‘Irony of Life or Circumstance" In Hardy

Irony of Life Defined and Explained
Irony is a literary device frequently used by witers to indicate the contrariness of human life. It is a matter of common experience that in life we do not get what we expect or desire. We expect one thing and we get its exact opposite. Thus irony of life or circumstance may be defined as a situation which is the exact opposite of what has been expected and desired. Such a situation seems to have been contrived by malignant fate. Hence it is also called irony of Fate. Thus irony of Fate, Circumstances, or Life, lies in the frustration of human aspirations. It implies Fate or the powers that rule on high working against humanity and mocking at its frustration. This irony plays an important part in Hardy’s novels and it is most frequently used by him to create tragic effects. C. Duflln remarks in this connection:

“In life it is the unexpected that happens, in the world of Hardy’s novels it is the undesirable unexpected. His whole novels are built upon the doctrine of the irony of Fate, as commonly understood.”
Irony of Life in “The Mayor of Casterbridge”
Hardy’s characters are all victims of the irony of Fate; everything happens contrary to their wishes and calculations. Like Elizabeth .lane, they all feel that there is no necessary connection between desert and reward, desire and attainment, and endeavour and accomplishment. Elizabeth- jane is a victim of this irony, for, “Continually it happened that what she had desired had not been granted her, and that what had been granted her she had not desired.”
Henchard suffers equally at the hands of this mocking sequence of things. He had contrived for long to make Jane his daughter and teach her to call him her fathet. But the day he succeeds and she agrees to call him, ‘father’, he discovers that she was not his real daughter and finds no pleasure in the achievement of his wishes. He is thus a victim of the irony of life : “The mockciy was, that he should have no sonner taught a girl to claim the shelter of his paternity, than he discovered her to have no kinship with him. Tins ironical sequence of things angered him, like an impish trick from a fellow creature.”
Tess’, a Study in the Irony of Fate
Coming to Tess of the D’urben’illes, we find that this novel also is a “study in the irony of Fate.” In this sorry universe, all arc equal victims of universal harshness, “the harshness of the position towards the temperament, of the means towards the aims of today towards yesterday, of hereafter towards to-day.” Tess herself is the victim of this irony of Fate. She goes to Trantridge to “claim kin” and it is hoped much good would come out of the visit. Their rich relations would befriend them and Tess would marry a gentleman and become a lady. But alas! the result is catastrophic. To the right man she remains just a fleeting impression, while on the very first day of her visit she is marked and coveted by the wrong man :
“In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things, the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving.” Nature does not often say “see” to a poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing : or reply “Here” ! to a body’s cry of ‘Where?’ ……… and, “out of such maladroit delays spring anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes — and what is called a strange destiny.”
Angel Clare and Alec as Victims
Angel Clare ‘too’ is as much a victim of the nony of fate as Tess. As he himself puts it, he had given up all social ambitions and married much below his rank. He had hoped that he, “would secure rustic innocence as surely as he had secured pink cheeks. But in this also Fate had baulked him. He finds that Tess, whom he had regarded as a “Dewy fresh daughter of nature” etc., was not after all so chaste and fresh. She had a past and was, in short, a different woman from the one he had taken her to be.
Similarly, Alec also, villain though he be, is a victim of the irony of life. He seduced Tess thinking that she was an ordinary peasant girl, like many others whom he had seduced in the past. But to his bewilderment, he finds that she is an uncommon girl, mighty sensitive for a farm hand. The result is he receives his death from the hands of his victim. He had never expected that the affair would have such tragic results. Besides this, later in the story, he secures a marriage licence and hurries to her with the honest intention of marrying her and thus making amends for the wrong that he had done to her. But he finds Tess already married. Such is the mockery of fate!
Irony in “The Return of The Native”
This novel also is a study in the irony of life. Eustacia longs for city life and she marries Clym in the hope that he would take her to Paris where she would be perfectly happy. But soon she finds her husband blind and an humble furze-cutter. Similarly, Clym marries Eustacia in the hope that she would be of great help to him in running his school. But he soon discovers that she pines for city life which he himself has renounced. Their love marriage instead of leading to happiness results in tragedy for all concerned. Similarly, Mrs. Yeobright comes to her son’s cottage to be reconciled to him, but meets her death instead.

