The two novels, The Mayor of Casterbrige and Tess of the d’Urbervilles have many similarities. Thomas Hardy wrote both of the novels in the late 1800’s, placing the story lines in similar settings, his imaginary land of Wessex. The two main characters in these books, Tess, in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Michael, in The Mayor of Casterbridge, also share something else in common, that also contrasts at the same time. Tess and Michael both live a poor life at the beginning of the novel and experience a fall and then encounter a rise during the middle chapters; then they fall again towards the end, but Michael’s rise and falls are because of his own actions, where as Tess’ are because of the actions of other people around her.
Both Tess Durbeyfield and Michael Henchard, the two main characters of these novels, are introduced as regular poor folk, living in Wessex. As both novels progress, important events occur to make these characters fall even lower than they already are. The difference is who is actually responsible for the character changes. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess’ rise and falls are caused by the actions of others around her. At the beginning of the novel, Tess lives with her father, John, her mother, Joan, and her younger brothers and sisters in a small shack like cottage. Tess’ family is not very wealthy, but in the first chapter, John finds out from Parson Trigham of their unsuspected noble ancestry, the d’Urbervilles. This is the spark that lights the flame to Tess’ first fall. Upon hearing this great news John goes to Rolliver’s Inn to celebrate and prepare for his journey the next morning. This does not affect Tess yet, until John is unable to wake up the next morning, so she takes responsibility for his journey to the market. On her way her carriage crashes with another and their horse, Prince, dies. Tess feels accountable for Prince’s death although it was actually her father’s irresponsibility for drinking too much the night before.
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“It was a relief to her tongue to find from the faces of her parents that they already knew of their loss, though this did not lessen the self-reproach which she continued to heap upon herself for her negligence…Nobody blamed Tess as she blamed herself.” Tess (page 28)
Now that the Durbeyfield family was in desperate need of help because of the death of Prince, Tess feels responsible and pressured by her mother and father to seek support from their wealthy ancestors.
“Well as I killed the horse, mother, I suppose I ought to do something. I don’t mind going and seeing her, but you must leave it to me about asking for help.” Tess (page 30)
Tess goes to Tantridge to seek help from her ancestors, the d’Urbervilles. While visiting Tantridge, Tess meets Alec and over time he rapes her. This causes Tess to go home immediately where she gives birth to Alec’s baby. The baby dies and Tess spends the remainder of the winter mourning at home. To forget her past, Tess leaves Marlott in hopes of starting a new life at Talbothy’s as a dairymaid. All the main events thus far in the novel have affected Tess’ life dramatically. First, she feels responsible for Prince’s death when really it is John’s fault, and the pressure her mother puts on her to accept the work at Tantridge puts her right into the arms of the evil Alec d’Urberville.
“Well, there’s your chance, whether or no; and I’m sure he wears a beautiful diamond ring!” Joan (page 41).
Alec is another person that helps Tess’ downfall; he rapes her causing her to return home a failure, by giving up work, and he is also the cause of her pregnancy. Although the baby’s death was not directly his fault, when it dies, Tess was emotionally and physically unable to work anywhere, that is why she spent the winter at home before leaving the next spring. However, Michael, in The Mayor of Casterbridge, is completely responsible for his first fall. As Michael, his wife, Susan, and daughter, Elizabeth-Jane, are at the fair, Michael ends up drinking too much and selling his wife and daughter to a sailor named Newson. Michael wakes up the next morning feeling regret for his actions the past night.
... , Angel decides to forgive his wife, and he leaves Brazil desperate to find her. Instead he finds her mother, who tells him Tess ... he might establish a farm. He tells Tess he will try to accept her past, but warns her not to contact him ... by pangs of conscience and feels she should tell Angel about her past. She tries to write him a confessional note and ...
“Yet she knows I am not in my senses when I do that! Well, I must walk till I find her…Seize her, why didn’t I know better than to bring me into this disgrace!” Michael (page 12)
He decides to look for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, but after months and months of searching, and they are nowhere to be found, he finally gives up and heads to live in the town of Casterbridge. This event is clearly Michael’s own fault. He is responsible for consuming the amount of alcohol that he did, and his actions while under the influence. Even though selling your wife and children was something you did long before this time, Susan was not at fault for not trying to stop it because Michael had tried it before.
“Michael, you have talked this nonsense in public places before. A joke is a joke, but you may make it once too often, mind!” Susan (page 6)
Both characters, Tess and Micheal, experienced a fall already in the novels. With much of the book to go and the low state they are both in, one would think that it couldn’t get any worse.
As the novels continue, things begin to clear up for both Tess and Michael. Tess starts a new life a Talbothy’s as a dairymaid where she meets Angel and they fall in love. However Angel does not know of Tess’ past and loves her for the pure, innocent person he thinks she is. When Angel asks Tess to marry him, Tess has trouble deciding whether she wants to tell him of her past or not. Tess believes that she should tell Angel before they marry, but when she tries and Angel does not receive Tess’ confession letter, the wedding is to proceed as planned. Tess didn’t want to marry Angel without telling him the truth, but she was persuaded by her mother not to reveal her secret.
