Tess of the D’Urbervilles Phase the First: “The Maiden” Remediated
Below is a section from the scene in The Chase which I used, in part, for my remediation:
“The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. D’Urberville stooped; and heard a gentle regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.
Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess’s guardian angel? where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked.
Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe. Doubtless some of Tess d’Urberville’s mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards peasant girls of their time. But though to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by average human nature; and it therefore does not mend the matter.
As Tess’s own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: “It was to be.” There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine’s personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother’s door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.” (Tess of the D’Urbervilles pp.73-74)
Reimagined as a poetic fairytale:
Once there was a little lamb called Tess,
Whose wool was as white as snow.
She was the sweetest, purest lamb,
As all the animals agreed it so.
She was so soft and kind; the farm rejoiced
For there was finally
A lamb that gave them hope
And a reason to live happily.
She wore a red bow around her neck
So everyone would know
That she was the fairest, the sweetest lamb,
With spirits and wool as bright as snow.
Tess ran with the chickens and lounged with the pigs,
And befriended everyone on the farm.
Even the farmer doted on dear Tess,
As he sheared her to make snow-white yarn.
Tess’ mother had many lambs to feed
And Tess helped out where she could
But soon there was little to eat
And Tess needed to venture into the Wood.
Her mother was a good sheep
And she loved Tess well
But her failure was in her silence:
For to Tess the danger of wolves her mother did not tell
One day dear Tess set off and met a wolf on her travels.
She thought that he was a friend.
She went with him into The Chase to play,
Not knowing his motives were pretend.
The deeper they went, Tess started to feel
The maybe she’d strayed too far,
But poor little lamb didn’t see
How dangerous wolves really are…
When she asked to turn back,
the Wolf said “No! You’ve come this far with me
I want your white wool to myself
And so my little lamb you shall be.”
The Wolf took Tess’ wool,
But not kindly like the farmer,
He took it with a force so brute
That her wool grew dark thereafter.
No longer was Tess as light as snow,
No longer were her spirits bright
Her hope and joy had gone awry
Her innocence out of sight.
Oh Tess, poor lamb, with wool so white,
The darkness you did not see.
But since you are the sweetest, purest lamb,
There are wolves that hunt for thee.
I decided to change Tess from the novel form to a children’s poetic fairytale form because I was inspired by my own experience of reading Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. In this book, Roald Dahl reimagines, through poetry, many traditional fairytales and presents them in unique ways. In most cases Dahl also adds a dark twist to the story and makes it enjoyable for children and adults alike. I observed some of the choices he made when making my own translation of Tess and incorporated elements that hopefully aid in a successful remediation.
First and foremost, I decided to make the character of Tess a lamb because, in many fairytales, the protagonist is made to be an animal (rather than human) in order to simplify the story and make it a little more entertaining for young readers (after all, who doesn’t like the idea of animals that can talk?). The challenge, then, was what animal to use as Alec. I decided, to mirror many fairytales, to make my villain a wolf. Wolves are likely chosen for this role because we often underestimate them since they appear similar to an animal we are so accustomed to: the dog. We forget that they are hunters and that they could very well hunt us. In this case, it made sense that my lamb would trust a wolf since she is so innocent and doesn’t know how to differentiate between good and bad people. I wanted to emphasize that she is the “purest, sweetest” lamb since Hardy’s Tess is continually mentioned as particularly beautiful and exhibiting youthful innocence. Importantly, I also made it clear that it was the farm community (i.e. others) that deemed Tess particularly pure and beautiful. I wanted this aspect to mirror the novel since Tess is often described through the eyes of others, not through self-description.
When it came to writing the scene in The Chase, I didn’t want to include more details than Hardy did, only enough to metaphorically show the damage that Tess experiences after her encounter with the villain (in this case the wolf). I chose to state that her wool grew dark thereafter to signify the “chasm” that Hardy mentions, the permanent alteration of Tess’ character, and physical evidence of her violation.
It seemed at first as if I was oversimplifying the story, I was “dumbing it down.” But in my writing I became very aware of the decisions I was making. Writing a poetic fairytale limited my decisions in many ways. Not only was I concerned with the audience of this poem, but the limits of the rhyming structure I used. I decided to use a rhyme scheme to give a sing-song element to the story and further juxtapose the form with its subject matter. Just as the original Brothers Grimm fairytales were often composed of gory and dark plotlines presented with colorful and intricate images (which in many ways distracted from the darkest messages of the story itself), I hoped to distract from the darkness in this scene by presenting it in a light and frivolous way. Ultimately, such a form allowed me to manipulate elements to present a metaphorical version of the scene, a symbolic retelling that highlights the true transformation of Tess and the danger she faced in her innocence.