Bob Dylan And Thomas Hardy (Part VII)

by Larry Fyffe

Tommy’s in the basement stirring up the medicine.

Thomas Hardy’s novel “Tess Of The d’Urbervilles” is sprinkled with large doses of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution which asserts that chance within the biological composition of individuals determines whether or not a species survives by adaptation to changes in the environment.

Economic circumstances are a-changing in moralistic Victorian times, and ‘Social’ Darwinism comes to the fore as a supposedly ‘scientific’ explanation of how societies develop. The ‘survival of the fittest’ explains why the moneyed bourgeoisie successfully displaces the aristocracy. The ‘divine right’ to hold social, economic, and political power through blood lines is put asunder.

Hardy adds a pinch of Romantic Transcendentalism, quoting a poet who endeavours to save the God of the Holy Bible from the jaws of the scientific-oriented Age of Enlightenment – the loving ‘spirit’ of the Almighty pervades all Nature.

Quoted in the novel:

Our birth is but a sleep and forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life's Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar
Not in entire forgetfulness
Ans not in utter nakedness
But in trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home
(William Wordsworth: Ode: Intimations Of Immortality)

A  romantic sentiment expressed in the song lyrics below:

Winterlude, Winterlude, my little apple
Winterlude by the corn in the field
Winterlude, let's go down to the chapel
Then come back, and cook up a meal
(Bob Dylan: Winterlude)

However, Hardy dumps into the broth a Late Victorian writer who’s musical poetry is plagued with doubt and confusion because of Charles Darwin’s theory.

Quotes Thomas:

Leave thou thy sister, when she prays
Her early Heaven, her happy views
Nor thou with shadowed hint confuse
A life that leads melodious days
(Lord Tennyson: In Memoriam)

Darwin, Hardy, and Tennyson-influenced be the song lyrics beneath:

The call of the wild is 
Forever at my door
Wants to fly like an eagle
While being chained to the floor
(Bob Dylan: You Changed My Life)

(This version is from Iva & Alyosha)

As are the following lines:
Time's piling up, we struggle, and we scrape
All boxed in, nowhere to escape
City's just a jungle, and more games to play
I'm trapped in the heart of it, trying to get away
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Hardy shakes up the medicine bottle and out pops the story of Tess.

To help out her poverty-stricken parents, the beautiful, young, and innocent girl (the noble Viking blood of history running in her veins) goes to work for a retired ‘nouveau-riche’ merchant. His son, fails to seduce Tess, and so rapes her when she’s sleeping.

Tess marries Angel, a son of a parson. Angel’s dubious of his father’s religious beliefs, and befriends the local, pagan-like farmers. Angel leaves Tess when she tells him of her relations with the merchant’s son, Alec.

Tess reluctantly goes back to the amoral son of the retired merchant after Alec tells her that her husband is gone for good, and he himself is now a follower of Christ.

Angel realizes he made a mistake by going away, and trying to make a pleasant living by farming; he comes back home looking for Tess; she tells him that she has stabbed the fork-tongued Alec to death.

Angel “looked at her as she lay upon his shoulder, weeping with happiness, and wondered what obscure strain in the d’Urberville blood had led to this aberration – if it were an aberration”.

The story told by Hardy depicts Tess a reversed version of Frankenstein’s creature; she’s extremely pretty, and not unlearned; she’s out of time, and not able to adapt to the materialistic, self-serving social order of modern times.

Says she to Angel: “I have had enough, and now I shall not live for you to despise me”.

Thomas Hardy suggests that the fate of Tess is not under the control of a predetermined plan made by a God who cares for his creations, but rather she’s trapped in a randomly unfolding, and disinterested evolutionary process.

A darkling Darwinism lies abed in the following song lyrics:

Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight, your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie
But I don't sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above

(Bob Dylan: One More Cup Of Coffee)


Could you write for Untold Dylan?

We are constantly looking for authors who can offer a new perspective on Dylan’s work.  If you have an article ready, or just an idea for an article, I’d love to hear from you – just email Tony@schools.co.uk   You can send me the full article (as a word file ideally) or just the idea, as you wish.

The bad news is we don’t pay.  The good news is your article will be widely read across the English speaking world, and if you are young enough to care about your CV, it can look good there.

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

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