Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Table of Contents
1. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Introduction
2. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview
3. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Thomas Hardy Biography
4. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary

Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary and Analysis
¨ Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Summary and Analysis
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Quizzes
¨ Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Questions and Answers
¨ Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Questions and Answers
7. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Themes
8. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Style
9. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Historical Context
Tess of the d'Urbervilles 1
10. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Critical Overview
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Character Analysis
¨ Angel Clare
¨ Tess Durbeyfield
¨ Alexander Stoke-d'Urberville
¨ Other Characters
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Essays and Criticism
¨ Validity of Tess as a Pessimistic work
¨ Accident and Coincidence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles
¨ Repetition as Imminent Design
13. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Suggested Essay Topics
14. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Sample Essay Outlines
15. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Compare and Contrast
16. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Topics for Further Study
17. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Media Adaptations
18. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: What Do I Read Next?
19. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Bibliography and Further Reading
20. Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Pictures
21. Copyright
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Introduction
When Tess of the d'Urbervilles appeared in 1891, Thomas Hardy was one of England's leading men of letters.
He had already authored several well-known novels, including The Return of the Native, and numerous short
stories. Tess brought him notoriety—it was considered quite scandalous—and fortune. Despite this success, the
novel was one of Hardy's last. He was deeply wounded by some of the particularly personal attacks he
received from reviewers of the book. In 1892, he wrote in one of his notebooks, quoted in The Later Years of
Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928, compiled by Florence Emily Hardy, "Well, if this sort of thing continues no more
novel-writing for me. A man must be a fool to deliberately stand up to be shot at."
In spite of his reputation, Hardy had difficulty finding a periodical willing to publish the book when he
offered it for serialization to London's leading reviews. The subject matter—a milkmaid who is seduced by one
man, married and rejected by another, and who eventually murders the first one—was considered unfit for
publications which young people might read. To appease potential publishers, Hardy took the novel apart,
rewrote some scenes and added others. In due course, a publisher was secured. When it came time to publish
the novel in book form, Hardy reassembled it as it was originally conceived.
Early critics attacked Hardy for the novel's subtitle, "A Pure Woman," arguing that Tess could not possibly be
considered pure. They also denounced his frank—for the time—depiction of sex, criticism of organized
religion, and dark pessimism. Today, the novel is praised as a courageous call for righting many of the ills
Hardy found in Victorian society and as a link between the late-Victorian literature of the end of the
nineteenth century and that of the modern era.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview
The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy was born June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England, not far from the principal
settings of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. He was the eldest of four children. His father started a successful
building and contracting business with an initial stake of only 14 pounds. His mother was Jemima Hand, who
had worked as a maidservant and also had received pauper relief, a sort of welfare program. Thomas Hardy
eNotes: Table of Contents 2
had a complicated attitude toward his family origins. He had a particular interest, common to many born into
humble circumstances, in being accepted by upper-class society. Hardy was also convinced that his ancestors
had formerly been successful and important but had recently come down in the world. This latter obsession
parallels a belief of John Durbeyfield, the father of the heroine of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, that his now poor
family was once powerful and privileged.
The young Thomas was a delicate child who learned to read at about three years of age, “before he could
walk.” He played with the local peasant children as a young boy, but his parents forbade him to use the rural
dialect spoken by many characters in Tess. His mother arranged for his education and tutoring, first at the
village school and later at Dorchester Day School. As a teenager, Hardy taught himself Greek and began to
write poetry. He wanted to become a member of the clergy, but his formal education was never advanced
enough to qualify him for such a profession. Despite his eventual accomplishments, he felt ashamed of his
relative lack of schooling his entire life.
At 16, Hardy was apprenticed to a Dorchester architect, John Hicks. In 1862, he left Dorchester for London to
work as assistant to the architect Arthur Blomfield. While in London, he developed his intellectual tastes by
attending the opera, theaters, and museums, and by reading progressive and skeptical authors such as Charles
Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and T. H. Huxley, among others.
In 1867, Hardy returned to Higher Bockhampton, and while working for John Hicks, wrote his first novel, The
Poor Man and the Lady, now lost. The influential critic and author George Meredith advised Hardy not to
publish the book, but encouraged him to write another. His second attempt at a novel, Desperate Remedies,
was published in 1871, by William Tinsley, to mixed reviews.
Hardy soon decided to concentrate in his novels on what he knew and loved best, the social life of rural
southern England. After two moderately successful novels, Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) and A Pair of
Blue Eyes (1873), were published anonymously, Hardy scored a significant success in 1874 with Far from the
Madding Crowd. After this triumph, he married Emma Lavinia Gifford, whom he had met several years
Hardy continued writing novels of “Wessex,” the historical, Anglo-Saxon name he gave in fiction to his
native Dorset, from this time until 1895. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, published in 1891, was immediately
popular with the reading public. But it also caused controversy: Victorian moralists and ecclesiastics were
scandalized by the author’s contention that his heroine was, in the words of the novel’s subtitle, a morally
pure woman. In order to get the novel published in serial form, as was customary at the time, Hardy had to
revise several passages considered too risqué for public consumption. For instance, the scene in which Angel
Clare carries Tess and her fellow milkmaids across a stream was rewritten so as to have him instead push the
women across in a wheelbarrow. Some readers were outraged by the book’s pessimism, by the unrelieved
picture of torment and misery Hardy presented. Orthodox believers in God were scandalized by his
suggestions that the beneficent, warm God of Christianity seemed absent from the world Hardy depicted.
After the bitter denunciation of the sexual double standard in Tess, Hardy expanded his satiric attack in his
next novel, Jude the Obscure (1895), which criticized the institutions of marriage and the Church and
England’s class system. Again, Hardy was savaged by critics who could not countenance his subversiveness.
He was attacked in the press as decadent, indecent, and degenerate. (Among those offended was his wife, who
took the novel as anti-religious, and thus was a blow to the devoutness she believed she shared with her
husband.) Distressed by such small-mindedness, Hardy, now financially secure, vowed to give up novel
writing and return to the composition of poetry, his first literary love, which he felt would afford him greater
artistic and intellectual freedom. From 1898 on, Hardy published mainly poetry. He became one of the few
English authors to produce a significant body of poetry as well as novels.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview 3
After the turn of the century, he worked on The Dynasts, an epic-drama in verse of the Napoleonic wars,
published in three volumes from 1903 to 1908. In 1910, he was awarded the Order of Merit. In 1912, he
finished revising all his novels, rendering them exactly as he wanted them. In November of 1912, Emma
Hardy died after a long illness, through which her husband did not give her very much aid. In 1914, Hardy
married Florence Dugdale, who had been his secretary and literary aide for several years.
Hardy continued to receive honors and degrees in the first decades of the 1900s, including honorary degrees in
literature from Cambridge University, in 1913, and from Oxford University, in 1920. On January 11, 1928,
Thomas Hardy died. His ashes were placed in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His heart was buried in
his first wife’s grave, at Stinsford, next to the grave of his parents.
Historical Background
Thomas Hardy lived at a time of intense and rapid social change in England, and his novels reflect many of
these changes, especially those affecting his native Wessex.
Hardy’s career as a novelist roughly paralleled the late Victorian era, named after Britain’s Queen Victoria,
who reigned from 1837 to 1901. The Victorian period was an era of change and paradox which cannot be
easily summarized. Several Victorian issues, such as economic growth and dislocation, religious and moral
controversy, and the question of women’s liberation, remind us of contemporary social problems.
In the first six decades of the nineteenth century, England’s gross national product grew by more than 400
percent. Industrialization, which allowed for increased trade both in England and abroad, was the cause of this
vast upsurge in national and, in some cases, personal wealth. Innovations in communication and travel,
particularly railways, facilitated the operations of industry and the flow of money. By the end of the
nineteenth century, England had become a country whose economy was based on urban industry rather than
on feudal land owning.
It is frequently said in economics that a rising tide lifts all boats—that progress and growth benefit every
member of society. From personal and historical knowledge, Hardy knew this statement to contain substantial
untruth. Victorian society hotly debated the ultimate value of its unprecedented economic expansion. Workers
were paid more, many businessmen became rich, and England became the dominant economic power of the
world, but some groups of society felt they had no place at all. Agricultural and unskilled rural workers were
particularly subject to dislocation and upheaval as farmwork became less profitable than factory work. In the
cities, most factory work was degrading and dangerous, and entailed living in crowded and unhealthy slums.
