The Demonic in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’

Tess spends majority of the novel attempting to resist the demonic forces in her life, but yields to Alec for the sake of her family. If she becomes Alec’s mistress, he will financially support her family. Alec is a demonic figure in the novel. His assault of Tess and carrying of a pitchfork demonstrate this quite strongly. The Edenic setting of their first meeting, and his forcing of fruit into her mouth, fully realise Alec as the devil who will lead Tess into sin.  It is at the end of the novel that her entrapment by Alec, and loss of Angel for a ‘second time’ drives her to extreme action. Tess compares herself to a ‘caged bird!’[1] Her exclamation emphasises her distress, and the paragraph in which this quote is based in is littered with hyphens and ellipsis, implying the fractured nature of her mental state and distress. While confronting Alec, Mrs Brooks notices that her ‘lips were bleeding from the clench of her teeth.’[2] Throughout the novel the drawing of blood has been in reference to violence enacted on Tess, and the forced loss of her virginity by Alec’s. Here it foreshadows the violence that Tess herself will enact upon Alec.

Tess sees violence as the only way to achieve her goal, of being accepted by Angel. Alec too used violence against Tess in the Chase, in order to achieve his own goal of sexual gratification. In killing Alec she adopts his violent, demonic tendencies, and the descent of red blood from the ceiling subverts the traditional position of heaven with hell, emphasising that Alec has trapped Tess in a hell on earth. Despite Angel’s status throughout the novel as Tess’s supposed saviour, it was he who informed her that they could not be together ‘while that man’ lives.[3] It appears that Tess did not kill Alec as much for herself, but more so for Angel. This action transforms Angel supposed saintly image into a devilish one, as it was his comment, coupled with Tess’s distress, that encouraged her to act so violently towards Alec.

It is this act that leads directly to Tess’s demise. Although Tess has taken control in this act, she is still dominated by the influence of others, and the demonic presence in her life that is personified by Alec. To an extent this negates her agency and demonstrates the Gothic nature of Hardy’s narrative, as Tess’s life is governed by supernatural forces that are beyond her control or understanding.

Like Alec, Heathcliff demonstrates a significant demonic force in Cathy’s life in ‘Wuthering Heights.’ It is therefore unsettling to the other characters that such a being would bring Cathy comfort. However this is disrupted by the presence of Thrushcross Grange, and Cathy’s forced isolation there. Heathcliff recounts the event in which Cathy is bitten by Edgar’s dog Skulker, saying that ‘the devil had seized her ankle.’[4] The first syllable of the animal’s name, skull, foreshadows Cathy’s own macabre death at the Grange. The name’s likeness to the word ‘skulk’ personifies the dog, by implying that it had sinister intentions in keeping out of sight. As the Grange is the antithesis of the Heights, Skulker’s holding of Cathy against her will frames him as a demonic creature that threatens to tear Cathy away from her own personal paradise. Cathy does not ‘yell out,’ and instead it is Heathcliff who ‘vociferated curses enough to annihilate any fiend in Christendom.’[5] Cathy is acted upon by Skulker and actively defended by Heathcliff, rendering her as a passive figure in her own assault. Heathcliff believes his words carry a force unavailable to the average human being, stating that they could ‘annihilate any fiend.’[6] The violence and finality of ‘annihilate’ emphasises Heathcliff’s status as a supernatural being, who exerts a greater power than the humans who surround him. Heathcliff attempts to ram a ‘stone between its jaws,’ in an attempt to free Cathy.[7] This description of Skulker’s mouth adds to the monstrosity of the and dangerous nature of the scene, as it styles Skulker as the opening and entrance to the Grange, and by extension, Cathy’s own personal version of hell. Despite Heathcliff’s own self proclamation of his power, he cannot subdue Skulker. It is Cathy who is subdued by these two demonic forces that battle over her, resulting in her being ‘carried’ into the Grange.[8]

Heathcliff is banned from visiting her and can only watch from the outside as ‘spy.’[9] Cathy’s feet are ‘washed,’ her hair is ‘combed’ and she is ‘wheeled to the fire.’[10] This episode results in the loss of Cathy’s independence, as her physical maiming prevents her from venturing onto the moors. She passively accepts the Linton’s kindness and becomes a doll like figure whom they wash and dress. Her forced insertion into this environment represents her forced insertion into domestication and adulthood. On her return to the Heights, it is obvious to Heathcliff and Nelly that she is no longer the ‘hatless little savage,’ of her childhood.[11] It is from this point onwards that Cathy begins to accept the reality of her situation as a woman, which ultimately fractures her bond with Heathcliff irreparably. This acts as a preview of her future life at the Grange, and Skulker’s bite acts as a precursor to the violence that Cathy will experience at there should she choose to stay. The grandness of the Grange appears deceptive in this light and appears more like a gilded cage.

It is Skulker and his attack of Catherine that offsets a key turning point within the novel, much like Tess’s first meeting with Alec. This calls into question whether either heroine has any control over their own lives at all, and whether they are really just the playthings of supernatural, specifically, demonic forces.

Thanks for reading!


[1] Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (London: Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 381

[2] Ibid., p. 381

[3] Ibid., p. 243

[4] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (London: Penguin Classics, 2003) p. 49.

[5] Ibid., p. 49.

[6] Ibid., p. 49.

[7] Ibid., p. 49.

[8] Ibid., p. 49.

[9] Ibid., p. 51.

[10] Ibid., p. 51.

[11] Ibid., p. 53.

Published by harpalkhambay

I'm a third year English Literature and History student, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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