Alec and Reg are employed by Hardy and Coupland as a means of exploring a number of complex issues such as love, religion and the nature of evil, though as the presentation of these characters is a largely negative one, the authors tend to dwell on the pessimistic aspects of these themes. However, the two are not presented as entirely unfavourable characters thanks to a number of techniques and complicating narrative events used by Coupland and Hardy, and it is these elements that will be examined throughout this essay.
From the early phases of each novel we are positioned to look upon Alec and Reg unfavourably. Upon his first appearance, Alec’s physical description is devilish, “a well groomed moustache with curled points”, this being reminiscent of an archetypal melodrama villain, immediately characterising him as a typical antagonist. The reader’s first encounter with Reg is through Cheryl’s description of him as “a mean, dried out old fart”, which similarly doesn’t allow the reader to empathise with him. This continues for the majority of each novel.
Hardy invites us to take a macabre pleasure in Alec’s death with the phrase “Drip, drip, drip”, while similarly Jason takes a grim delight in his intricate recount of his fathers broken kneecap “shattering it into twenty-nine fragments that required a marathon eighteen hour surgery and seven titanium pins to rectify”, Coupland’s relish in these facts and details proving to be darkly comic, encouraging the reader to empathise with Jason’s pleasure in Reg’s pain and cementing Reg as an unlikable character at this point. The authors also manipulate the reader’s emotions and shape their view of the characters in their use of narrative form.
Hardy employs an omniscient narrative viewpoint, but is quite selective in its use; for example, in dealing with Alecs’ murder through Mrs Brooks Hardy denies the reader any chance of empathising with Alec. Coupland achieves a similar effect through a different method; with the use of a number of narrators, Coupland puts forth a number of different viewpoints, but, particularly with the first narrators, these phases dwell on the negative elements of Reg, this also not allowing the reader to empathise with the character.
The extent to which Alec and Reg take responsibility for their actions shapes the readers perception of them as antagonists. Alec can largely be seen as the villain of the novel, with his rape of Tess effectively destroying her, something he recognises “I admit it – I wronged you”, but his fatalistic reasoning to justify his actions are quite unsatisfactory “I was born bad, I have lived bad and I shall die bad”, Alec appearing to be attempting to make himself exempt from blame in speaking as if his nature is beyond his control.
It is possible that he was unaware that he was doing wrong in raping her, claiming of her reluctance “That’s what every woman says”, which doesn’t justify his actions but does indicate why he was at first so passive, as evidenced in their exchange of dialogue during the opening pages of ‘Maiden No More’ and Alec’s relaxed body language despite Tess’ despair, “He shrugged his shoulders”.
He does later attempt to atone for his sins, both spiritually as a preacher and financially in providing for Tess’ family, this contrasting his previous, wicked way of attempting to become Tess’ suitor in offering material possessions “your father has a new cob”, this clear difference in attitude faintly lessening his villainous persona. In Regs’ case, it is during the final phase that he attempts to atone for his prior tyrannical attitude, most evident throughout Jason’s narrative where we are positioned to see his response to Jason killing one of the ‘Gun Boys’ as entirely irrational and unfair “You killed a boy today? .
But as the narrative progresses, we learn more of his warped, religious motivations, “All I ever wanted for you was the Kingdom”, yet this does not justify his actions. In the final part, however, Reg tries to make amends, despite it being futile as Jason is dead, a clear yearning to apologise is evident in his direct address towards him, “My Son”, and recognition of where he has gone wrong “That was wretched of me”.
While a preaching tone is still evident, and Reg is particularly self aware of what he is saying “I sound maudlin here. I don’t want that”, and an acknowledgement of his faults can not make him exempt from blame, he does accept his wicked attitude is what drove Jason away. Reg’s closing words prove to be desperately sad in this sense; while he is proactively going to “tack these letters onto the trees”, the reader is aware that Reg’s realisation has come far too late.
