The character of Angel Clare is portrayed by Hardy as an ideal character with even more idealistic views. Although he is the supposed hero of the novel, his actions say otherwise as he is shown to have similar characteristics to the "villain" of the novel, Alec D'Urberville. He is the hero yet the cause of "tragedy" with high morals which seems to be affected by his and Tess' relationship later in the novel. Angel's character contributes the most to Tess's downfall yet he is still portrayed to be the saviour. Hardy illustrates Angel as being a man with many good qualities and equally as flawed.
Angel Clare is first introduced in chapter two where he is described as an "uncribbed, uncabined aspect". This allusion suggests to the readers about Angel's openness of mind and spirit, but also foreshadows a time when he will be beset by doubts and fears. The idea is further emphasised when Angel is drawn in by "bevy of girls" while his brothers reluctantly leave the scene. As Angel is put in context with his brothers, Hardy uses the contrast between the characters to introduce Angel to the readers; this gives an insight to character of Angel and makes the readers feel more familiar with him. Angel chooses to have a "fling" with the "country hoydens" over joining his brothers to continue with their adventure, which insinuates that Angel is somewhat more rebellious and less obnoxious than his brothers who are inclined to their superior class. He is shown to be a charismatic man, when Angel dances with his first partner, the girl is instantly "envied" by the others. This suggests Angel to be a man in possession of natural charm and of significant presence as it is instantly acknowledged by the girls and wish to have a dance with him.
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Later in the chapter, when Angel makes his appearance again, it is in the dairy-yard where Dairyman Crick refers to him as "sir" which suggests that he does not quite belong amongst the working class farmers. He could almost be regarded as an outcast if it wasn't for his social background. Considering he is from a "contrasting society" makes the readers think that Angel is sought to be superior to others in the farm. Hardy illustrates Angel as being "surprised" to be enjoying their companionship. The fact that he had preconceived ideas about those from lower classes suggests that Angel isn't as open-minded and thoughtful as prone to be.
Although Angel disobliges to refer to the farm folks as "Hodge" and his dislike for "old county families" may suggest otherwise, Hardy continues to portray Angel as being self-contradictory to his society values and his so called "beliefs". This is truly tested when Angel expects acceptance and forgiveness for his "dissipation with a stranger" which Tess willingly grants to. However, when Tess expects the same reception, Angel blames Tess's impurity towards her lack of morals and her family background which ironically enough had deemed her acceptable to a middle class society. In this scene, Hardy displays the traditional Victorian double standards, in which it was considered acceptable and common for young men to have sexual escapades in their past however, shameful and controversial for women to have committed the same mistakes. This sets Angel's previous rejection towards society values to come across shallow and superficial. The fact that Tess was the "victim" of the wrong-doings is not taken into consideration; and instead Angel dismisses her as "forgiveness doesn't apply to the case" suggests that underneath Angel's display as a liberated man of "untraditional newness" and thoughtfulness, he still believes in conventional values and social code.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief as Angel being the supposed "hero", his actions aren't much desirable from the true villain of the novel, Alec D'Urberville. It appears Angel and Alec are really just two sides of the same coin of patriarchy. Angel claims Alec as being bad for "doin' it with a lady he didn't love" but he obviously seems to regard himself as forgivable, loveable and cannot think of Tess as a person in that way, any more than Alec thinks of her as a person whose pain or consent is meaningful. Angel thought of Tess as pure and Alec as a conquest, but defining a woman by her sexual availability is very demeaning.
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It is not just that Angel was pharisaical; Hardy uses Angel's character to show that a certain attitude towards women gets you coming and going. Angel's significant sense of idealism and purity leads to Tess's ultimate destruction. She is put on a constant idealistic viewpoint by Angel, regarding her as "fresh and virginal daughter of nature", and when she slips from his idealistic vision, it ruins Tess's life more thoroughly than even the ruthless act of raping Tess in the first place by Alec. Angel claims the woman he has "been loving is indeed another woman in Tess's shape". Hardy reveals the imaginative sensibility of Angel, but it also emphasises the fact that his idealistic views are based on little understanding of her as a person.
In the end of the novel, Angel finally learns to accept Tess for whom she is and almost reverses back to the character he was in the beginning of the novel. It appears Angel has learned to accept Tess without judging her, even where she commits murder. Before Tess's execution, she asks Angel if he could marry Liza-Lu and refers to her as being "simple" and "pure". This is quite ironic as Tess used to be regarded as "virginal" and "pure" before it was robbed away from her. Moreover, it appears Angel's figment of imagination of an ideal wife with purity intact has attained fulfilment, but at a terrible price which is the destruction of the ill-fated Tess. Hardy's use of irony makes the readers feel sympathetic towards Angel as what he wished for has come true but with greater consequences. Hardy's final sentence in the novel implies that while Tess is sympathetically spared, it is Angel and Liza-Lu who "went on" will have to withstand the continued judgement of life.
In conclusion, Hardy's portrayal of Angel Clare's character changes throughout the novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Hardy explores Angel's character by portraying him as being a nameless character that seemed to be not affected by traditional society values in Victorian times to being one of the major characters that retreats into the cruellest conventional outlook. Through narrative viewpoint and dialogues, Hardy built more depth to Angel's character that seemed to have abandoned all his starting characteristics with only a glimpse of it towards the end. Hardy's realistic writing style shows that even the "hero" of the book has flaws that almost resemble the villain's and therefore the readers grasp the reversal of characteristics of Angel and Alec D'Urberville as their conflicting relationships go on with Tess throughout the novel.