The demographic or population statistics tell a staggering story. The 1851 census showed that for the first
time more people lived in towns and cities than the countryside, a finding that fascinated the Victorians. Over
the 1800s, England’s population grew from 8.9 to 32.5 million. The population of London rose sixfold over
the same period, while the number of towns with a population over 50,000 went from 7 to 57. A move from
the country to a city frequently meant the loss of a home and the loss of generations’ worth of social
traditions. One commentator, indicating the dangers of such population shifts, wrote “that the towns are
gaining at the expense of the country, whose surplus population they absorb and destroy.”
Another prominent feature of life in Hardy’s England was a widespread loss of religious faith. In large part,
this was sparked by the writings of Charles Darwin, the naturalist whose discovery of evolution put much of
the Bible into serious doubt for many people. Many intellectuals abandoned their religious beliefs, including
Hardy, to an extent. Denied the emotional consolation of religion, many Victorians felt that ultimate questions
of human existence (Who are we? Where are we going?) were unanswerable, leaving them in confusion,
feeling what Hardy calls the “ache of modernism.”
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview 4
Darwin’s theory of the extinction of species which could not adapt to change was especially important to
Hardy. Influenced by Darwin, he saw Nature and the world in unsentimental fashion, as sites of cruelty,
struggle, and death. Hardy felt that classes and groups of people could become extinct if the historical
conditions which supported their existence were taken away. He feared that the class his family came from,
the rural laborers, might be completely destroyed if its existence was no longer useful to society. Their
customs, their way of life, their style of thinking, could be lost forever—shoved aside by a new, urban
bourgeois class which made a feudal based labor system irrelevant. Hardy perceived contemporary events as
part of the flow of history, driven by forces beyond individual human control.
Meanwhile, the loss of religious faith sparked general fears about a breakdown in morality. Without a
foundation in religion, and without the reference point of a common religious practice, how could morality be
enforced or even expected? The redistribution of wealth, power, and population effected by the Industrial
Revolution combined with the atmosphere of religious doubt to lead many to conclude that England’s moral
fabric was being torn asunder. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy uses the central characters to set up
debates on the issues of religion and morality.
Another Victorian controversy of importance to Tess is “the Woman Question,” as it was called—the issue of
how women should be viewed and what roles they should play in society. Many felt that women should only
work in the home, and were not capable of education or professional achievement. Some writers described the
world as being made up of two spheres, the home and the public world, and tried to prove that women should
be restricted to the home. Victorian women were supposed to be “an angel in the house” and nothing more.
Although this was primarily a middle-class ideal, it shows the intense Victorian concern with the idea of
female purity. Many Victorians felt that if a woman lost her honor, or virginity, before marriage, she was
irreparably harmed, and must bear the shame the rest of her life. The plight of the so-called fallen woman was
central to Victorian morality. No such prohibition was attached to male sexual behavior, and brothels thrived
in the cities. The tragic effects of this double standard can be seen vividly in the life story of Tess Durbeyfield.
Master List of Characters
Tess Durbeyfield—The heroine of the novel, a peasant girl about 16 years old at the start of the story.
She is hard-working, responsible, self-possessed, serious, and extremely beautiful.
Alec D’Urberville—The rakish son of a rich merchant, accustomed to a life of privilege and pleasure.
Angel Clare—Youngest son of the Reverend Clare of Emminster. Sensitive, intellectual, and skeptical, he
rejects his family’s plans for him and is attempting a career as a gentleman farmer.
John Durbeyfield—Tess’s father. Shiftless and lazy, he makes absurd plans to capitalize on his now-faded
aristocratic heritage.
Joan Durbeyfield—Tess’s mother. Superstitious, uneducated, and fatalistic, her life is guided by folk wisdom
and native cunning.
Abraham Durbeyfield—Tess’s younger brother, a boy about nine years old.
Mrs. D’Urberville—The blind mother of Alec, and mistress of “The Slopes,” a country mansion.
Infant Sorrow—Tess’s child by Alec D’Urberville, whom she is forced to baptize and bury without benefit of
Izz Huett—A milkmaid at Talbothays dairy farm, in love with Angel, and briefly the object of his attentions.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview 5
Marian—A milkmaid at Talbothays, in love with Angel, and later a co-worker of Tess’s again.
Car Darch—Nicknamed Queen of Spades, coarse, aggressive, jealous woman, once linked romantically to
Jonathan Kail—A simple minded farmworker.
Car Darch’s Mother—A laconic peasant with a moustache.
Nancy Darch—Nicknamed Queen of Diamonds, Car’s sister.
Retty Priddle—A milkmaid at Talbothays, in love with Angel, and, like Tess, the descendant of a ruined noble
Dairyman Crick—The goodhearted owner of Talbothays dairy.
Reverend Clare—Angel’s father, a minister, righteous, traditional, and severe, but also charitable to the
Mrs. Clare—Angel’s mother, kindhearted but snobbish.
Cuthbert and Felix Clare—Angel’s older brothers, Cuthbert a scholar and Felix a curate, who follow their
father’s expectations and distrust Angel because of his unorthodox lifestyle.
Mercy Chant—A devout and well-brought-up young girl whom Angel’s parents have selected as his future
Farmer Groby—A sullen farm manager who cruelly overworks Tess and her fellow laborers at his desolate,
mechanized farm in Flintcomb Ash.
Liza-Lu—A younger sister who comes to bear a striking resemblance to Tess.
Summary of the Novel
After John Durbeyfield, a country peasant, learns he is descended from a noble family, he gets tipsy at a local
alehouse. Early the next morning, Tess, his dutiful daughter, sets out to market, but she falls asleep and the
family’s horse dies in an accident. Tess is sent to seek work from Mrs. D’Urberville, a rich lady whom the
Durbeyfields believe to be of a junior branch of the ancient family from whom they are descended. The
Durbeyfields do not know that the D’Urberville name has been adopted for status purposes by a newly rich
family, originally the Stokes, from the north of England. Tess’s looks impress Alec Stoke-D’Urberville, who
offers her a job. For several months, Alec romantically pursues Tess, finally taking her against her will in a
darkened forest. She stays with him a few weeks before returning home.
Tess gives birth, but the infant soon dies, and Tess is forced to bury it herself. After a year at home, Tess
becomes a milkmaid at the hospitable Talbothays Dairy, where she meets a young man who had briefly
impressed her in her youth. This cultured and intellectual young man, Angel Clare, studying to be a farmer,
falls in love with Tess because of her beauty and purity. Tess is reluctant, but eventually accepts the marriage
and tries unsuccessfully to reveal her past before the ceremony.
The night after their wedding, Angel confesses to Tess a past liaison. Tess forgives him, but when Tess details
her past, Angel is too shocked to forgive. He deserts Tess, but allows her to appeal to his parents if she has
any financial troubles.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview 6
Angel sets off for Brazil to buy a farm. Tess must accept a winter job at a farm where she and her co-workers
are treated brutally. Tess decides to visit Angel’s parents. Before seeing them, she overhears Angel’s
brothers scorning his unwise marriage. On her way back, Tess hears an itinerant preacher who turns out to be
Alec D’Urberville.
When he sees Tess, Alec’s lust is reawakened and his religious conversion is undone. Alec again pursues
Tess, offering her and her family much-needed financial help and reminding her that her husband is not acting
as her protector. After her father dies and her family is rendered homeless, Tess succumbs to Alec.
Angel has been recovering from fever in Brazil, and he decides to return to England to reclaim his bride.
However, when he meets her at Sandbourne, it is obvious Tess has bartered herself to D’Urberville and that
Angel has arrived too late. Angel walks the streets in despair, at the same time Tess’s landlord notices an
ominous bloodstain, revealing that Tess has murdered Alec. Within moments the word is out and Tess is
being pursued again, this time by the law. Tess and Angel spend an idyllic few days in an abandoned mansion.
Trying to evade capture, they stop for the night at Stonehenge, but in the morning police surround the ancient
monument and take Tess away. Her execution is witnessed only by Angel and Tess’s younger sister.
Structure of the Novel
The novel is unified by the simple aim of telling every important event in Tess’s life from the age of 16 to her
death when she is about 23 years old. It is Tess’s book—virtually every scene features her, or includes her as
the object of discussion. The book has aspects of a Bildungsroman, or novel of individual development, and
also has the design of a tragedy.
