Thomas Hardy and John Fowles both set their respective books in the late 1800’s, the difference is that Fowles wrote his book 100 years after the time period it was set in. Hardy wrote his book in the time he was setting it, however they both share similar qualities when referring to the society. The Victorian society is centred about appearance created by religious views, affecting the acceptance of woman, class and sex. Throughout the introduction in both novels the social morals and guidelines are set down and clearly shown by both authors.
Religion plays a key part in Victorian society and is consequently shown in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” when the Pastor announces John D’Urberfield’s ancestry. The Parson is a religious figure and therefore should probably not care about whether an individual is from a high class with important ancestry or a poorer class. In “French Lieutenant’s Woman” the vicar makes allowances for Mrs Poulteney because of the money she brings to the church:
“He did not argue, for incumbents of not notably fat livings do not argue with rich parishioners.” The vicar is worried he will loose the support of Mrs Poulteney by disagreeing with her views of Hell. Both of these examples show how religion affects the class boundaries of society. The one institution where religion should be open and boundless is affected by class control. Both novels raise this point about society and it’s false class awareness, for Hardy, living in the time period it is obviously apparent to him looking at the society. Fowles on the other hand must have observed this from other literature. This is therefore a clear aspect of Victorian society for him to make this point in a book written 100 years later.
The society values are set up in relation to religion. The values of religion have become or been set upon the values of society, they are related. In “French Lieutenant’s Woman” Sarah is condemned by the values of religion. It is believed that she has had pre marital sex and religion condemns such an act she is shunned by society. The society is judgemental, the views are mostly religious and rarely any forgiveness takes place. The significant indication with this is that religious judging is centred on appearance.
Along with causing problems with judging people, Religion causes many other problems in society; many see religion as false. Both Hardy and Fowles pick up on the irony within religion. For Fowles he shows how Mrs Poulteney as well as wanting to be shown as appearing to be what she is expected she is doing it for wrong reasons. She doesn’t view God as a loving, caring, powerful being but as judgemental and less powerful than most:
“But God might not be present at the reading of that document” Mrs Poulteney wants God to see her being what the society views as a woman of power and high class, she uses religion to show this. Fowles picks up on the false appearance of religion by creating the comical scene between Mrs Poulteney and the vicar. Although he is not writing in the time period it is set he does appreciate this view, as it is apparent in Hardy. Later on in the novel Tess’ baby dies without a religious christening, which troubles Tess, when she goes to the Parson to ask if her if what she did would count he agrees but then refuses to give the baby a Christian burial. This clearly shows the falseness of religion and how Hardy points out this.
Along with this religious reference is that of how the brothers of Angel who are going to go into the religious profession refuse to dance with country girls:
“Dance in public with a troop of country hoydens – suppose we should be seen!” as said by one. This shows how religion is about appearance. The key to the society is that people want to appear to be what society expects them to be. Like Felix and Cuthbert in “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” they want to seem like a good, honest citizen.
Like Mrs Poulteney’s in “French Lieutenant’s Woman” desire to appear to be what society wants, is that of her desire to be seen as part of the upper class. She has servants to show her wealth and power, being part of the upper class she wants to show it. Appearance is the key to this, all through both books appearance is shown as a point of reference. In “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” Alec is the example of this, he uses the D’Urberville name to show his wealth and status. The irony of this is that the name was just taken and not given.
When Tess goes to ask for help from Alec we see how he has control over her. This comes from how men had control in Victorian society. Women were seen as second class and were less important than men. Men got their way with women, despite Tess not wanting to walk around the gardens with Alec she feels compelled to because of her status. This is also linked with class, as Alec is of a higher class to Tess she feels less important and controlled by him. Hardy had an understanding of Victorian society that allows him to see this part of society. Despite being male himself he knows the control and boundaries surrounding women of the time and uses this to write his interpretation of society.