The character of Angel Clare is one that is central not only to Thomas Hardy’s nineteenth century novel Tess of The D’Urbervilles1, but to the character of Tess herself. Angel is presented and developed by Hardy as a many sided character, and he can be seen as responsible for a great part of Tess’s actions through the novel, good and bad. Superficially, it is easy to see how Hardy wishes Angel to be seen by the reader.
The fact that he is named ‘Angel’ bares significance as it’s shown that he will be portrayed as a man of good morals and heart and perhaps ‘saviour’ like. His surname also indicates this – ‘Clare’ is similar to the French ‘clair’ , meaning clarity or light. Hardy’s immediate, obvious manipulation of his name suggests that there may be more to his character than the reader’s first impressions, and this is maintained by Hardy’s development of him throughout the novel.
When Angel is first presented in Chapter 2 in the May Dance, his importance is not made immediately clear. It is not until later on, when Tess begins her time at Talbothay’s Dairy in Phase the Third, fate ensures they meet again, and Angel is fully introduced. Hardy does not present Angel as a strong character here – he is depicted as somewhat ‘preoccupied, vague’. Even Tess regards him mainly as an ‘intelligence’, showing perhaps she too is focused on the ideals of her partner.
Angel is a direct contrast of the villainous Alec in terms of his physical characteristics , such as the lack of red in Angel’s lips. There is no symbolic use of red connoting danger and lust compared with passages in Chapter 5 that concern Alec, for example the strawberries and roses Tess is given, as well as repeated connections of blood later on – Hardy perhaps foreboding a future lack of passion and intensity between Angel and Tess.
His character and personality is described as ‘not cold-natured’ but rather more ‘bright’ than ‘ hot’ – less Byronic than Shelleyan;’ could love desperately, but his love was more ‘inclined to the imaginative and ethereal”. This is perhaps the most important quote in terms Angel’s character; first, implying he is more ‘bright’ than ‘hot’ implies a lack of heat and lust, which is common in the poetry of the nineteenth century Lord Byron, contrasting to poet Percy Shelley whose work is more ‘bright’ and related with the mind, something that is very similar to Angel’s personality and views.
This quality could be to blame for lack of fire or heat in his relationship with Tess. The fact he could ‘love desperately’ is Hardy confirming his love for Tess was true and real, despite his behaviour towards her later on in the novel. Although, the fact his love is ‘imaginative’ suggests that Angel’s love is focused on the false image of her he has created which doesn’t reflect Tess’s true character. Throughout Angel’s time at Talbothay’s, the reader is assured of his love for Tess repeatedly.
He also compares her to goddesses such as’ Demeter’ and Artemis– ironically the goddess of virginity, reiterating the idea of Tess being a pure woman is what’s most important to him, and him being more focused on ‘surface’ rather than ‘substance’ He also calls her ‘ a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature’; Hardy has personified nature and made it a proper noun to show that Tess is so well suited to nature that she is ‘from’ nature herself .
Hardy makes the reader aware that Angel’s ideas on marriage are shown to have little flexibility, although this would not have been unusual in Victorian society, where matters of innocence and virginity held rigid rules. The quote ‘Clare’s love was doubtless ethereal to a fault, imaginative to impractibility’ in Chapter 36 shows that Angel’s love for Tess is far from practical and is idealistic. Angel believes Tess is the essence of purity and sees her as a perfect being, a ‘visionary essence of a woman’. ‘Visionary’ here is important – Angel has a certain vision of Tess which differs from whom she really is.
It could be these flaws in character including stubbornness that prevent his forgiveness to Tess after her confession. He is also not shown to be a wholly religious man, unlike his parson father. Hardy says he preferred sermons in ‘stones’ to ‘churches’ – similar to Hardy himself, as thought by scholar Pamela Dalziel who believes Hardy was ‘‘more social that religious, and fundamentally different from the Evangelical’’ 2. It is often thought that he weaves his own Agnostic ideas of religion into Angel, and that this is a main intentional fallacy for Angel.
Hardy’s presentation of Angel is important as it helps to progress the story and show how his decisions have a direct effect on the eponymous Tess , and the worst of them show a different side to his character. He has an attribute of bad timing –he isn’t there for Tess in crucial moments of her life – most significant in The Chase scene. Hardy asks ‘Where was her guardian angel? ’. This is very explicitly referring to Angel, the so called ‘guardian angel’ and Hardy here is portraying him as her sole source of protection. The pair don’t meet at the May Dance, and might’ve had Angel stayed a moment longer, but fate intervenes.
Angel is very stubborn and has a particularly harsh tongue at points in the novel; he calls Tess’s rape a ‘grotesque prestidigitation’ – showing he can let his strict morals get the better of him and is quite influenced by society. He cannot accept Tess as being anything less than perfect after her confession – he seems it as his unblemished woman not being there anymore, ‘You were one woman, and now you are another! ’ : she has been replaced with a ‘fallen’ or ‘ruined’ woman , a common Victorian misconception – Hardy himself had a poem entitled ‘The Ruined Maid’3 showing it was a very typical term of the era to brand women such as Tess.
Hardy’s portrayal of Angel shows he hurries decisions – this is seen on his intent to leave Tess alone to travel to Brazil. He struggles with his hasty choices, but is aware of this issue which tells us he is capable of being a good man – ‘ Viewing her (Tess) in these lights, a regret for his hasty judgement began to oppress him’,. Angel is able to see his fault and returns to Tess, where she subsequently murders Alec and runs away with him. Hardy might be using Angel to present his views and make wider comments about society here– that purity is not important in a marriage, and that people should look beyond it, as Angel was able to.
Judgements such as these would have been very ahead of Hardy’s time and almost unheard of in nineteenth century Britain. To conclude, Hardy’s presentation of Angel Clare is thought provoking and leaves us questioning the good and bad qualities in everyone. While there is no denying that Hardy never intended the melodramatic, Victorian villain role to be Angel, it is easy to obtain that Hardy’s character has faults that left a lasting mark on his wife, therefore it could be argued that in some ways Angel is the villain or the antagonist.
His mistakes and wrongdoing throughout the novel help add depth to the story of Tess and help us form opinions of not only Angel but the other characters too, and make the reader consider Hardy’s motives behind depicting him like this, and why Tess’s misconceptions of Angel are not shown as much – some critics argue that Hardy was actually in love with Tess, as he wrote in a letter ‘”I have not been able to put on paper all that she is, or was, to me. 4However, in spite of this Hardy seems eager to show the reader that Angel is a good and worthy man and often sides and finds refuge in Angel, for example sharing detest of organised Christianity.