Hardy uses no experimental or confusing narrative devices. There is a pleasure in being able to identify and
respond to all the elements of a story, and Hardy fully allows this pleasure in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We
immediately recognize the role the main characters play in the story: Tess is an exemplary heroine, with
whom we empathize and suffer; Alec is introduced as a villain; and Angel is a lover and, as his name
indicates, a possible savior for Tess. Except for one or two moments, the characters always act consistently
with what we know about them. When we understand the story so clearly, our sentiments and emotions are
readily engaged. The emotional power of the novel is reflected by our pity at Tess’s suffering, our anger at
those who let her down, and our awe at her almost superhuman endurance.
What primarily interests Hardy in Tess is the juxtaposition of a remarkable series of events. He creates an
elaborate web of coincidence, accident, fate, history, and just plain bad luck that seems to doom Tess no
matter how she acts or what she does. As in classical tragedy, the universe itself conspires against human
effort, no matter how noble, and against human happiness, no matter how greatly sought after. In his later
poetry, Hardy defined the universe as being guided not by God or human design but instead by an indifferent
or evil force he called the Immanent Will. This Will works silently and relentlessly against the efforts of
humans and the human race.
Thomas Hardy unifies and amplifies his novel with detailed descriptions of landscapes and incidents from
Nature. He describes Tess’s psychological states by writing about the physical places she inhabits. Thus her
tortured mind and feelings that she is being pursued are presented to us in visual form, as in the elaborate
description, painted through words, of a night she must sleep amidst a group of injured pheasants. Similarly,
the two farms where she works can be compared and contrasted. While describing Talbothays Dairy, Hardy
emphasizes color, growth, and fertility; while showing us Flintcomb Ash, he communicates the bleakness and
danger of Tess’s situation in terms of a desolate, barren, cold environment.
Hardy also threads a series of color references throughout the novel. The careful reader will note repeated
references to the colors of red and white. White symbolizes innocence and purity; red indicates experience,
violation, danger, and death.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Overview 7
It is important to note that Tess of the D’Urbervilles is the story, not just of an individual, but of her class.
Just as Tess’s personal fortunes decline, so does the economic and social position of her family, and the class
to which it belongs. Hardy charts and explains a number of steps in a steady downward progression of the
rural class into which Tess is born.
Estimated Reading Time
To Hardy’s original Victorian audience, reading long novels either to oneself or aloud to family and friends
was a customary form of entertainment. The novel was first presented serially and was published weekly from
July to December, 1891, in a popular magazine, the Graphic. Hardy’s final version of the novel is divided
into seven Phases. Each Phase builds to an exceptional high or low point in Tess’s life. You can carefully
read each Phase in a sitting of two or three hours, noting the actions and personalities of important characters,
and the shifts in Tess’s fortunes and happiness. The entire novel can be read in about 20 hours.
For the analytical purposes of this study guide and to aid your comprehension of all the novel’s important
details, several Phases have been divided into two parts.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Thomas Hardy Biography
Thomas Hardy was bom in 1840 in a small village in Dorset, an area of southern England steeped in history.
One of the local landmarks, Corfe Castle, was once home for the kings of the ancient Saxon kingdom of
Wessex. Hardy chose the name Wessex for the setting of his most important novels, including Tess of the
d'Urbervilles. Like the Durbeyfields in Tess. The Hardys fancied themselves descendants of a noble and
ancient family line. The Dorset Hardys were presumably a branch of the Le Hardys who claimed descent from
Clement Le Hardy, a fifteen-century lieutenant-governor of the British Channel island of Jersey. Remote ties
to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, who served with the British naval hero Nelson during the
decisive battle of Trafalgar in 1805, were also possible.
Besides his family name. Hardy's parents gave their son the love of literature, music (like his father, Thomas
played the fiddle), and religion, which are evident in his works. A self-styled "born book-worm," Hardy could
read at age three. He might have had a successful career as a scholar, but at age sixteen, his formal schooling
ended when he was apprenticed to a local church restorer. He loved knowledge, however, and continued his
education by rising early every morning to study Latin and Greek before setting off to work. He read
voraciously, especially the Bible and, in 1859, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. In 1862, Hardy
became an assistant to a London architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. He had thought about entering the ministry or
becoming a poet, but by his early twenties his reading had converted him to agnosticism and his poetry had
met with little success. For economic reasons, he decided to try his hand at prose. His first fictional piece was
published in 1865; the manuscript of his first novel "The Poor Man and the Lady" was completed two years
later. Although the book was never published, encouraging advice from George Meredith, a poet whom Hardy
admired, convinced the aspiring novelist to try again. Hardy's first popular success occurred in 1874 when the
first of his Wessex novels, Far from the Madding Crowd, was published. As with Tess, this work was noted
for its spirited female protagonist and Hardy's use of his fictional landscape.
In 1885, Hardy moved, with his wife, Emma, into Max Gate, a home he had built in Dorset. There, only a
mile or two from his birthplace, the novelist would live the rest of his life. Coming back to his native land
seemed to stir Hardy's creativity, and the next ten years saw the publication of three volumes of short stories
as well as five major novels, including Tess. His wife died in 1912, and he married again in 1914. As the years
passed, he noticed how the encroachment of civilization, especially the coming of the railroad to Dorset some
seven years after his birth, had changed forever his beloved rural world. In his novels he poetically recaptures
the beauty of the region.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Thomas Hardy Biography 8
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary
Part One—An Insignificant Incident and Its Consequences
Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles begins with a seemingly insignificant incident: John Durbeyfield, a
middle-aged peddler, is informed during a chance encounter on his way home one May evening that he is the
descendent of an "ancient and knightly family," the d'Urbervilles. On learning this "useless piece of
information," Sir John has a horse and carriage fetched for him so that he can arrive home in a manner more
befitting his new station. He then goes out drinking, getting so drunk that he is unable to get up in the middle
of the night to make a delivery to a nearby town for the following morning. Tess, his oldest daughter,
accompanied by her young brother Abraham, attempts to make the delivery instead; but she falls asleep on the
way, and the family's horse, unguided, gets into a grotesque freak accident and dies on the road.
Now deprived of their transportation, the family faces hard times. Tess's parents hit on the idea of having her
solicit the wealthy Mrs. d'Urberville, whom they incorrectly assume to be a relative, for help. Feeling
responsible for their current situation, Tess agrees to go. When she arrives at the d'Urberville estate, she is met
by Mrs. d'Urberville's son, Alec. He is attracted to her good looks and soon arranges for her to care for his
mother's chickens. He comes to fetch her, and on the ride back makes it clear that his actions were not
motivated by charity. Alec's unwanted attention continues throughout the next three months, culminating one
night when he coaxes her to accept a ride home from a dance. He intentionally takes an alternate route, gets
them lost, and eventually rapes her in her sleep. Hardy was forced to cut this episode from the novel for serial
publication, and even in its final form in the novel it is handled with extreme circumspection, as is evident
from the following excerpt:
"Tess" said d'Urberville.
There was no answer. The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing
but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon
the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. D'Urberville stooped; and heard a gentle
regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment
his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there
lingered tears.
Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks
of The Chase, in which were poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap, and about them
stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess's guardian angel,
where was the providence of her simple faith.'' Perhaps, like that other god of whom the
ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was
sleeping and not to be awaked.
A few weeks after this incident, Tess returns home. Falling into a depression, and pregnant, she remains in
seclusion for the better part of the next year. She emerges in the following August to work in the fields, and
soon thereafter her baby dies.
Part Two—Angel
After two more "silent reconstructive years" at home, Tess ventures forth again, this tune to work as a
dairymaid. At the dairy she attracts the attentions of Angel Clare, the youngest son of a vicar who has turned
away from his father's faith and has settled on farming as a career. Angel is learning the ins and outs of the
dairy business at Talbothays. Over the course of the summer the two are drawn to each other, until Angel
finally makes his feelings known to Tess. Soon after he goes home to broach the topic of marriage with his
parents, who are resistant to the idea at first but finally give him a qualified "go ahead."
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary 9
On his return to Talbothays, Angel wastes no time in proposing to Tess, but she, to his surprise, rejects him,
and refuses to tell him why. Several such encounters follow, until her feelings for him overwhelm her shame,
and she agrees to marry him. She continues to feel guilty about her past, however, and, unable to bring herself
to confide in Angel, she declines for weeks to commit to a wedding date. With the tune for his departure from
Talbothays fast approaching, Angel finally persuades her and a date of December 31 is set. Shortly before the
day arrives, Tess makes a final failed effort to confess her "stain" to him.
