‘Brideshead revisited’ and ‘Tess of the D’urbervilles’

Topic: EnvironmentNatural Disasters
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Last updated: April 11, 2019

The concept of Conservatism is necessarily nostalgic because it is an attempt to try and preserve the elements of the past. It is in this fashion that Pastoral text relives a golden age and constructs a juxtaposing, antithetical, modern reality from which the characters must typically escape. This is crucial in the pastoral mode because it highlights an implicit dissatisfaction with the world of the present and thereby enacts the notion of divided worlds and escapism; the characters are compelled from the modern into the conserved past.

In Brideshead Revisited we find that Waugh concentrates heavily on the theme of conservation.One way in particular he explores this convention is through the relationship between Charles and Sebastian. In traditional the fashion of Pastoral love (In which modesty is one key facet), Waugh masks the physicality of their friendship through thinly veiled innuendos and metaphors. One can argue for example that Waugh ‘protects’ the reader from the vision of homosexual sex by enshrouding it in the metaphor of a ‘pin cushion’, a phrase that is actually italicized within the text, perhaps to highlight Waugh’s own self awareness of the fact that he is trying to adhere to a conservative writing convention.Indeed, Anthony Blanche makes the comment that he ‘should like to stick you full of barbed arrows like a pin cushion’, emphasising a love beyond the platonic concealed beneath a metaphor. Charles also describes Sebastian as being someone with ‘epicene beauty’, which highlights the physical androgyny in the character and thus lack of sexual characteristic. Waugh also explores this relationship along Pastoral lines by, from the perspective of Charles, constructing Sebastian as an icon.He is the child who ‘never had spots’, enacting his representation of eternal youth.

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Other aspects of character further enhance this; he always carries his teddy bear, ‘Aloysius’, around with him for example, and even goes so far as apply to ‘childish’ rules of ownership to characters like Charles, who he explains that Samgrass is ‘someone of mummies’ and Rex is ‘someone of Julia’s’. All this helps to turn him in the eyes of the reader into an emblem, following the conventions of Pastoral love by placing that which is to be loved on a pedestal.Perhaps one of the most obvious points to pick up on though is the contrast between the world of ‘Captain Ryder’, ‘homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless’ and that of his younger self, Charles. In the prologue, he remarks upon the fact that the character Hooper, whom he takes to be a representation of a ‘young England’ is ‘without illusion’, he has never weeped at the ‘Epitaph of Thermopylae nor the ‘speech of Henry’ (Both stories that embodies the pastoral ideal of the romanticisation of heroism and war, contrasting the present bleakness).Hooper is an individual who is ‘sallow’ with a ‘flat midland accent’ (contrasting the ‘epicene beauty’ of Sebastian), all negative attributes from which Charles seeks to escape from, and this can be then extrapolated into the setting itself. The world has become ‘overrun by a race of the lowest type’. To emphasise the effect of Brideshead as a symbol of nostalgic escape, when Charles hears the mention of the house it becomes ‘as if someone had switched off the wireless’ (The wireless being emblematic of the modern day through the association of technology).

From this the nostalgic contrast of divided worlds takes hold, the modern world is full of ‘antiquated carriages’, which are affixed to rails and thereby signal a rigid singular direction. Conversely, in the nostalgic past we have ‘an open topped Morris Cowley’ in which ‘Aloysius sits at the wheel’, making the difference particularly stark as the car is both open topped, enacting the closeness to nature as opposed to the confines of a carriage, and with a childlike icon at the wheel, representing youthful whimsy and lack of direction.The theme of nostalgia itself is even explored by Waugh when Sebastian remarks that he ‘should like to bury a crock of gold (symbolising a golden age) here, so I could dig it up when I am old and ugly so I could remember’, it translates into Charles finding his ‘crock’, the house of Brideshead, and subsequently going on a nostalgic journey into the past to escape from the modern present of Hooper.

However, one can argue that Waugh undermines the notion that the text is pastoral in certain aspects.For example, he allows the ‘bat squeak of sexuality’ into the text, disrupting the aforementioned point about conservative and modest restraint when it comes to the physical nature of love. He also alludes to the illusory and thus false nature of Charles’s retreat into the past, commenting that it is ‘It is easy, retrospectively, to endow one’s youth with a false precocity or a false innocence’, unraveling the illusion of Arcadia and exposing it for what it is.Waugh himself wrote this book as an attempt to conserve the past, remarking that he had escaped into the story by becoming ‘infused with a gluttony for food and wine’, in response to his reality of ‘beans’. However, his desire to preserve the past turns out to be a ‘panegyric preached over an empty coffin’, suggesting that the necessity of his desire to preserve was irrelevant and thus not pastoral.

