Tess of the d'Urbervilles


Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Dialect 2 key examples

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Durbeyfield's Dialect:

In Chapter 3, the narrator underscores the differences in dialect between Tess and her mother, Mrs. Durbeyfield. Note the narrator's observation in the passage below, enclosed by parentheses:

"You'll be fess enough, my poppet, when th'st know!" (Mrs. Durbeyfield still habitually spoke the dialect; her daughter, who had passed the Sixth Standard in the National School under a London-trained mistress, used it only when excited by joy, surprise, or grief.)

This passage marks class differences between Mrs. Durbeyfield and Tess, despite the fact that they are related and live in the same household. Tess's education has gotten rid of her dialect. Frequently, other characters remark in the novel that Tess seems "more refined" than the typical dairymaid or farmworker. Differences in language and dialect likely contribute heavily to this perception.

The narrator also notes that regional dialect becomes more prominent in Tess's language whenever she is "excited by joy, surprise, or grief." The strongest emotions and passions—those aligned with the "natural world" throughout this novel—cannot be held in check by the powers of education. This simple fact about Tess's dialect supports Hardy's argument against elitism in the novel. After all, to view dialect in elitist terms is to undermine the very thing that aligns Tess with her strongest emotions.

Chapter 25
Explanation and Analysis—Pretty Tipple:

At the end of Chapter 25, while sitting down to dinner with his family, Angel says something in the regional dialect of the dairy farm, and this confuses his educated, somewhat elitist father and brothers:

"Ah — no; though that mead was a drop of pretty tipple."

"A what?" said Cuthbert and Felix both.

"Oh — 'tis an expression they use down at Talbothays," replied Angel, blushing. He felt that his parents were right in their practice if wrong in their want of sentiment, and said no more.

Though the phrase itself bears little consequence—Angel is simply remarking about the quality of the mead—this shift in dialect contributes something important both to Angel's character and to the plot of the novel. Having left both the church and academia, Angel is now somewhat of a stranger in his own family. The majority of people living in England during this period of time are laborers, whether on farms or in industry; Angel is more in touch with these working class people, now, than he is with the educated elite. His dialect shift signals more than his own movement out of the "educated" stream (though he is still intelligent, well-educated, and thoughtful)—it also highlights how out of touch his brother and father are with the everyday concerns of working-class people.

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