The wedding over, they drive on to an old mansion, which Angel informs Tess once belonged to her family.
That night several things happen. First, the couple receives a parcel from Angel's parents containing several
pieces of diamond jewelry willed to him by his godmother and to be presented to his wife. Soon thereafter
their luggage arrives, along with bad news from Talbothays about three of Tess's fellow dairymaids, all of
whom (unbeknownst to Angel) were also in love with him. Finally, Angel, recalling Tess's earlier wish to
make a confession, himself confesses to a relatively minor past indiscretion, an "eight-and-forty hours'
dissipation with a stranger." Thus fortified by her husband's apparent show of good faith and moved by the
sudden fall of her three compatriots, Tess "enter[s] on her story of her acquaintance with Alec d'Urberville."
The consequences of her confession are cataclysmic. Angel is unable to accept her, claiming that, far beyond
its being a matter of forgiveness, he feels as if she had become a different person. Divorce not being a viable
option, they soon settle on a separation. Angel promises to keep her apprised of his whereabouts (his plans
being to look for an estate to farm, either in the north of the country or abroad), provides her with what he
assumes will be an adequate sum of money to maintain her, and drops her off at her home.
Angel ends up in Brazil. Tess, meanwhile, unable to bear staying at home, takes a series of temporary
agricultural jobs, and by the fall of that year finds herself running out of money. Unable to land any more such
jobs, she decides to join Marian, one of her friends from the dairy, at a farm at Flintcomb Ash. The work there
is grueling, and her employer, Farmer Groby, is a brutish man. She perseveres for a while but soon decides to
apply to Angel's parents for aid (as he had said she could if she needed to). She walks the several miles to
Emminster, where the Clares' vicarage is located, but as a result of two chance encounters there, loses her
confidence, and she heads back to Flintcomb Ash, leaving her mission unaccomplished.
Part Three—Renewing Old Acquaintances
Midway into her return journey, she chances on a "ranter," or Primitive Methodist preacher, addressing the
inhabitants of a small village, and recognizes the man to be none other than Alec d'Urberville. Before she
withdraws, he recognizes her and later catches up with her on her way home. He tells her about his recent
conversion, begs her forgiveness for his past behavior, but continues to show some of his old interest in her as
a lover. Though she makes him promise never to see her again, he appears at the farm several days later, and
proposes to make up for his past wrongs by marrying her. She declines, and eventually informs him that she is
already married (though she refuses to disclose her husband's name). On learning this, Alec proceeds to press
her in this and several subsequent meetings, insisting that she is an abandoned wife, and that she is a fool for
not allowing him to help her. Soon he has given up his preaching and resumed his role of young dandy. Tess
vehemently refuses his advances and writes a letter to Angel pleading with him to return to her. Again,
though, circumstances conspire against her. First, on hearing that her mother is seriously ill, she leaves her job
and returns home; and while her mother soon recovers, her father dies suddenly, as a result of which her
family loses their house. Declining Alec's offer to put them up at his estate, Tess goes along with
arrangements made by her mother to move to Kingsbere, the seat of the old d'Urberville family, but on
arriving there they learn that their house has already been let. Thus, they are literally stranded, homeless and
Soon thereafter Angel returns home from Brazil. He has recently received Tess's letter, and because of it and
his experiences abroad has forgiven her and wishes to rejoin her He looks for her first at Flintcomb Ash, then
at her home village of Marlott, and finally at Kingsbere. There Tess's mother reluctantly directs him to the
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary 10
fashionable seaside resort of Sandbourne, which he heads to that evening. The next morning he looks Tess up
at the lodging-house where he is informed she is staying, only to discover that she has married Alec. She begs
Angel to leave her, which he very reluctantly does. The bitter irony of her situation soon overcomes her,
though, and at a slight provocation from Alec she stabs him to death and leaves the lodging-house. She
manages to catch up with Angel on his way out of town, confesses her deed to him, and reaffirms her love for
him. This time, he promises to be her protector. The two proceed north along footpaths for the rest of the day
and eventually settle in an unoccupied mansion, where they remain for several days. They then continue going
north, Angel's plan being to reach a northern port, from which they will be able to safely leave the country.
They walk well into the night, reaching Stonehenge, at which point Tess, pleading exhaustion, convinces
Angel to let her stop for a while. Dawn soon breaks, and Angel perceives several figures approaching them
from all directions—the local authorities. Tess is arrested, and shortly thereafter executed
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary and Analysis
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Summary and
New Characters:
Parson Tringham: a parson who studies ancient English history
John Durbeyfield: a country peddler, inclined neither to seriousness nor hard work
Tess Durbeyfield: a beautiful country girl, “a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience”
The club-women of Marlott: a group of local women enjoying a ritual May-Day dance
Joan Durbeyfield: Tess’s mother, superstitious and eager for escape from her daily grind
Abraham Durbeyfield: Tess’s younger brother
Eliza-Louisa Durbeyfield: Tess’s younger sister, nicknamed Liza–Lu
Mrs. Rolliver: the proprietor of a local alehouse
Angel, Cuthbert, and Felix: three brothers, upper-class young gentlemen on a walking tour
The mail-cart man: the unwitting perpetrator of a fatal accident
John Durbeyfield, a poor country haggler, is met on the road to his Marlott home by Parson Tringham. The
Parson, against his better judgment, lets slip that John is actually descended from a noble family, the
D’Urbervilles, which first came to England with William the Conqueror and which controlled much land and
power in the area. On the strength of this news, Durbeyfield’s self-esteem is greatly elevated, and he decides
to stop off at Rolliver’s Inn for some drinks.
In Chapter Two, Hardy shifts the scene to the town of Marlott, in the vale of Blackmoor—a fertile place
unvisited by many from the outside world. John’s daughter Tess, a beautiful girl about 16 years old, is
participating in the Marlott custom of a May-Day dance. She sees her father drunkenly boasting about his
ancestry, and speaks curtly to her friends who tease her about him. While at the dance, an interesting-looking
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Summary and Analysis 11
young gentleman, not from the area, is seen by Tess. Before he has a chance to dance with her, he must leave
to rejoin his brothers.
After his drinking, and because of his poor health, Tess’s father is unable to drive the family cart with its load
of beehives to Casterbridge market, and Tess volunteers for the duty, bringing along her younger brother
Abraham so she can stay awake. Abraham asks about the stars, and Tess explains their family’s poverty by
saying they live on a “blighted” or decaying planet. Soon, both doze off and their horse, Prince, is rammed by
the mail cart and dies, splattering Tess with his blood. Tess feels responsible for Prince’s death, which
imperils the family’s livelihood.
Joan Durbeyfield, Tess’s mother, has heard that there is a rich woman by the name of D’Urberville living not
far off in the town of Trantridge. Joan reasons that Tess can, on the basis of their supposed family connection,
get a job there, as a way of helping the family finances.
The chain of coincidences and disastrous accidents which entraps Tess begins with the very first scene of the
novel. The episodes of the novel are set in a straight, forward line, with minimal digressions or flashbacks.
The story of Tess’s sufferings originates from the chance meeting of Parson Tringham and John
Durbey¬field, the first scene of the novel. Hardy reminds us later several times that if this meeting had not
occurred, everything which followed (Durbeyfield getting drunk, the horse dying, Tess having to appeal to the
fake D’Urbervilles) might not have happened the fateful, disastrous way it did. The novel takes the shape of
an unbreakable set of causes and effects, each event leading irrevocably onto the next, as if things were fated
to be thus and no other way for Tess. Noting this structure, an early critic wrote, in an appropriate natural
metaphor, “The sequence of lightning and thunder is not more prompt than that of cause and effect in Mr.
Hardy’s story.”
The pattern of suffering is laid out for Tess by the operations of the world, but is made inevitable by the core
elements of Tess’s personality, especially the admirable ones. Her tragedy is one of individual conscience.
Tess is a rarity in literature—a good character, protective, loyal, hardworking, moral, and innocent. Her
responsibility and diligence are continually compared to the shiftlessness of her parents in these early
chapters. Tess is extremely protective of her parents, her siblings, and the reputation of her family. When her
friends mock her father, Tess curtly stops them; when he later is too tipsy to drive, she does so in order to hide
her father’s state from the rest of the town. Tess’s behavior and thoughts are always concerned with others:
she bemoans the sorry plight of her family, and she feels she must do something about it. Within the space of
a few pages, we read several references to the strength of her conscience. She feels self-reproach when
thinking about not helping her mother with the chores; she has a sting of remorse that she has dirtied her white
dress; and she feels shame at the rather childlike, indulgent behavior of her parents. The rest of the novel gives
Tess many more occasions to experience such feelings.