Finally we have the theme of religion, fundamentally anti-pastoral and anti-conservative in nature because it focuses on looking ahead rather than backward.In the initial part of his nostalgic return, Charles makes a cross merely because he believes it to be ‘polite’, mirroring Sebastian’s relationship with Catholicism as equally arbitrary because he ‘likes the stories’. However, later on the story we find that this superficial ‘cross’ becomes a ‘small red flame’ of faith. Charles willingly leaves his nostalgic journey at this point, another anti-pastoral choice by Waugh, and becomes ‘unusually cheerful’ having done so, enacting the final passage of acceptance from the conservative past into the modern reality.In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy constructs a very definite sense of divided worlds, between the old pagan, natural one and the modern one. One obvious example of this is the landscape of Sandborne and Egdon Waste, which form two juxtaposing settings to highlight this. Sandborne is a ‘glittering pleasure palace’, a ‘fashionable watering hole’, with emphasis on the words ‘pleasure’ and ‘fashionable’, which enacts a certain sense of superficiality. By contrast, we find that Egdon Waste is described as being ‘tawny piece of antiquity’.

The disparity here is important because the natural setting is described as a ‘muted’ (tawny) backdrop that is of extraordinary age as compared to a ‘glittering’ Sandborne. This contrast is paralleled elsewhere, between ‘The Slopes’, the home of Alec d’Urberville, and ‘The Chase’. The former is described as being a place ‘built for pleasure’ (paralleling Sandborne in that respect) whereas the ‘Chase’ is a ‘venerable tract of land’, with ‘venerable’ implying an ancient and revered object, highlighting Hardy’s desire to outline its special significance.Most importantly is the fact that the slopes is compared to a ‘geranium bloom’ that ‘subdues the azure hues’ of the Chase. This is most significant because the word ‘subdues’ highlights how the modern world, represented by the slopes, actively suppresses the natural world. This concentration on a pagan, aged setting can then be extrapolated onto the character of Tess herself, who is described as being the ‘virginal daughter of nature’. Hardy idealises Tess as a representation of a conservative pagan ideal and alludes to her purity because of this fact.In the opening part of the story, she is a ‘maiden’ (The ‘phase’ title) and Hardy explicitly states prior to the stories beginning that she is a ‘pure women’.

Her closeness with a natural setting; ‘She became one with the field, as only a women can do’ and her likeness to animals; ‘stalking like a cat’ is emphasised by Hardy to convey her association with the pagan past. Crucially however, other characters seek to escape through Tess into the pagan past, a fundamentally conservative gesture.Angel constructs Tess as an icon, a ‘virginal daughter of nature’ and likening her to the goddess ‘Demeter’ (fertility), despite being a representation of the modern world himself; ‘More intelligence than a man’ (Suggesting he is not prone to any physical urges, his love is purely intellectual and platonic). Alec idealises Tess by giving her flowers and ‘filling her little basket with strawberries’, again like Angel, trying to construct an image of natural fertility to sate his own conservative desire for the past.Hardy himself idealises Tess by proclaiming her to be a ‘pure woman’, and arguably uses her as an escape to the pagan past by writing the story in the first place. Indeed, at the time Hardy had issues with the modern world, he had to censor his story due to the conventions of the contemporary audience of the time, and so perhaps his writing of this story is his escape into his own idealised form of the past, attempting to conserve what he believes to be pagan within its pages. Even the setting of Wessex is a return to the past of Anglo-saxon England, electing to set his story in an idealised pastoral landscape.

There is also clear focus on the decline of powerful English aristocratic families. When Jack Durbeyfield discovers his heritage, he asks Parson Tringham what he should do with this information, to which the Pardon replies ‘merely chastise yourself on how art the mighty fallen’, foreshadowing Jack Durbeyfield’s own gravestone later on. Even Prince, the horse of the now defunct family, bears a name of high standing, and ultimately meets his demise, arguably at the hands of the modern world, a ‘mail cart’ that travels on ‘swift wheels’.This is in a direct contrast to the new, modern lineage of d’Urberville, one that was bought with money made ‘in the industrial north’, enacting the modern encroachment onto the past. Furthermore, this decline is representative of a wider destruction of the old, pagan way of life in the country. The new term for ‘workfolk’, a term that implies comradeship and voluntary collectivism, is replaced by ‘labourer’, which is a name that reflects upon a specific set of actions for a specifically designated purpose, contrasting the former ‘workfolk’ by suggesting a predetermined existence in the modern world.Hardy is clearly trying to mourn the loss of the natural in place of the ‘steam feelers’ representing the alien (‘feelers’ connoting a parasitic or insect-like movement) taking over England.

There is however examples of where the pagan ideal subverted somewhat. Hardy arguably makes the bloodline of the d’Urbervilles hollow for example, undermining the argument that he is attempting to conserve the old ways. When Alec strides about Kingsbere where Tess’s relatives lie, he makes a ‘hollow echo’ sound, perhaps reflecting the hollow nature of the bloodline?The d’Urberville family are described as ‘snoozing in their crypts’, arguably highlighting a certain passivity towards the immediate plight of their brethren. When Angel idealises Tess, he describes her as being both ‘Athena’ and ‘Demeter’, when the two deities are diametrically opposed to one another. Athena is a chaste who glories in the hunt; Demeter is a caring being of fertility and nature, suggesting an inconsistency in his desire to escape into a natural past.

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