“But with respect to your question, Tess, J say between ourselves, quite private but very strong, that on no account do you say a word of your Bygone Trouble to him.” Joan (page 188)
... spiritual, ideal relationship with Angel has replaced Tess's material, physical relationship with Alec. Tess now becomes a victim of Angel's idealization. Her individuality ... unable to save herself from Alec's lustful actions and Angel's idealized reasoning. The potent tragedy of Tess's life is that ...
Also, Tess’ fellow dairymaids convince her that she is the best lady for Angel compared to all of them. Being convinced that Angel will still love her, she goes along with the marriage.
“You are best for’n. More ladylike, and a better scholar than we, especially since he has taught ‘ee so much…you were his choice and we never hoped to be chose by him.” Marian (page 196)
At this point in the novel, Tess is happier than she has ever been, she loves Angel and has a great future ahead of her with him, but she is still is struck with a very important decision to make; to tell Angel of her past or not. Tess was very hesitant to marry Angel without telling him of her past, so the fact that she did because of the persuasiveness of her mother and friends, shows that Tess can not fully make decisions for herself and that is why other people’s opinions and action seem to direct her life. Michael, on the other hand, has learned from his past mistakes and taken initiative in changing his ways. After looking for his wife and daughter for a long period of time, Michael went to a church where he made an oath not to drink for 21 years.
“I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of twenty-one years to come, being a year for every year that I have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and my I be struck dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this my oath!” Michael (page 13)
This proves that Michael is trying to punish himself for what he has done. This also proves that he knows what he has done is wrong and he regrets it. From this point, The Mayor of Casterbridge skips a period of about 18 years, so Michael’s actual rise is not explained, but it is very obvious. When Michael sold his wife and daughter, he was a 21 year old, unemployed, hay trusser. 18 years later, Michael is the Mayor of Casterbridge. This is a great latter he has climbed, he has become very wealthy and won a great deal of the townspeople’s respect.
“Why, my good maid, he’s the powerfullest member of the Town Council, and quite a principal man in the country round besides…He worked his way up from nothing when ‘a came here; and now he’s a pillar of the town.” Longways (page 27)
If Michael had not made his oath not to drink for 21 years, he may have let alcohol get the best of him as he did before at the fair, but instead he picked up the pieces of his life and put them back together. Michael became a better man and moved up in society a great deal, from and young unemployed man to the Mayor and Tess, for the first time, is actually happy and disregarding the conflict of telling Angel of her past, both the character’s have a bright future ahead of them, or so they think.
... her. Tess becomes Alec's mistress. Angel returns from Brazil, repenting his harshness, but finds her living with Alec. Tess kills Alec in desperation ... , not compromise to the religion till death. As woman that resists, Tess makes struggle unyielding with the environment that ... into a temporary engagement with Tryphena Sparks, a sixteen-year-old relative. Hardy continued his architectural work, but ...
At the end of the two novels, Michael and Tess both die. The cause of their deaths and the circumstances around them are carved by previous event and conflicts that could have been avoided. At the end of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess is hung because she murdered Alec. She did this because Angel actually came back for her when Alec convinced Tess that he wouldn’t and to marry him instead.
“ Wait – what for? For that nice husband, no doubt. Now look here, I know what men are, and, bearing in mind the grounds of your separation, I am quite positive he will never make it up with you.” Alec (page 328)
Alec’s death could had been avoided along with Tess’ as well. If Alec hadn’t lied about Angel and made Tess think that he would never come back, Tess may have not gone back with Alec and instead waited for Angel. In this case Tess and Angel may have been able to live a happy life together if Alec hadn’t interrupted. Also Alec used Tess’ family’s state against her to convince her to marry him. Alec knew that Tess’ father had died and offered a place for them to live. Alec used Tess’ weakness of feeling responsible for her family to lour her into marrying him.
“Now why not come to my garden-house at Tantridge? There are hardly any poultry now, since my mother’s death; but there’s the house, as you know it, and the garden. It can be white-washed in a day, and your mother can live there quite comfortably; and I will put the children to a good school.” (page 348)
With Michael, his fall could have been avoided as well if he hadn’t let his jealous feelings for Farfrae get the best of him and say and do things that affected his future, like firing Farfrae as manager. Also, he lost the only thing he really had left, Elizabeth-Jane because Susan and Lucetta had both died and Farfrae had left. When Newson came back for Susan and Elizabeth-Jane, Michael lied to him and said they had both died. When Elizabeth-Jane found out about this, she felt that she could no longer forgive him for all his mistakes because all she wanted to do now is forget about him and his selfish ways.
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“ I said I would never forgive him. But O! I think I ought o forget him now!” (page 246)
This quote shows how Elizabeth-Jane never wants to think of Michael again for what he did (lied to Newson).
Michael let his selfish feelings take control of him and he ended up doing things and making decision that left him to die alone. Tess let people corrupt her and trick her into doing things she really deep down didn’t want to do, so if both character’s made wiser decision, their death could have been avoided.
Although in most novels the main character experiences only a rise and fall, or just a downfall, Tess and Michael fell from their already poor state, rose, and then both feel again to their death. Many main events caused the death or eventual downfall of these two character, but the difference is that Tess can not be held accountable, for the actions of other people influenced her outcomes. Michael however, is responsible for the situations he was placed into throughout the novel and was liable for his death in the end.