It is important to note that Hardy introduces his heroine as a product of her native village, Marlott, and its
natural setting, the Vale of Blackmoor. The Vale is elaborately described as a fertile and sheltered tract of
country, in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry. There, the world seems to be
constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale.
Hardy describes Tess’s home environment as a protected place, fertile, connected to nature, and almost a
world of its own. Its beauty, vulnerability, and fragility implicitly become characteristics of Tess, who
becomes nearly a personification of her native Wessex. Tess herself is first described as one of a group of
similar-looking country women, dressed in white and adorned with flowers; all of these women seem shy and
self-conscious. What distinguishes Tess physically is her beauty, her youth, her adolescent face, and the red
ribbon in her hair. This last detail is the first instance of the red-and-white motif that is woven into the novel.
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Summary andAnalysis 12
We are not given a head-to-toe physical description of Tess. Hardy relies on a description of her lips and
mouth, using the literary device of metonymy, the substitution of the part for the whole, to communicate
Tess’s superlative beauty. By not supplying a complete description, Hardy invites his readers to form their
own mental images of Tess.
The second most important character in the book, Angel, whose last name is not revealed until later, is briefly
glimpsed by both Tess and the reader in the club-walking scene. Angel’s looks and manner and his failure to
notice Tess until just before he has to leave the dance sets the tone for their entire relationship. Angel’s class
superiority to the Marlott villagers is underlined by Hardy—it is as if he is a tourist from another country.
Hardy takes care to define the historical backgrounds as well as the geographical and social positions of his
characters. He wishes us to know it is the Victorian era, and he wants us to see the impact this era will make
on the lives of his characters. The walking-tour brothers mention a prominent religious conflict of the day.
The Vale of Blackmoor is geographically close to but culturally distant from the great urban center of London.
Joan’s use of the Compleat Fortune-Teller tells us something of her social background.
The most explicit reference to the cultural atmosphere of the Victorian age is contained in this comparison of
Tess and Joan: “Between the mother, with her fast-perishing lumber of superstition, folk-lore, dialect, and
orally transmitted ballads, and the daughter, with her trained National teachings and Standard knowledge
under an infinitely Revised code, there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily understood.” When they
were together, the Jacobean and the Victorian ages were juxtaposed.
It is easy to condemn and make fun of Joan and John, who are mentally limited and often foolish, but an
unreserved condemnation of them is not quite fair, and not exactly what Hardy wanted. Joan always acts
within the context of the traditional beliefs and customs with which she was raised. Her daughter, growing up
when public education is becoming more widespread, has been exposed to new and contemporary ways of
thinking, and has a greater fund of rational knowledge available to her. Both Joan and Tess are shaped by
what they were taught during the historical eras in which they were raised.
The trip to Casterbridge that Tess makes with Abraham provides Hardy an opportunity to introduce the theme
of random fate running a cruel world. When young Abraham begins to tire, “He leant back against the hives,
and with upturned face made observations on the stars, whose cold pulses were beating amid the black
hollows above in serene dissociation from these two wisps of human life. He asked how far away those
twinklers were, and whether God was on the other side of them.” Abraham asks an innocent, childlike
question about the sky. Hardy portrays a universe that does not care about human doings. Hardy implies that
God, if He exists, also seems remote or indifferent. The theme of the world as inhospitable recurs constantly
in the novel.
The accident with Prince follows this conversation, and Tess shows her sense of responsibility and
self-reproach again. She has a far greater understanding of what the death of Prince means than do any others
in her family, and she feels that she is fully and totally at fault. Nobody blamed Tess as she blamed herself.
She looks at herself as if she was a murderess. Her sense of obligation makes her feel she must obey her
parents’ plans to repair the damage done to the family business.
Hardy shows several representative facets of his prose style in these first chapters. Three important techniques
used here are his concern with capturing the rural dialect in writing; his allusive and complex sentences and
vocabulary; and his communication of the mood or atmosphere of a scene through a description of its setting.
The first technique, Hardy’s goal of replicating peasant speech, was of great interest to his contemporary
readers, many of whom were urban and intrigued by experiencing an unfamiliar style of English. To modern
readers, this goal may not seem as compelling.
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Summary andAnalysis 13
Hardy’s complicated vocabulary and allusive references were sometimes criticized by Victorian reviewers.
Their plaint, shared by many modern readers, is that Hardy chooses unfamiliar and complex words that can
become distracting and hard to understand, and that his sentences can be too ornately designed for easy
comprehension. Hardy’s vocabulary can be overly difficult; at other times he is committed to using the full
reach of the English language to illustrate fine distinctions and subtle points.
An example of Hardy’s high-blown diction is this sentence concerning Joan Durbeyfield’s mental capacities:
“Troubles and other realities took on themselves a metaphysical impalpability, sinking to mere mental
phenomena for serene contemplation, and no longer stood as pressing concretions which chafed body and
soul.” The sentence aims for a precise description of the way Joan’s mind makes real-life problems less
difficult. The thought may be hard to perceive because of its philosophical generality and its complex diction.
Hardy’s allusions to history and to literature also deepen and complicate his prose. Thomas Hardy was
always fond of referring to classical literature, and he does so repeatedly in Tess. A small example in Chapter
Two is his portrait of Angel: “there was an uncribbed, uncabined aspect in his eyes and attire.” The two
adjectives, “uncribbed, uncabined,” refer to a description of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play of that name as
cribbed and cabined, that is, bound in by fears and restrictions—Angel is apparently just the opposite. The
allusion, while subtle, shows Hardy assuming his readers will be able to pick up on the reference to
England’s most famous writer.
Another significant mode of allusion in Hardy is to history, especially classical and ancient history. “The club
of Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia,” Hardy writes of the club-walking. He means that in this
local May-Day dance we are seeing a continuation of an ancient celebration of earthly fertility that goes back
to the holidays of classical Greece. Hardy makes us reflect on the historical distance and the historical
continuity between the modern and the ancient eras.
Throughout the novel, Hardy depicts mood (emotional or mental conditions) through setting (physical
descriptions). This correlation is a hallmark of Hardy’s style. When Tess scolds her mother for letting John
go out drinking, “Her [Tess’s] rebuke and her mood seemed to fill the whole room, and to impart a cowed
look to the furniture, and candle, and children playing about, and to her mother’s face.”
Hardy chooses not to analyze or describe Tess’s mood, but to show it visually in terms of her environment.
The scene at Rolliver’s Inn also uses imagery and description. “The stage of mental comfort to which they
had arrived at this hour was one wherein their souls expanded beyond their skins, and spread their
personalities warmly through the room. In this process the chamber and its furniture grew more and more
dignified and luxurious; the shawl hanging at the window took upon itself the richness of tapestry; the brass
handles of the chest of drawers were as golden knockers; and the carved bed-posts seemed to have some
kinship with the magnificent pillars of Solomon’s temple.” The matching of personality to environment can
be noted time and again by attentive ¬readers of Hardy.
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary and
New Characters:
Alec Stoke-D’Urberville: the young son of a wealthy merchant, a dashing, gallant, forceful ladies’ man
Mrs. D’Urberville: an eccentric blind widow and the reluctantly loving mother of Alec
Car Darch: nicknamed Queen of Spades, coarse, aggressive, jealous woman, once linked romantically to Alec.
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary and Analysis 14
Nancy Darch: nicknamed the Queen of Diamonds, Car’s sister, also a former favorite of D’Urberville
Car Darch’s mother: a laconic peasant woman with a moustache
Tess is pressured by her mother to approach Mrs. D’Urberville, a rich lady living not far from Marlott. The
Durbeyfields believe she is of a junior branch of the D’Urberville family and thus will render the
Durbeyfields some material assistance in their time of need. Tess undertakes an initial visit to see Mrs.
Tess is unsettled by what she sees at the D’Urberville manor, an estate called The Slopes. The house does not
fit into its environment; it has been built solely for pleasure and not at all for agricultural functionality.
