As to modern tragedy, I always count Tess of the D’Urbervilles as a good example. Very different from classical tragedy in which a irresistible influence conquers human fates, modern tragedy is that evil of a human controls others. I’m not sure whether Wuthering Heights should be classified into modern tragedy or not, but at any rate, it might be not beside the point that the beginning of modern tragedy is found in Tess.
An innocent girl comes to serve for a respectable family in order to support her family, though, she has been raped and got pregnant. No mercy can be found in the novel. When we think of a conventional “happy ending” in Victorian novels, it’s facile to imagine that Tess was the ground-breaking novel in that period, but the strong significance of this novel is not the tragic figure of Tess D’Urbervilles herself, but other characters who were enlivened through her. It might be true that this is the “tragedy of social circumstances”, remarked by a Japanese translator.
Margaret R Higonnet indicates in Introduction of Tess of Penguin books that the figure of Tess is arbitrarily interpreted. She mentions “Tess is a patchwork of ‘cultural stereotypes’”. This is interesting. It is true that her well-looking, considerate, and innocent figure is a sort of archetypal image.
What counts is that her inherence is concealed due to such “a patchwork of cultural stereotypes.” Angel Clare, on his way to getting engaged to her, arbitrarily idealises her, which prevents him from accepting the fact that she is a “sullied” woman. In other words, Tess is forced to embrace such figures which others assume regardless of herself. In consequence, she got lost to be destroyed.
Nowadays it is general that our characteristic has been formed in our social circumstances, and Tess is a victim of it. It is noticeable that, in the early nineteenth century, Tess had already focused on the matter which was paid attention to in 50’s or 60’s in the twentieth century. So it is a significant piece to serve as a bridge between Victorian and modern period.