Attitudes to religion and the church in Tess of the D’Urbervilles

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Religion and the church are highlighted in:Angel’s brother and Mercy Chant: they show that religion is intolerant and snobbish – often a social facade to show that one is a better person.

Angel’s father: he is a bit of a paradox because he is presented ambivalently with regard to Hardy’s attitude of the clergy. On the one hand he is shown as a brave and caring man; He suffers against verbal and physical abuse and in fact is seen to be quite passionate over his job, highlighted in his quest to convert the very unreceptive (initially, and then later) Alec. The church in parts is portrayed as something that does not want to be concerned with ‘soiled’ people and their deeds (e.g. the ‘rule’ which does not allow Tess’s child be buried in the churchyard), yet Rev. Clare is seen to mix with a wide variety of social classes.

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But, he also seems to be more concerned with dogma and in this way he is limited in his vision i.e. he is continually viewing the world with respect to his values and not other peoples’ which he does not understand to be as equally justifiable.The parson who does not allow Sorrow to be buried in his churchyard: he is quoted as having ‘the natural feelings of a tradesman’ which in itself suggests that his vocation is less of a spiritual need to help people and more of a business that has little room for feeling. Although, that said, we are told that:’the strange tenderness in her voice, combined to affect his nobler impulses… the man and the ecclesiastic fought within him’This implies that it is the man side of him that is more humane and caring and that in fact this side of him is ‘nobler’ than any church teaching he may take into account in his decision. The painter (who paints religious signs on everything in sight): he shows us the narrow-mindedness of the church.Alec: his period as a ‘believer’ clearly reveals to us the shallowness that is evident in the church and its clergy.

Alec’s failure to stay true to the church is also indicative of its limitations as it can not destroy the corruptness in him.In contrast…

In contrast Tess’s faith is more pure and genuine and strong than anyone else we meet in the book. She stays true to herself all the way through the book, and in our eyes righteous – Sorrow’s baptism is conveyed such that is holds equal importance and more than if it had been performed by a minister, especially because Tess felt for Sorrow.Summary:Religion seems to place more emphasis on the moral perception according to the church than feeling or humanity. Hardy makes it clear that the true human spirit does not need an institution such as the church to make it real or moral.

Other points:

Religion seems to be something that instils fear and horror, for example Tess imagines a merciless fate her baby:’consigned to the nethermost corner of hell.. the arch fiend tossing it with his three pronged fork’There seems to be no room for forgiveness or humility. Instead it seems to consist mainly of intolerance and an insistence on rules.

Hardy does not necessarily portray atheists as better people than clergy. Angel who is clearly anti-Christian is less broad-minded (and that’s saying a lot) and less forgiving than his father, though they both share a sense of idealism. In Wuthering Heights:Religions is mainly presented to us through Nelle and Joseph and they are unrelentless in their sour and cold judgements:E.g.

When Heathcliff hears of Cathy’s death, Nelle says’Yes, she’s dead! Gone to heaven, where we may join her if we take due warning, and leave our evil ways to follow good.’Because they are so continually judgmental they remind us of Lockwood and in that respect we are repulsed by their pompous statements.The Grange V. The Heights* Religion is seen in opposition at the Heights and Thrushcross grange:Joseph’s religion is punishing and emphasises damnation and hell’.

..sattan, un’all t ‘flaysome wickidness..

.’The religion at the grange has an emphasis on tolerance andforgiveness – in contrast to Joe, the hope of heaven is highlighted (see later quote)* Edgar is the main person responsible for the indirect spread ofreligion at the Grange, telling Heathcliff that he is ‘moral poison that would contaminate the most virtuous’.Yet, we see him stray from his ‘beliefs’ by not forgiving Isabelle when she runs away and in fact being quite cold with her and then being extremely insensitive when Catherine is dying:’What in the name of all that he feels has he to do with books, when I am dying.”Feels’ being the appropriate word, here, because Edgar’s religion seems to revolve around a lack of feeling and an induced sense of discipline.

* Also, the religion at the grange in comparison with the heights is ofcourse more civilised and restrained. Heathcliff’s religion is his love for Cathy, it is passionate and faithful. Heathcliff prays for Cathy to haunt him:’And I pray, one prayer..

.Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad!’Whereas Nelle says of Edgar:’he didn’t pray for Catherine’s soul to haunt him. Time brought resignation, and a melancholy sweeter than common joy’.Religion is made to sound lame and emotionless.

E.g. Nelle on the way Edgar acted after Cathy’s death:’he displayed the true courage of a loyal and faithful soul: he trusted God and God comforted him.Limitations of ReligionThe limitations of religion and the absoluteness of other things such as love, are highlighted in WH.

Heathcliff loves Cathy so much that he does not ‘trust’ religion to keep him sustained after Cathy’s death or even that he will meet Cathy again – religion can not substitute something as powerful as their love which is not limited to the confines of morality.Religion is rejected through Catherine’s dream, which implies that heaven is a restriction whereas something such as nature is more natural and inviting to her.When Cathy and Heathcliff have their last meeting, Edgar is out at church. Thus, with the setting of these characters it creates a comparison between the passionate and all-consuming nature of their union and religion.

We can be sure that Edgar’s outing to church could not have produced a fraction of the genuine devotion created through the intimate and meaningful last meeting of C+H.

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Attitudes to religion and the church in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. (2017, Nov 03). Retrieved from

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