“Everything looked like money—like the last coin issued from the Mint.” The manor exists primarily to show
off the wealth of its nouveau riche owners. Tess is disappointed that when she sees the son of the family, Alec
D’Urberville, he compares unfavorably to the mental picture she had of her “D’Urberville” relatives as
dignified, ancient, and bearing traces of their illustrious past.
Alec announces that his invalid mother cannot see Tess, but that he might be able to help her. Tess feels that
her appeal for aid must sound foolish but manages to explain her family’s financial need, occasioned, she
admits, by her killing the family’s horse. Alec’s roving eye lights upon Tess’s beauty, her “luxuriance of
aspect,” and he keeps her on the estate for a few hours, feeding her freshly-picked strawberries and adorning
her with roses.
Tess travels home to report on the visit but finds a letter offering her a job tending the estate’s fowls has
preceded her arrival. The letter appears to be in a masculine handwriting. Tess has misgivings, but for the sake
of the family, she decides to take the job.
Two days later, Alec D’Urberville arrives for Tess and her belongings. Joan and her children follow along to
the edge of town, where Joan has a fleeting moment of doubt about the path on which she has set her
Alec angers Tess by driving too fast down an incline, which forces Tess to put her arms around Alec so as not
to fall out of the carriage. When Tess criticizes Alec, he shows a flash of anger. Alec asks to place just “one
little kiss on those holmberry lips.” Tess capitulates icily, offering her cheek to Alec, and he gives her “the
kiss of mastery.” To avoid further close contact, Tess lets her hat blow off and will not remount the carriage
after picking it up. She angrily walks the rest of the way to The Slopes as Alec drives the carriage alongside
Once working at The Slopes, Tess is surprised to learn that Mrs. D’Urberville is blind. She never learns that
Mrs. D’Urberville has not heard of their supposed family relation. Tess does her best to fit in and do a good
job tending the fowl. Mrs. D’Urberville assigns Tess the odd job of whistling to her pet bullfinches to keep
them entertained. Alec, attracted to Tess but biding his time, teaches Tess to whistle.
After several weeks of working, Tess is persuaded to go to a dance one Saturday night in the nearby town of
Trantridge. She has been up working since early in the morning and is physically exhausted. When her friends
consent to leave the dance, an unfortunate accident results in everyone laughing at Car Darch, a woman who
was once favored with D’Urberville’s affections. Car and her sister, Nancy, start a fight with Tess. Along
rides Alec D’Urberville, who offers Tess an escape via his carriage. Feeling pleased to remove herself from
danger, Tess climbs in.
Alec rides in circles through the dark night, tracing an aimless path through the Chase, in order to spend more
time with Tess. He asks to be treated as a lover (suitor) by Tess, but she evades this demand. Alec informs her
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary and Analysis 15
that her brothers and sisters have new toys and her father a new cob. Tess is embarrassed by having to be
grateful to D’Urberville. Eventually, he admits he is lost and stops his horse. He gives his overcoat to Tess as
he goes off to find his bearings. When he returns, Tess is asleep. When Alec discovers this fact, he takes her
bodily. Tess is without any protector. Her suffering has started, and a “chasm” separates her past from her
future life.
Throughout these chapters, Hardy continues to emphasize Tess’s highly developed senses of diligence and
responsibility towards her family. Tess is both the oldest daughter and the only functioning parent in the
Durbeyfield clan. Everyone else in the family is a “waiter upon Providence”; that is, they prefer to hope that
God or fate will provide them some help, instead of having the initiative to better their situation through their
own efforts. In contrast to such shiftlessness, Tess’s principal, and frequently mentioned, motivation in this
early part of the novel is to make enough money so that the family can buy a new horse and re-establish their
Each time she questions the idea of appealing to the D’Urbervilles for help, she remembers that, because she
was responsible for the death of Prince, she must make amends and has no right to dispute her parents’ plans.
Such renunciation of her own misgivings culminates in a famous moment of passivity, in which Tess consents
to be dressed up by her mother for the journey to Trantridge, saying “Do what you will with me, mother.” All
too eagerly, Joan cleans Tess up and adorns her with a large ribbon. It is as if Tess is made pretty prior to
being offered up as a sort of sacrifice. Joan views her daughter’s beautiful face as an asset in securing a
marriage with these rich relatives. Though Joan vulgarly exploits her daughter for her own financial benefit,
she has, of course, no idea of the villainous behavior Alec will deal to Tess.
Lionel Johnson, a nineteenth-century scholar on Hardy’s writing, defined his principal theme as one of
“urban invasion”: the destruction of rural Southern England and its way of life by the economic power of
industrial, urbanized North England. Tess fits this theme. Simon Stoke, Alec Stoke-D’Urberville’s recently
deceased father, made a fortune in the North of England, either as a merchant or as a money-lender—the
narrator professes indecision on this point. Whatever his means of becoming rich, Stoke feels that his newly
acquired money allows him to set himself up as a country man of leisure and to be addressed not by the
common name of his birth but by a more exalted one. Stoke comes upon an ancient, historical name once
common in Wessex, and simply appropriates it for his own use as if having money means he can lay claim to
a more distinguished, socially esteemed past.
The scene of Tess’s first encounter with Alec presents us with several striking and memorable visual images.
In addition to providing interesting plot and characters, Hardy frequently concentrates on describing visual
moments. Two such images are Alec feeding Tess strawberries, and Tess, bedecked with roses, being pricked
by their thorns. While such events are important as plot, they are also meant to present images that can be
fixed in our minds.
Although Tess’s behavior in the strawberry scene may seem oddly unquestioning, we should remember that a
certain dreamy disconnection from reality has already marked the behavior of Joan (with her eagerness for
drunken relief from degrading actuality) and John (with his wild schemes for re-asserting his aristocratic
heritage). Hardy draws our attention several times to his belief in heredity as a force in human character. To
Hardy, traits, behaviors, and personality features can be passed down from parent to child. Thus, when she
eats the strawberries “as one in a dream,” in a “half-pleased, half-reluctant” condition, Tess is exhibiting
behavior consistent with her Durbeyfield lineage. She herself has also been described as “lost in a vague
interspace between a dream” and the real world, and it is her “reverie” which leads to her falling asleep prior
to the accident with Prince.
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary and Analysis 16
Chapter Five closes with a famous passage in which the narrator adopts an Olympian distance from current
events and speculates on the tragedy and mischance that will characterize Tess’s life from the point of her
meeting with D’Urberville. Hardy tells us that Fate is conspiring against Tess and her chances for happiness.
From the standpoint of infinite knowledge of the future, he lets us know that things will get far worse for
Tess; what looks like just another day is truly a portent of disaster: “Thus the thing began. Had she perceived
this meeting’s import she might have asked why she was doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the
wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects—as nearly as humanity can
supply the right and desired…In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things the call seldom
produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving. Nature does not often say
‘See!’ to her poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing…in the present case, as in millions,
it was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each other at the perfect moment; a missing
counterpart wandered independently about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the late time came.” Tess
Durbeyfield is the doomed plaything of a cosmic irony, a tragic victim of pre-ordained mistiming.
Hardy’s language reveals that Tess’s tragedy lies beyond social causality: “We may wonder whether at the
acme and summit of human progress these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a closer
interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us around and along; but such completeness is
not to be prophesied, or even conceived as possible.” Tragedy, mischance, and unhappiness cannot be
corrected by tinkering with the standards, morality, or procedures of society. The probability of misery inheres
in life itself.
Yet throughout the novel, Hardy makes clear also that the social and historical environment—the particular
conditions of late nineteenth-century, rural England—aid Tess’s downfall. The lack of need for Durbeyfield’s
occupation in a changing economic order puts his family at the financial mercy of the Stoke-D’Urberville
family, which is representative of the new, sometimes unscrupulous business classes then rising in Victorian
England. Tess is a poor, relatively uneducated woman, who is limited in her options for making money, and is
placed at the mercy of the men with whom she must deal.
Tragedy usually requires an inevitable cause, some force which unalterably opposes human possibility. A
problem for the reader of Tess is to determine the one inevitable cause of Tess’s tragedy. Hardy is not always
clear about which factors are the most influential in Tess’s life-story, and which are most responsible for her
apparently foreordained and unalterable misery. Is it her struggle against a cruel social and economic system
in which, as a young, poor, innocent woman, she cannot find a position guaranteeing her safety from a
powerful rich man like D’Urberville? Or is this historical, social reading a sort of red herring or false clue,
and her struggle is simply one against a cruel world, actively set against the possibilities of human happiness?
