Tess of the D'Urbervilles
If one thing about Tess of the d'Urbervilles sticks with me it is the haunting, dare I say menacing, d'Urberville gaze. A race lost to time, the d'Urberville gaze manages to live on, in the family's women. It makes you wonder just how this family got on when in their prime, when they were mighty.
As Alec points out, the d'Urberville gaze is potent. The forever blameless Tess is resigned to this reality and Angel mentioned it in passing. Granted the course of Tess' life can not be blamed on a family trait, but maybe it had some influence.
Tess' father was John Durbeyfield. John was a simple cottage man until he heard that he was of a once mighty family, the d'Urbervilles. Actually, he was still a simple cottage man! His informer told him that it was a fact, and that John possessed the d'Urberville chin and nose. John did not possess the gaze, nor was he born with any qualities of a mighty being. No matter how many drunken strangers he shared his heritage with he would never be mighty.
The family bloodline was weakened over time and the name died out with daughters, but some ancient gene made its way to Tess, John's eldest daughter. The lineaments of her face; her eyes and the way they conveyed her emotions, through her gaze, which was innocently administered to the subjects before her, allowed her to entrance, claim, intimidate and hold them. She had "large brown eyes, dark and expressive," which could have helped her to fortune had the enchantment of her features always worked to her advantage.
This bewitching look of a d'Urberville woman no doubt helped many of her female predecessors stay as strong as their men. The strength of the family could have been in the women. The gaze certainly helped many of the d'Urberville women into and out of trouble.
The discovery of their heritage altered Tess' life, putting her on a dangerous path. She moved through her trying life with the ancient heirloom, not knowing its power or using it consciously. The fact that she was a descendant of the dead d'Urberville line meant little to her, however, the last true aspect of the family remained in Tess.
She realized what was in her possession when she met the portraits of her lady ancestors on her honeymoon. Lady Henrietta d'Urberville and another relative greeted Tess in their forfeited estate. Her initial reaction was horror, their features, as Hardy puts it, "once seen can never be forgotten." Why were these 200 year old portraits so odious to Tess? To her they appeared to be deceitful and treacherous women, their look violent and unaffected, even if they were lovely ladies. Angel laughed off the resemblance between Tess and the women, but Tess was afflicted with the fact that the resemblance was so clear.
Angel, a man with high standards, firm religious beliefs, a great work ethic and a big heart, also found this bewitching quality in Tess and in the realization told her so. "If I continue to look upon that face, I will change my mind." To think a man so grounded by his views, who would defy his father's beliefs to the faithfulness of his own and yet saw his own weakness in the face of a girl.
The other man involved with Tess was Alec, who confirmed the d'Urberville trait existed in Tess. Alec was the wolf in Tess' life, played by the oh-so-easy on the eyes Hans Matheson. He deceived her in - and robed her of - her youth. After parting, Alec experienced a turning point in his life with the passing of his mother. At their reunion, he appears wholly changed from his former self, but speaks to Tess, "I shouldn't look upon your face, it is too dangerous."
Alec knew his limits, but was powerless against them. He implied Tess was the owner of something tempting and dangerous, as if he meant: Boys watch out that milkmaid is back! We know better. This reformed Alec could not avoid temptation and continually sought Tess! The d'Urberville gaze of which she seemingly had no control had drawn her enemy to her, and he admitted, "the sight of you has revived my love...I'm afraid seeing you again rather knocked all the faith out of me."
Maybe the new Alec would not have been so horrible. We would like to imagine so, but once the faith is 'knocked out" of him, we are only left with the saucy, sarcastic Alec - a snake to Tess' Eve. He knew her weaknesses and used them to tempt her back to him. Amongst the situations she endures, that cold, piercing beckoning d'Urberville gaze, which she administers to sting him has trapped her in a situation she can't easily get out of.
What situations did Lady Henrietta d'Urberville found herself in? Was she ever in Tess' shoes? Did she have her own Alec to deal with? Was she more of an Alec than an Angel? Fated to rest as her ancestors, Tess was truly the last of the mighty d'Urbervilles.