"Nature's Logic": Understanding Suffering in the Works of Thomas Hardy

Laluna, Gregory
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University of Delaware
Readers of Thomas Hardy are often disturbed by his unrelentingly bleak worldview. This paper will examine and attempt to refute pessimistic interpretations of the novels Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure using the phrase “nature’s logic” as an opening into the sometimes-cruel, sometimes-indifferent twists of fate that befall Hardy’s characters. Tess and Jude struggle to comprehend a world in which a just action does not always produce a reward; in fact, good intentions usually lead to suffering. This discrepancy between cause and effect is at the root of Hardy’s tragedy and reflects the failings of traditional wisdom to properly describe morality in the modern era. I examine this dissolution of the traditional moral paradigm and map the consequences of nature’s logic on Hardy’s characters. Because Hardy was a part of the burgeoning skeptical, scientific milieu of Victorian England, I chose Darwinism and natural selection as the primary lenses for unraveling the relationship between nature and suffering. Rather than their good deeds or sincere intentions bringing them success, Jude’s refusal to accept his hereditary and social molds and Tess’s submission to those same limitations cause their demise. Furthermore, I look at the way in which suffering is mediated through animal imagery, which suggests that humans are subject to the same laws of nature as all other living beings rather than being above them.
Thomas Hardy , Tess of the d’Urbervilles , Jude the Obscure , pessimism , suffering , fate , nature's logic , Darwinism , natural selection