Hardy suggests one perspective and then others.
Hardy does not take us very far into Alec’s past or psychology. How Alec got to be Alec, in short, is left
unexplained: he simply is what he is. Readers are not left in suspense over his villainous role in Tess’s story.
The innocent Tess cannot guess what Hardy tells us, that Alec was “potentially the ‘tragic mischief’ of her
drama—one who stood fair to be the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her life.” That he is a gallant or a lover is
apparent from his first words: “Well, my Beauty, what can I do for you?” His reputation as a “gallant,” or a
lady-killer who pursues his desires in a self-centered fashion, is already well-established in the Trantridge
area. He exhibits a casual air of command, an ease
with the power, particularly that over women, that his social and economic position gives him.
Chapter 11 provides a famous example of the Hardy narrative style and language at its best. The steady
accumulation of physical detail about Tess’s fatigue, early in the chapter, leads into the poetic evocation of
the dark, silent, isolated forest. Alec shows the full range of his behavior, moving from male self-confidence
to class arrogance (calling Tess a mere chit) to a brutally timed reminder of his generosity to Tess’s family.
Forces of all sorts trap Tess. Poised above the pair, writes Hardy, are “gentle roosting birds in their last nap.”
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary and Analysis 17
Like these birds, Tess is sleeping and vulnerable.
“Where was Tess’s guardian angel?” Hardy goes on to ask. Of course she has none and will never have one.
God, or some other force which should protect the innocent, seems to be absent from at least this part of the
world. Or perhaps the God above Tess simply has better things to do: He might be talking, or taking a trip, or
sleeping. Alec’s appropriation (a word with legal connotations of theft) of Tess’s innocence is inexplicable
by any morality. In the face of such unaccountable divergence of the ideal from the actual, the only
appropriate comment might be the fatalistic folk wisdom Hardy quotes: “It was to be.” The disasters of life
cannot be explained, only endured.
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15:
Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
The Sign-painter: a man whose evangelical messages unsettle our heroine
The Parson: a vicar whose adherence to established rules nearly outweighs his true religious feelings
Infant Sorrow: Tess’s child by Alec D’Urberville, whom she is forced to baptize and bury without benefit of
Several weeks after the night in the Chase, Tess walks home to Marlott, “her views of life” having been
“totally changed” by recent experiences. D’Urberville catches up to her in a carriage and offers to ride her
home if she is not willing to return to him at Trantridge. Tess refuses to continue being Alec’s “creature,”
and turns down his offers of financial help. Alec reiterates these offers, especially “if certain circumstances
arise,” an allusion Tess does not pick up on. Alec then bids good-bye to his “four months’ cousin.”
Shortly after this encounter, Tess is overtaken by a man whose avocation is to paint Bible verses on walls in
the countryside. After reading his oddly punctuated message, “THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH,
NOT,” Tess feels horror and shame that this man seems to know her sinfulness.
At home, Tess first speaks with her mother, who is surprised and upset that Tess does not intend to get Alec to
marry her. Joan tells her daughter she should have been more careful if she did not want Alec’s affections to
lead to marriage. Tess replies that her mother had not informed her of the danger men represent to women.
Despite her disappointment that Tess has ruined a good chance for the family’s advancement, Joan soon is
resigned to what her daughter has done, and vows to “make the best of it.”
A few friends visit, and their envy of Tess’s romantic conquest of D’Urberville lifts her spirits, but only
temporarily. A few weeks later she attends church, but the whispering of the congregants convinces Tess she
is not welcome even there. To avoid such gossipy disapproval, Tess takes long walks at night, hiding herself
from the eyes of her fellow villagers while contemplating her own guilt.
By next harvest time, Tess has ended her isolation and participates in the work of reaping wheat. One day at
noon Tess nurses her baby in the fields, but later that afternoon it is apparent that the baby, never large or
healthy, is now sick and dying. Tess realizes she must get the baby baptized, but her father, inflamed again by
pride over his knightly roots, and not wishing anyone to meddle in his domestic affairs, refuses to let the
parson in the house. Tess improvises a baptismal ceremony, enlisting the prayers of her younger siblings.
Shortly after, the baby dies. When Tess sees the parson, he says Tess’s baptism will save the baby’s soul, but
he initially balks at the idea of the baby being buried in consecrated ground. (The baby is buried in a corner of
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15: Summary and Analysis 18
the graveyard.)
Tess remains in isolation all winter, until she realizes that she could never be comfortable in a place which
knew about her recent history. Hearing of a summer job at a dairy, coincidentally located not far from her
D’Urberville family seat, Tess vows to start a new life there.
Phase the Second functions as a transition between Tess’s experiences with Alec and her later life. The title
of the Phase gives a sense of the changes Tess is going through physically, spiritually, and psychologically. It
is important to realize that Hardy uses the idea of Tess being a “Maiden No More” in a double sense.
In one meaning, Tess is no longer a maiden in the technical, Victorian sense of the term: she is no longer a
virgin, having been Alec D’Urberville’s lover. By such reasoning, Tess is a completely different person who
no longer can be accorded the respect given to an untouched or a married woman.
Hardy describes Tess’s neighbors in Marlott as making her feel unwelcome at church, where their
humanitarian feelings should be most engaged. Hardy uses the language of Victorian morality only to critique
it. He wishes to transvalue or transform the idea that Tess has become a different person and to put in a
different context the notion that she is guilty and to be looked down on, morally and socially.
In this more positive sense, Tess is a “Maiden No More” because her experiences have altered her sensations,
her perspectives, and her knowledge of the world. She is now a woman and not a child, not merely because
she is not a virgin, but because she has painfully accumulated knowledge of life’s dangers and burdens.
Hardy’s depiction of Tess as a seduced, abandoned maiden differs radically from the treatment of this same
theme in Victorian literature. This difference resides mainly in the fact that Hardy refuses to explicitly
criticize his heroine. Instead, his emotions become fully engaged in sympathizing with her. A frequent fate of
fictional women engaging in illicit sex in Victorian literature was to commit suicide when they could no
longer bear their shame. Hardy’s emotional commitment to and respect for the spiritual purity of Tess, no
matter what she does or what people may think of it, is developed in this Phase. Hardy’s depiction of Tess in
the baptism scene shows how much Hardy feels for and approves of his heroine. Her face, he writes, acquires
a “touch of dignity which was almost regal.” She pours forth thanksgiving “from the bottom of her
heart…uttering it boldly and triumphantly.” Hardy seems to be so enamoured of Tess’s beauty and dignity
that he momentarily forgets she is only a character he has created.
Hardy is careful to note that the moral disapproval which Tess feels does not solely come from society or
other people. Tess’s conscience functions as her most powerful critic. Her consciousness that she is guilty
and sinful is great, and, in Hardy’s opinion, much greater than it needs to be. When looked at within the
context of natural life, which implies the necessity of growth and generation, her activities have been normal
and unexceptionable, not sinful or shameful. “Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the
skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a
figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where
there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in accord. She had been made to break
an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly.”
The conventional disapproval Tess feels so keenly is nothing more than a creation of her fancy, “a cloud of
moral hobgoblins” with no foundation in the realest of worlds, the natural one.
Phase the Second contains two sections with themes characteristic of Hardy’s deepest aims as a novelist. The
first section is an extended description of fieldwork and the relationship of farm workers to their environment.
Hardy includes many details about how reaping was done at Tess’s time, while his descriptions also
emphasize Tess’s sense of capability and satisfaction in doing such traditional work.
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15: Summary and Analysis 19
The other notable section, dealing with the makeshift baptism and burial of infant Sorrow, critiques the
practice of organized religion in England as deficient to the ideals of what true religion should be. The
sneering tone in his comment about the parson is unmistakable: “Having the natural feelings of a tradesman at
finding that a job he should have been called in for had been unskillfully botched by his customers…he was
disposed to say no” to Tess’s questions about the efficacy of Sorrow’s baptism. This vicar cannot recognize
authentic spirituality when it is in front of his face. He apparently believes that true religious feeling is
allowed only to those whose job it is to be religious.