They will go unread, and Reg will be left alone in the world. This sense of bleakness is compounded by his delusional optimism of the novels closing lines “Rejoice! All of you! Rejoice! You must” My son is coming home! ” these exclamations suggesting a hopefulness that simply isn’t there. Reg is ultimately presented as a pitiful, lost and lonely character, and in doing this, Coupland considerably challenges the reader’s previous analysis of him as an antagonist.
While Alec and Reg are clearly presented as antagonistic forces in each novel, the extent to which they are the primary antagonists is debatable. Neither instigates the narrative events that lead to tragedy, this instead being done by the functionary characters Parson Tringham and the ‘Gun Boys’. The bloody carnage of the massacre in Hey Nostradamus! results in the death of the stories first narrator, Cheryl, which in turn leads to the disintegration of the other narrator’s lives, such as Jason, forever known as the one who “never really got over it”.
The repercussions of this act are still felt over a decade later, Reg lamenting on the horror of “what it is to lose your child” in 2003, the large scope of the time scale perhaps showing the extent to which the massacre has shaken the characters lives. While not as dramatic, in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it is the Parson who alerts John of his privileged ancestry in casually calling him “Sir John”, the joking manner in which he does this perhaps seeming inappropriate given that this revelation is the initial cause of the narratives tragic trajectory.
However, these characters are not presented as entirely unsympathetic; Parson Tringham would be unaware of the dramatic consequences sharing this information would have, indeed, upon John questioning what should be done about his ancestry, the Parson declares “nothing, nothing”, the repetition indicating that it was not his intention for anything to come of this disclosure of fact. The ‘Gun Boys’ on the other hand are presented as monstrous, given their disregard for human life, “There, see?
Killing is fun”, Coupland not allowing us to empathise with them at all by supplying them with no back story, nor lamenting on alienation or any other motivation that drove them to carry out the massacre. The exception to this is Jeremy. In declaring “I repent for my sins”, there is a degree of remorse which humanises the killer somewhat, though this can be seen as too little too late, this being particularly evident in Jason’s assessment of Jeremy, “he repented and so he was forgiven and lionised”, the italicised “repented” implying a mocking intonation, undermining any sense of heroism.
Ultimately, as these characters make such brief appearances in their respective novels, they remain quite under developed, making it difficult to apply the label of antagonist to them. Instead, these characters can be looked upon as catalysts; it is the reactionary roles to these early narrative events that characters like Alec and Reg take that pushes the story onward, at least initially, but following this they then go on to initiate actions of their own, their responses serving to further complicate the narrative.
In terms of religion, Alec and Reg have many similarities, such as their tendency to use faith as a crutch or a shield to hide their own inadequacies. Alec effectively dismisses Tess’ criticism by hiding behind his religious conversion “No amount of contempt that you can pour upon me, Tess, will equal what I have poured upon myself”. Similarly, Reg tends to deny logic, instead relying of religion as a means of not dealing with complex issues, “God created the world – I believe that.
No theory of creation satisfies me, but I have this sureness in my heart”. When looked at in isolation, these appear as simplified and quite ridiculous attitudes which prove to be quite harmful, but given other more sympathetic qualities Hardy and Coupland apply to the two characters they instead appear as confused, flawed men; indeed, their religious attitudes initially appear preachy and, particularly in Reg’s case, tyrannical, but given the later recognition of their flaws any idea of using religion in an overly negative way is somewhat negated.
Yet as these heavily flawed characters are so closely linked to religion it is easy to assess that Hardy and Coupland have taken a negative, perhaps atheistic stance against faith, particularly when characters like the hypocritical Parson Tringham and the ‘repenting’ Jeremy Kyriakis are considered. However, each author finds a far more sympathetic and likable ambassador for religion in Tess and Cheryl.
