The Need of Reform
Hardy pondered deep on the question of marriage and sex relations and came to the conclusion that much human misery can be avoided only if there is a reform of marriage laws. His views on marriage and sex relations have been expressed in a number of novels, but his position has been most forcefully stated in his two last masterpieces —Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D’urbervilles.
Hardy believed that a marriage should not be the result of a momentary impulse or a passing fancy. He was thus against a marriage based on love at first sight. A marriage to be successful, to be most conductive to the happiness of the married couple, should be based on a harmony of taste and temperaments. Jude and Arabella failed to live happily together because their marriage was impulsive and there was no similarity in their natures. In their temperaments the two were poles apart. Angel Clare, on the other hand, wants to marry a dairymaid because she is likely to be a true helpmate to him in the vocation of farming. He feels, and he reflects the view of Hardy, that a fashionable woman of high society would not be a good wife for him, for she would not be a help to him in any way in the vocation that he has chosen for himself. He, therefore, prefers Tess to Mercy Chant.
Advocacy of Divorce
Hardy felt that early imprudent marriages lead to the frustration of many a promising youth’s high aims and hopes, and the ruin of his career. Henchard, in the Mayor of Casterbridge, feels that he had ruined himself by an early and foolish marriage and says, “For my part I do not see why men who have got wives, and do not want them, should not get rid of them as these gypsy fellows do of their horses.” In his preface to Jude the Obscure, Hardy states, “A marriage should be dissolved as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties, — being then essentially no marriage.”
The aim of a marriage is not only sexual gratification or the increase of population, but also the happiness of the individual. If the husband and wife do not find pleasure in each other’s company or if the marriage makes them unhappy, then it should be dissolved and the couple should find “quid sir relief in parting.” Hardy calls such marriages “social nooses and gins” to hold back the unwilling.
Advocacy of Liberal Marriage Laws
Hardy was vehemently criticised for his -views and was called tht breaker of homes and the corruptor of public morals. But Hardy was nothing of the kind. He did not advocate promiscuity or sexual licence, he only wanted, “a liberalisation of the marriage laws in favour of the weaker sex.” He believec and rightly, too, that the ‘purity’ is of the mind and the spirit and not of the body. He, therefore, advocated that women like Tess, who arc more sinned against than sinning, should not be treated as outcasts. They are essentially pure, for their attitude, the whole tendency of their life, is moral. Therefore, Hardy, like Angel Clare, elevates, “Hallenic Paganism at the expense of Christianity”, for in that civilization an illegal surrender was not certain disesteem. Surely then he might have regarded that abhorrence of the un-intact state, which he had inherited with the creed of mysticism, as at least open to correction when the result was due to treachery.”
Abhorrence of Double Standards
Thus Hardy’s views on marriage and sex relations are essentially humane. He abhors the Christian double standards of morality, one standard of judgement for women and another for men. He has no sympathy for hard-hearted and self centred people like Angel Clare who are not ready to pardon another exactly for the same sin for which they themselves have been forgiven a moment before. He advocated, “a closer interaction of the social machinery”, a reform of the marriage laws, more just to the weaker sex, so that essentially ‘pure’ women like Tess may get a fair deal at the hands of society. Modern divorce laws clearly prove the correctness of Hardy’s position.