This essay argues that Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), long read as a novel concerned with the industrial demolition of agrarian England, internalizes the problem of mechanization at the level of both story and narrative form. The narrative "defects" of which critics typically complain——"mechanical" plot devices, "two-dimensional" characterization, and obtrusions of tone and style——are, this essay argues, intentional distortions of realism designed to draw attention to the consequences of industrialization. In a crucial scene, Tess Durbeyfield is enslaved to a monster machine, a diabolical steam thresher. Dramatizing the onset of mechanization, this scene aligns the fate of the novel's heroine with the fate of the preindustrial world she inhabits and, introducing a subtle distortion of realism in the mythic rendering of the monster, connects the narrative's apparent defects to a critique of the industrial order. The "mechanical" plot of the novel, linked to the operation of actual machines, draws attention to the inexorable brutality of the historical forces that drive it; the "two-dimensional" villain, a double for the diabolical machine, dramatizes——in the functional reduction of his humanity——the personal consequences of mechanization; and the narrative's tonal inconsistencies, apparently satirizing the calamities it itself engineers, demonstrate its implication in a mechanical system it cannot both escape and expose. Enacting the ravages of industrialization, the novel in a sense becomes the mechanical monster it represents; yet in doing so, it renders a powerful, formal indictment of mechanization.
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