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The belief that the order of things is already decided and that people’s lives are determined by this “greater power” is called fate. Many people, called fatalists, believe in this and that they have no power in determining their futures. Despite this, many others believe that coincidence is the only explanation for the way their lives and others turn out. Thomas Hardy portrays chance and coincidence as having very significant roles in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” continuously. Three such coincidences were quite influential and had large effects on Tess’s future. The first being that Tess Durbeyfield’s father, discovered that their family came from the oldest, (and at one time) most wealthiest family in England. Another event that occurs by mere chance in Tess’s life is when Tess slips a letter of confession underneath both her lover’s door and (by accident) the carpet, where he could not see it. The final coincidence would be the death of Tess’s father, which not only leaves Tess in a state of deprivation, but also the rest of her family including her mother and six siblings. All of these coincidences had consequences that would change Tess’s life,.

For the first sixteen years of her life, Tess Durbeyfield and her family lived in a middle-class-like situation in the town of Marlott. Since her father, was a life-holder on the cottage in which they lived, his rank was above the farm laborers. However, John Durbeyfield is not in good health when we meet him and he does not put much interest in working, and instead spends time drinking. Upon returning to his home one evening, Durbeyfield meets a man named Parson Tringham who tells him that the Durbeyfield family is the “lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who . . . came from Normandy with William the Conqueror.”(p. 18) This news suddenly changes Durbeyfield’s view on his family’s lifestyle and he decides that they should be living as their knightly and noble ancestors once did.

With this new lifestyle in mind for his family, John’s wife, Joan Durbeyfield recalls that a man by the name of d’Urberville lives not far from their home and might be able to help them in their hard times, seeing as how he is kin to them. After the death of their only horse, the Durbeyfield family must do something to sustain themselves, but Mr. Durbeyfield refuses to sell the horse for food money due to his newfound d’Urberville pride. “‘When we d’Urbervilles was knights in the land, we didn’t sell our chargers for cat’s meat.’” (p. 45) So, the family sends their eldest daughter, Tess to see if the d’Urberville family would help them, with side hopes of Tess possibly marrying a gentleman and restoring their family’s status. This single decision, of sending Tess to the d’Urberville, and making her leave the sheltered life and town of Marlott that she had known for so long would be the change in her life that would lead to so many other events for her. Had Tess not been sent to the d’Urberville home, she would not have met Alec nor would she have bore his child out of wedlock and her life would have been completely different.

After her son died, Tess’s shame overtook her and she left her birthplace of Marlott to find work at a dairy called Talbothay’s. Here, she told nothing of her past and only came to work, where the surroundings were peaceful, calm and quite lush in vegetation. After much delay and postponement, Tess would accept the marriage proposal of a co-worker named Angel Clare, who was in love with her. Knowing that if Angel ever found out about her past, she would feel horrible, Tess decides that before they get married, she would tell him. “Declare the past to him by word of mouth she could not, but there was another way. She sat down and wrote . . . a succinct narrative of those events of three or four years ago, put it into an envelope, and directed it to Clare.”(p.226) Despite this lengthy four-page letter, Tess’s confession did not reach Angel Clare. By pure chance, her letter was not only slipped underneath his door and into his room, but also slipped underneath his carpet, where he could not see it. However, Tess did not discover this until her wedding day, when she decided to tear up the letter and not let him know of her past.

Once again, a major coincidence has changed Tess’s life and will lead to greater consequences than she can imagine. Writing the letter and putting it under Angel’s door, Tess felt much more at ease, knowing that he would know all there is of her past. Hoping that he would still love her, despite this history of hers was important. But, because Angel did not get to see this letter or even find out about her past, (until after their marriage) Tess’s life would no longer be as comfortable as it had been when she was at Talbothay’s.

Not long after their marriage, Tess confesses to Angel of her past and the two separate upon Angel’s request. Angel goes off to Brazil to find land where he might be able to start a farm, and Tess returns home, where she might stay in the comfort of her family–but hide from the townspeople who look down on her. Soon after, she decides that the best thing to would be to leave Marlott and find work. But, due to the time of year, she was forced to go to Flintcomb-Ash, a farm where the land is quite different from the fertile valleys of Talbothay’s. Here, she works to complete exhaustion and through harsh weather which she was not used to at the dairy. Now, because this is her “time of punishment,” Tess struggles through the work and finds the courage to ask her father-in-law for help, as directed to do so by Angel, if she should need it. On her way back to the farm from this futile attempt to request assistance, Tess runs into Alec d’Urberville who notices her and pursues her for some time. This, however, is not the coincidence that I feel is the most important one during this time in Tess’s life. What is more important is that during the time that d’Urberville is pursuing her, Tess’s mother becomes ill and her father soon dies.

Since Tess’s father was the land holder of their home, their family is now without shelter. This opportunity allows d’Urberville to move in on Tess, seeing as how he is wealthy, has land and will help her family. Since Angel had been gone for well over a year, Tess was convinced by d’Urberville that Angel would never return to her, so she marries d’Urberville. He then gives her family a home and money, and takes her to live with him. All of this happens just in time, because Angel does return, but is too late and Tess has already married. This coincidence of Tess’s father dying at just the right moment for Alec to marry her and Angel returning only a little after, leads to the murder of Alec d’Urberville. Once again, this is not the only thing that comes of this major coincidence in Tess’s life, because if her father hadn’t died and Angel hadn’t returned at just the right moment, she would not have killed Alec and would not have been sentenced to an execution for her crimes.

Through each and every one of these coincidences, Tess’s life changed quite dramatically. Each event that occurred by complete chance left Tess in a predicament where she was compelled to take control and do something to improve the situation. No matter where she was–in the location of her birthplace, a sheltered little town, or in the comfortable landscape that surrounded the dairy, or even in the harsh scenery of the farm– Tess always knew where she belonged and what she was meant to do in each place. Every coincidence or occurrence that came along, forced Tess to rethink her situation and draw up the courage that to realize who she was and where she was going. The consequences that came, due to her decisions were all ones that Tess was ready for. Even when sixteen men followed her so that she could be punished for the murder of Alec d’Urberville. “‘It is as it should be. . .This happiness could not have lasted. . .I am ready.’” (p.417)


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