The Role of Chance and Fate In The Wessex Novels

Importance of Fate in Hardy
In Hardy’s novels, Fate plays an all important part. It is the supreme over-character in his works, controlling the destinies of his characters and sending them to their doom. His characters seem to be simply puppets in the hands of malignant Fate or Destiny. They are always in conflict with their fate, for while they work to one end, Fate seems to be working to some opposite end. The result is tragedy, misery and suffering for puny mortals. It is for this reason that,  the ill-judged execution of well-judged plan of things, the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour of loving. Nature (or Fate) does not often say “see!” to a body at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing.”

This blind working of Fate makes life a “strange orchestra of victim shriek and pain.” “Man and woman wander about the earth, like two halves of a perfect whole, each waiting for the missing counterpa1 and out of this maldroit delays spring anxieties, disappointments, shocks, etc.” Commenting on the importance of Fate in the novels of Thomas Hardy, writes D. Cecil: “A struggle between man, on the one hand, and, on the other, an omnipotent and indifferent Fate —that is Hardy’s interpretation of the human scene.”
The Conflict Between Fate and Individual
Thus in Hardy’s view, Fate is indifferent and blind. In its blind and indifferent working, it often works against human happiness and so it seems to the victims as hostile and malevolent. It is omnipotent and the cause of all human suffering. In his novels, the real conflict is not between man and man or between man and society, but between man and the impersonal, omnipotent Fate. All are puppets in the hands of Fate. Even those characters who are’ generally considered wicked, are as much the victims of Fate as those who are considered good. Thus Alec is as much in the hands of Fate as Tess : Henchard is as much a plaything of Fate as Farfrae or Eliabath-janc. All are to be equally pitied; none is to be blamed, for all are creatures of circumstances, helpless victims of a blind, indifferent and all powerful Fate.
Fate as Some Natural Force
Now Fate is an abstraction, and in order that it may play an effective purl in the human drama, it must be objectified in some particular form. Sometimes, it is objectified as some natural force. For example in Tin1 Mayor of Casterbridge, Fate expresses itself as hostile weather which ruins Henchard. But more frequently, Fate expresses itself as chance and love.
Fate and Chance
Chance plays an important role, even an exaggerated role, in the novels of Thomas Hardy. Many things which are mysterious, and sudden, and which cannot be accounted for in any natural way take place. The unexpected often happens and always it is the undesireable unexpected. Such chance events are heavy blows aimed at the heads of Hardy’s protagonists and the send them to their dooms Cross in The Development of the English Nave has emphasised the role of chance in Tess of the D’urbervilles in the following worlds :
“At the very threshold of her life she (Tess) meets the wrong man.  few days before she marries Clare, she pushes under the door of his bedroon a written confession, which slips out of sight under the carpet, where i remains concealed until found by Tess on the wedding morning. On a Sunday Tess tramps fifteen miles to the parsonage of the elder Clare to seek protection but there is no answer to her ring at the door, for the family is at Church At just the wrong time she stumbles upon Alec once more. A letter she despatches to Angel in Brazil is delayed; and he reaches home a few days too late”.
In this way, from first to last, the plot of Tess is dominated by chance events. It is a tragedy brought about by wrong things happening unexpected!’ at the wrong moment. Tess suffers because everything happens contrary to her wishes and expectations, in a way that cannot be accounted for, except by reference to a hostile Fate.
Fate as Love
Sometimes, Fate takes the form of love. All Hardy’s novels are love stories. Love is the predominant factor in the lives of his characters, more specially female characters. Love as conceived by Hardy is a “Lord of terrible aspect, a blind irresistible power seizing on human beings whether they will or not, and always bringing min on them.” After her betrayal, Tess had regained equilibrium and she would have lived contentedly enough, had she not beer mastered by her passion for Angel Clare. But her love for him carries her off her feet and throws her down broken and despairing. She loves Clare with all the warmth of her emotional nature. She worships him and inspite of all her resolution to the contrary marries him. She consideres it an act of treachery to conceal anything from her beloved and so reveals to him all about her past. The result is terrible. Angel Clare, that man with a hard ‘logical deposit’, cannot forgive her. He deserts her. Tess pays, and pays terribly for loving him so much. It is again on account of her love for him that, in a fit of desperation, she stabs Alec and ends her life on the gallows. Love is equally the cause of tragedy in the Return of the Native. Eustacia is dominated by her passion and the result is not happiness but tragedy. It is rarely that love leads to happiness, but it always leads to tragedy. Elizabeth-Jane, too, suffers in love, though ultimately she gets the objects of her desire.

