him.” (Zaman, 2012) Trishna is pushed to the extreme, she cannot supress her feelings of despair anymore and kills Jay using a kitchen knife. Unlike the novel, the film shows the very act of murder. It is preceded by a sequence of scenes which clearly show Trishna.s humiliation and Jay.s objective treatment of her. Their meetings are like some kind of routine activities. Trishna brings Jay meals to his private apartment and then she is sexually used by him. Gradually, every encounter becomes more humiliating to her, which is reflected in the way she looks at him. Jay, on the other hand, behaves ever so violently and forces her to act against her will. The lyrics of the song which can be heard in the background in the last scene before the murder: “you shan.t escape (…), there.s no way to hide from me” foreshadow the gloomy ending of their relationship. Her killing of Jay is the relief of pain, humiliation and despair. Unfortunately, Trishna.s homecoming is not welcomed. Although, the mother seems happy to have her child back, the father expects that she is married and well-off. Trishna also notices that the standard of her family.s living improved. Children have new school uniforms, the father has a new track and there is also a new TV in the house. Trishna doesn.t feel at home and realizes that, in fact, there is no place for her anywhere. This draws her to the conclusion that she has become a burden not only for the family but for herself especially. Uprooted from the world of her childhood and rejected by the world she aspired to, she has nowhere to go. That.s why she chooses death. In the final scene she.s wearing a red scarf. As red symbolises martyrdom the heroine becomes a martyr not only for her family.s improved wellbeing but also the society.s changing notions.
To conclude it.s necessary to say that both Tess and Trishna are victims of the society and both of them, in a way, contribute to their own fall. The heroines yield to the pressure the society exerts on them. Also, the clash of different worlds: rural with its superstitions, customs and rituals, and urban with industrialization, progress and education are not without impact on the heroines. characters. Tess.s and Trishna.s naive and pure natures are also damaged by men Alec, Angel and Jay. They want the heroines “to be artificial”. (Abuzeid, 1987). Alec represents sensuality, he desires Tess.s body whereas Angel.s spirituality causes him to love the image of Tess projected in his own imagination. That.s why neither Tess nor Trishna can find happiness with men who represent a different system of values and who do not understand their delicate but deeply honest natures.
- Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. London: Penguin Books, 1994.
- Abuzeid, Ahmad Elsayyad Ahmad. The Theme of Alienation in the Major Novels of Thomas Hardy. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 1987
- Fenstein, Howard. “Hell and Hardy: Michael Winterbottom.s Trishna.”, http://filmmakermagazine.com/47995-hell-and-hardy-michael-winterbottoms-trishna/
- Goode, John. Thomas Hardy, The Offensive Truth. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1988
- Gregor, Ian. The Great Web. The Form of Hardy’s Major Fiction. London: Faber and Faber, 1974.
- O.Hehir, Andrew. “Pick of the week: Trishna rebukes Bollywood”., http://www.salon.com/2012/07/13/pick_of_the_week_trishna_rebukes_bollywood/
- Wright, T.R. Thomas Hardy on Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Zaman, Farirah. “Wrong Turns”., http://www.reverseshot.com/article/trishna
- Winterbottom, Michael. Trishna. UK/India, IFC Films, 2012.