Alec and Angel- a Tale of Two Villains

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Tom Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a scathing indictment of Victorian era

society. Through the protagonist Tess’s downfall, Hardy highlights the issues that have arisen

in Victorian society due to their deviation from Nature’s ways. Throughout the novel, the

protagonist Tess is haunted by two men, Angel, and Alec. Though seemingly different, Alec

and Angel are two sides of the same coin. Both represent two extremes of human nature, a

man removed from nature’s laws by his intellect and one removed by his worldly goods and

arrogance. Hardy uses the pair in tandem to highlight the problems in society’s deviation from

the flow of natural life.

When the reader first encounters Alec, they are presented with this description, “ He had

an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly moulded, though red and smooth, above

which was a well-groomed black moustache with curled points, though his age could not be

more than three-or four-and-twenty. Despite the touches of barbarism in his contours, there was

a singular force in the gentleman's face, and in his bold rolling eye.” Right away the reader

is bombarded by a depiction of Alec as a barbarian. The color red is highlighted on his face,

representing sexuality. Hardy even whips out the moustache stereotype to make Alec seem like

the stereotypical bad guy.

In contrast, Angel Clare is a living embodiment of logic, described as “more spiritual

than animal” and “rather bright than hot–less Byronic than Shelleyan.” Both these quotes stress

Angel’s distance from nature. In the former his spirituality, a term reflecting his intellect,

is contrasted with an animal, in essence a creature in total harmony with nature. The latter

utilizes allusions to Lord Byron, a British poet whose works focused on romanticism; and Mary

Shelley, an author whose works were influenced by the Enlightenment, a period focusing on

improving society through philosophy and knowledge. These two allusions are combined with

the words hot and bright, respectively, two words that seem to go together but with very different

connotations. Bright references intellect, whereas hot connotes lust and passion. They are

combined to create a vivid portrayal of Angel as a man who is defined by his ideas and intellect.

Both these characters contribute to Tess’s downfall. Victorian era society placed a

very large emphasis on virginity, especially for women. Hardy highlights the hypocrisy of this

when Angel is forgiven by Tess for his sexual transgression whereas Tess is not. On that fateful

night the dual nature of Angel’s personality is showcased. While nature encourages him to fulfill

his drive for reproduction as intended; his ideals of virginity come into play, forcing him

to “smother his affection for Tess.” Had Angel not been isolated from nature by his intellect, he

would have been able to let go of Tess’s lack of virginity. Hardy states that nature allows

multiple partners through the allegory of the workers in Tantridge. These workers are described

by Hardy as “vegeto-human pollen” indicating their proximity to nature. At the fair dance they

begin to dance “passionately”(Hardy 63) and switch partners as “Changing partners simply

meant that a satisfactory choice had not as yet been arrived at by one or the other…” until they

are “ suitably matched.” Through this parable Hardy affirms that according to Nature’s laws, it is

perfectly alright for people to have more than one “partner.” However, Angel estranged from

nature by his psyche, contends that a women must be a virgin to remain pure, leading him to

renounce. In addition, Hardy’s portrayal of Alec symbolizes the wealthy upper class, people

whose material wealth caused them to turn astray from the path of nature. The wealthy

aristocracy had always been a part of England and had always taken advantage of female

peasants, women close...
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