Hardy’s Conception of Tragedy

(1) “Destiny as Character.”
(2) Shakespeare and Hardy as tragic artists.
(3) Causes of Tragedy in Hardy’s Novels.
Hardy: Shakespeare of the English Novel

Hardy has been called the Shakespeare of the English novel and the four great Hardian tragedies — Tess of the D’urbeivilles, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Return of The Native— have been likened to the four great Shakespearean tragedies. But Hardy’s conception of tragedy is radically different from that of Shakespeare.
Hardy’s Tragic Hero
In a Shakespearean tragedy, as Bradley has pointed out, the tragic hero is a man of high rank and position. He may belong to the royal family or he may be some great general and warrior indispensable for the state. He is not only exalted socially, but he has also some uncommon qualities of head and heart. He is, in short, a rare individual. When such a person falls from greatness and his high position is reversed the result is ‘Kathartic’. His fall excites the tragic emotion of terror and the readers are purged of the emotion of self-pity.
This was the traditional concept of Tragedy upto Hardy, But Hardy has his own concept, he is the innovator of a new form of tragedy. His tragic heroes and heroines are no exalted personages. They are neither kings nor queens. They belong to the lowest ranks of society. Tess, for example, is an humble dairymaid. Henchard is a hay-trusser and Giles is a poor wood-cutter and cider-maker. They may belong to the humblest rank of society, but they are all rare individuals. They have some exceptional qualities of head and heart which exalt them above the common run of mankind. Henchard, for example, is a man of character and Tess is a ‘pure woman’, an almost, “standard woman.” She has that ‘touch of rarity’ which makes her interesting to all. Her “sensitivity of conscience”, despite her early up-bringing and lack of moral education, is surprising in the extreme.
Hardian Tragedy: Apotheosis of Human Spirit
When these humble heroes and heroines of Hardy suffer and fall from grace the effect is an ‘Kathartic’ as that of a Shakespearean tragedy. An Hardian tragedy is an apotheosis of the human spirit. It reveals to us the essential nobility and heroism of the human soul. Tess fights upto the end against heavy odds and by her courage and fortitude endears herself to the readers of Hardy. Her head is bloody, but it remains unbowed. She is ruined but she never murmurs or gives in.  Humanity may be insect-like in its insignificance, but it has capacities like those of the gods.
Tragic Waste in Hardy
Like a Shakespcarean tragedy, a Hardian tragedy also creates the impression of tragic waste. Evil is eliminated in the long run, but always at the cost of much that is good and desirable. The real tragedy is this waste of good. Alec is killed in the end but it is no tragedy, for he richly deserved punishment. Tess is hanged; that, too, is not the real tragedy, for man is moral and he must die one day. The real tragedy is that the soul of Tess is cursed in the end and she surrenders her body to Alec. It is this which is fearful, appalling and terrifying. Similarly, much good is wasted when Eustacia comes to a tragic end.
Hardian Tragedy Elevating
But a Hardian tragedy does not discourage, or cause despair. “It is elevating and stimulating. It does not shake our faith in life, all the more it strengthens us : it does not make us light-hearted, but makes us wiser and better.”
No Tragic Flaw in Hardy
The Shakespearean hero has some fault of character, some strong tendency to act in a particular way, which is the cause of his undoing. Bradley has called this weakness of the hero as the “tragic flaw” of his character. This tragic flaw is responsible for the fall of the hero, it is the cause of the tragedy. Though at a later stage the course of action is complicated by other factors — chance, abnormal state of mind, some supernatural force, etc., — yet primarily action issues out of character. Character is responsible for tragedy. “Character is destiny in Shakespeare.” But this is not so in Hardy. His tragic heroes and heroines are free from any ‘tragic flaw’ in the Shakespearean sense. They do not have any obsession or a marked tendency to act in a particular way. Character is not the cause of Tragedy. The tragedy of Tess begins with a crime and ends with a crime. But she is a ‘pure woman’. She is more sinned against than sinning. She suffers for no fault of her, but owing to circumstances beyond her control.