Tess’ yearning to see Sorrow baptised shows a woman with a belief in the spiritual side of faith, who wants the best for her child’s soul, yet struggles with the religious dogma that prevents the Parson from baptising Sorrow, this leading to her apparent rejection of the church “Then I don’t like you!… and I’ll never come to your church no more! “, her childish diction showing her endearing naivety, allowing the reader to empathise with her and the terrible position she has found herself in.
Cheryl similarly recognises the ridiculousness of organised religion in the shape of ‘Youth Alive! ‘ through her gentle mocking of the group “Youth Alive! was concerned that my constant exposure to semi clad skin, sun and non-Youth Alive! members would make me revert to the World” but exhibits an appealing, simple, spiritual approach to religion, seen in her reflecting on her conversion “I closed my eyes and faced the sun and that was that – ping! In using such differing characters in presenting the polar opposites of this theme, the authors present an ambivalent view towards religion, from the largely negative stance due to its connection with the antagonistic force of Alec to the idealised, more hopeful connotations it finds in a character such as Cheryl.
One of the ways that Hardy and Coupland create sympathy for each character is in their recognition of their own weaknesses. In Hey Nostradamus! e are positioned to feel little sympathy for Reg throughout the first two parts. The character is given little opportunity to speak for himself, instead most information about him coming from a biased, bitter Jason, “Dad was unfixably nuts”. This is contrasted by the more human Reg portrayed in parts three and four, in part due to his own reflections on where he has gone wrong in the past, such as in his exchange with Heather about how she used to be “really nice”, his response being “I can’t say that about myself”.
While there are elements of self pity evident here – as the conversation was about Heather, not Reg, so there was no reason to bring up his own flaws – this is partially nullified given the sympathetic response to Heathers own self-deprecating attitudes “That’s not true”. In presenting the character in an initially very negative way before contrasting this with the truer version, with human qualities like self doubt and a recognition of his own flaws, Coupland crafts a character of considerable sympathy, in doing so forcing the reader to re-evaluate his previous portrayal.
In much the same way, Alec is demonised by Hardy through Tess; it is his actions, particularly his rape of Tess, that lead to the tragic events of the narrative to unfold. But upon his reappearance there is a clear yearning to atone for the wrong he has done her through his “marriage license”. While this is a somewhat noble proposition, it is ultimately undermined by dark words that more than hint that despite his apparent reform, he is still a bad person “I was your master once.
I will be your master again. ” Nonetheless, Alec does acknowledge some mistakes; in declaring his “religious mania is over” he appears to recognise it as something of an empty gesture which could be perceived as sympathetic, though the manner that he blames Tess for his back-sliding is somewhat less so “I was on my way to social salvation ’till I saw you again. ” However, in spite of his many flaws, there is a degree of sincerity in such utterances.
He clearly does love Tess, and the effect that this has on him is evident in his broken, disjointed discourse, shown by Hardy through his sentences being littered with hyphens in these later chapters which contrasts his previous, assured speech of the first few phases. When these aspects of Alec’s character are taken into consideration, he can be looked upon as a deeply flawed character rather than an out and out villain due to such instances where it is possible to feel sympathy for the character.
Alec and Reg can certainly be looked upon as antagonistic, complicating forces, their actions – be it Reg’s harsh response to Jason’s killing of Mitchell, the ‘gun boy’ or Alec’s rape of Tess – serving to create tragedy, and in doing so push the narrative onwards. Despite this, neither character can be looked upon as an outright villain due to moments where they are allowed to display more sympathetic qualities. Of the two, I feel that Reg can be seen as the lesser evil as he is given greater opportunity to speak for himself towards the novels’ end which goes some way to challenge the idea of the character being a complete villain.
On the other hand there is Alec; while he finds some redemption in his Christian values and the appearance that by later phases of the novel he is a changed man, Hardy denies the reader to empathise with the character in any meaningful way by ultimately punishing him, through Tess’ murder of him. But despite this, it is not possible to look at either character as simply an antagonist thanks to the more complex characterisation applied to them by Hardy and Coupland.