The making of a goddess: Hardy, Lawrence and Persephone

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Author: Andrew Radford
Date: May 2002
From: Connotations(Vol. 12, Issue 2-3)
Publisher: The Connotations Society for Critical Debate / Waxmann Verlag GmbH
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 10,727 words

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In the sunless fog preceding the dawn in Chapter 20 of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1890), Angel Clare mobilises the decorative rhetoric of late-Victorian Hellenic paganism to manufacture the eponymous heroine as "Artemis" and "Demeter":

The spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light which pervaded the open mead impressed them with a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve. At this dim inceptive stage of the day Tess seemed to Clare to exhibit a dignified largeness both of disposition and physique, an almost regnant power--possibly because he knew that at that preternatural time hardly any woman so well-endowed in person as she was likely to be walking within the boundaries of his horizon [...]. The mixed, singular, luminous gloom in which they walked along together to the spot where the cows lay, often made him think of the Resurrection-hour. He little thought that the Magdalen might be at his side. Whilst all the landscape was in neutral shade, his companion's face, which was the focus of his eyes, rising above the miststratum, seemed to have a sort of phosphorescence upon it. She looked ghostly, as if she were merely a soul at large [...]. It was then [...] that she impressed him most deeply. She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman--a whole sex condensed into one typical form. He called her Artemis, Demeter and othei fanciful names, half-teasingly--which she did not like because she did not understand them. (Tess 134-35)

Richard Carpenter contends that this scene provides irrefutable evidence of Hardy fashioning Tess as a primitive fertility figure: "at Talbothays Hardy shows his heroine as sometimes much more impressive than a simple country lass ought by rights to be [...]. In her naturalness, in her unsophisticated simplicity, and in her innocence [...] the peasant girl is at this point as complete an image of the archetypal earth-goddess as modern literature can show" (Carpenter 13435). However, the opening extract does not comprise Hardy's unflinchingly honest appraisal, but rather the misleading impression attributed to Angel Clare, and it is far from being an example of "uneducated vision" (Krasner 97). If "the two lovers inhabit an Edenic world of unrestrained natural instincts" (Wright 113), it is one glibly fabricated by Clare himself, imposing a literary, counterfeit picture of god-like status on the protagonist (it is bitterly ironic that he calls her Artemis, the cold chaste deity of the hunt, who destroyed with her arrows men who attempted to rape her (2)). Demeter was also a goddess of chastity in some versions of the myth, but because of her ties with agriculture as a goddess of ripe grain, she was a fertility divinity too. Clare fancies in his casual love-play that Tess combines the unsullied innocence of Artemis with the exuberant fruitfulness of Demeter. As the very embodiment of "the great passionate pulse of existence" (Tess 161), Tess must be "fresh and virginal" like Artemis, but without losing the generous productiveness of Demeter.

Hardy implements...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A317589693