The Cause of Tragedy: Destiny and Not Character
“Character may be destiny” in Shakespeare, but in Hardy “Destiny is Character.” Tess cannot escape her destiny in spite of her best efforts to do so. She cannot avoid it. She wriths under the attack of destiny. We feel that she suffers because “It was to be.” Fate or destiny expresses itself as chance. In all his novels, chance in its malevolent aspect is present throughout. It is by chance that she falls asleep and the horse Prince is killed. It is by chance again that she meets the wrong man in the very beginning of her life and is thus ruined by him. It is again a chance that she should go to the dairy at Talbothays and Angel Clare should also have come there to learn dairy-farming. Her letter of confession never reaches’ him, but by chance slips beneath the carpet and remains hidden there. She goes to meet her in-laws at Emminster, and by chance meets the brother before she has met the parents. Thus malicious chance or destiny is against her from first to last. Destiny, and not her character, is responsible for the tragedy of Tess.
In the Return of the Native and the Mayor of Casterbridge, no doubt, character plays a significant role in bringing about the tragedy. It is the Mayor’s “Bufello wrong-headedness”, that is responsible for much of his suffering. Similarly, Eustacia’s tragedy results from her excessive love of the glittering city life and from her extreme hunger for love. But in these novels also cruel Destiny in the form of chance is ever present. It is just a chance that Clym is asleep and Eustacia does not open the door to Mrs. Yeobright thinking that her husband would do so. It is also by chance that Clym comes to know from Jonny, the real facts about his mother’s death. It is cruel destiny which places Eustacia in an environment which proves to be her ruin in the long-run.
The Tragic Hero: Is He Responsible for his Actions ?
Indeed, Hardy denied freedom of action to the individual. With the German idealists he believed that we can do, “What we will; but we cannot will what we will”. In his considered opinion, human freedom of action is an illusion. A man’s character is determined by his ancestry, environment, and the Immanent Will —the supreme moving force in Hardy’s universe —working from within and without. When working from without, the Immanent Will takes the form of destiny or chance. When working from within, it takes the form of an urge to act in a particular way. Tess, for example, has taken an oath of celibacy. She does not want to love Clare and have anything to do wit!’ him. But some force working within her, irresistibly draws her towards Clare and she cannot help loving him. The result is catastrophe and tragedy. Thus in the tragedies even the actions of the hero and heroine are not voluntary or the result of free will. They are the results of compulsion from within. Even if he wants, the individual cannot act in any different manner. Hence he can not be considered responsible for the tragedy that takes place.
Hardy’s Originality
Such is Hardy’s concept of tragedy. “Character is not destiny” in his tragedies. He is an innovator in more ways than one. He has democratised the conception of tragedy. Both character and destiny are responsible for tragedy. Society also plays an important role in bringing about the ruin of the hero. Sometimes, it is the intrusion of the urban element which causes tragedy. Lucetta and Farfrae, both people from (he city, contribute to the downhill of Henchard, and Angel Clare causes I lie ruin of poor Tess. A similar role is played by Clym and Wildieve in the Return of the Native.