Hardy does not describe any of the events that occur between the night in The Chase and Tess’s return to
Marlott, and his presentation of the encounter in The Chase is oblique and indirect. Thus, we are left with
difficulty in determining what has happened between Tess and Alec and are uncertain about how much Tess
truly acceded to Alec’s pursuit of her. Did she want or accept this sexual relationship at any time, or was it
always something forced on her by D’Urberville? Was the incident in The Chase a seduction or a rape? Tess
never speaks of it as such, though some farm workers quoted in this Phase believe or have heard that “A little
more than persuading had to do wi’…it.” The narrator puts it in a slightly different way: “She
had…succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ¬ardent
manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile: had suddenly despised and disliked him, and had run
away.” It is thus ¬apparent that the liaison went on for those several weeks with some sort of consent from
Tess. The phrase “stirred to confused surrender awhile” implies some degree of agency on Tess’s part. Far
from being purely a victim of others, Tess becomes an active figure complicit in what happens to her and
marked with the same moral vulnerability given to each of us. The implication is that we as readers cannot
idealize Tess as a creature of perfect innocence. Hardy’s description of the affair emphasizes her relative
innocence but nevertheless reveals that her participation was not always unwilling.
Tess does not explicitly denounce D’Urberville’s unprincipled conduct. She does not criticize his
lasciviousness or mount a full argument against the sexual double standard being applied to her. Her closest
approach to directly evaluating D’Urberville’s behavior and sexual assumptions occurs when she exclaims,
in reference to her protestations of innocence, “Did it ever strike your mind that what every woman says some
women may feel!”
Tess has left Trantridge after she discovered that her recent behavior goes against her principles; she has
“woken up” from her attachment to D’Urberville. Tess cannot share in the world’s sexual hypocrisy and
will not partake of the arrangements by which men and women trick each other into marriage. Tess is too
honest and takes marriage too seriously to be like many other women who get married only to avoid scandal.
When Joan says any woman would use the affair as a pretext to force a marriage, Tess replies with simple
dignity, “Perhaps any woman would except me.” The singularity of Tess’s behavior, her reliance on her
conscience, and not the customs of society as a guide for authentic behavior, is constantly stressed by Hardy.
Readers of Thomas Hardy’s novels have long noted the great care with which Hardy develops detailed
accounts of natural landscapes. The importance of the many descriptions of landscape and Nature in Tess is
always psychological. The landscape Tess is placed in is immediately revealing of her mental state: the less
hospitable the environment, the more negative her psychological condition. Landscape appears as a symbolic
reflection of Tess’s state of mind.
The psychological treatment of landscape becomes clear near the end of Chapter 13. Hardy discusses Tess’s
wish to isolate herself, to lose herself in her natural environment, and her feeling that she is wronging that
environment through her guilt. Tess goes so far as to interpret natural phenomena as if they were in fact a
commentary on her past behavior: “At times her whimsical fancy would intensify natural processes around
her till they seemed a part of her own story. Rather they became a part of it; for the world is only a
psychological phenomenon, and they seemed they were. The midnight airs and gusts, moaning amongst the
tightly-wrapped buds and bark of the winter twigs, were formulae of bitter reproach. A wet day was the
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15: Summary and Analysis 20
expression of irremediable grief…” Readers should note that “the world is only a psychological phenomenon”
not just here to Tess, who interprets nature as an extension and reflection of her own mood, but throughout the
novel in its descriptions of natural environments.
Tess finally realizes that “The past was past; whatever it had been it was no more at hand.” Tess does not
succumb to her poverty, her experiences, her guilt, her ostracization. She is not “demoralized.” She
assimilates her experience and finds a way to re-enter life, to put the past behind her. Throughout this passage
of maturity, Hardy indicates the respect he holds for the heroine he has created by describing her beauty, her
dignity, and her seriousness. Her voice takes on a note of tragedy, her eyes become more eloquently
expressive, her soul is deepened. She realizes that there is more life to be lived. A spirit of “unexpended
youth” has not been permanently stilled by her sufferings, and the “invincible instinct towards self-delight”
given to all creatures draws Tess out of her isolation and self-punishment and into further engagement with
the world.
Interestingly, references to death dot this Phase. Tess is so depressed “she could have hidden herself in a
tomb.” She tells D’Urberville she would rather not have been born. The hellfire-and-brimstone messages of
the sign painter turn on the concepts of death and damnation. The death of Sorrow occupies much of this
Phase, and the baptism and burial are set at night, in contrast to the reaping scene, which is preceded by a
description of the warm, life-giving sun. While absent-mindedly enduring a winter of empty days, Tess
wonders which will be the day of her death, and muses that the date will in the future be unexceptional even to
those who knew her. These thoughts prompt Hardy’s statement “Almost at a leap Tess thus changed from
simple girl to complex woman.” A small part of her attraction to going to Talbothays is that the dairy is not
far from the family vaults of Tess’s D’Urberville ancestors, and thus she will be able to compare her own
“lapse” to theirs. Taken together, these references suggest a strong association, if not an affinity, between
Tess and death. Hardy is choosing to prepare his readers for later events. Additionally, some readers may
wonder that Tess’s morbidity and passivity might indicate a self-destructive personality. Why does Tess not
fight harder against her fate? Is her ultimate preference not to fight, not to live?
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Summary and
New Characters:
Dairyman Crick: the kindly and welcoming manager of Talbothays Dairy
Angel Clare: a 26-year-old looking for a direction in life
Reverend Clare: an earnest, traditional minister scandalized by his son’s freethinking nature
On a “thyme-scented” May morning, Tess leaves her home for the second time. She is sorry to depart, but
she knows her younger siblings will fare better without the presence of their immoral sister.
She travels to the Valley of the Great Dairies, towards Talbothays Dairy. She mentally compares this valley to
her native Vale of Blackmoor and notes the immense scale and natural beauty of her destination: “The world
was drawn to a larger pattern here…the new air was clear, bracing, ethereal.” The main river in the valley of
her new home is “as clear as the pure River of Life shown to the Evangelist.” Tess begins to feel hope for the
future, and is inspired by the “universal…tendency to find sweet pleasure somewhere.” She is going to live
through her humiliation at the hands of D’Urberville.
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Summary and Analysis 21
Tess meets the master-dairyman of Talbothays, Richard Crick, more commonly known as Dairyman Crick.
He greets her warmly, and Tess immediately sets to work milking a cow. Getting to work makes her feel she
is laying a new foundation for her future.
The dairyworkers listen to a humorous story from Dairyman Crick. From behind a cow, a male voice utters a
rather high-toned reaction. When Tess sees the speaker, she remembers with a start that this was the same man
who walked away from the Marlott club-dance without dancing with her. Tess fears to be recognized by this
man, but he does not remember her. When she asks her fellow milkmaids who he is, they tell her the man is
Angel Clare, a parson’s son here to become a gentleman farmer. He is, they say, an intellectual “too much
taken up wi’ his own thoughts to notice girls.”
Angel Clare found his way to Talbothays via a roundabout and unlikely route. His father, the Reverend Clare,
is a well-known Evangelical minister who assumes his son Angel will go to Cambridge University prior to a
career in the Church of England. Angel, however, has been struck by doubts about his father’s religion.
Angel scandalizes his father by ordering a book about religious reform. In the ensuing argument, Angel
reveals that he does not believe in one of the primary Articles of Religion of the Church of England and that
he has doubts about much of this religion, thus disqualifying him from religious service. To the father, it has
always been a family tradition that Cambridge is a “stepping-stone to Orders alone.” Angel and his father
agree Angel will not go to Cambridge, but will attempt a different path in life.
Angel drifts through several desultory years, marked by development of unorthodox opinions and a brief
affair with an older woman in London, until he decides he will become a gentleman farmer. To prepare
himself for this career, he is undertaking a series of residencies at different farms to learn all aspects of
agriculture. Presently, he finds himself at Talbothays. The effects of this natural, friendly environment on him
are beneficial. Surrounded by people of an unfamiliar class, he becomes impressed by the realization of their
humanity and individuality; he sees them as people of real worth, instead of looking down on them as mere
farm workers. He loses his melancholy and makes a new acquaintance with the world around him.
Angel does not notice Tess until a few days after her arrival. When she asserts that “I do know that our souls
can be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive,” Angel’s ears perk up and he remarks to himself,
“What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” He is sure he has seen this woman before,
perhaps on a countryside walk, but can’t remember where. The coincidence lodges Tess in his mind, in
preference to the dairy’s other pretty milkmaids.
After several days, Tess notices that the cows are being arranged so that she can milk the ones who most like
her. The author of this favor is Angel Clare. On a June evening, Tess drifts through the outskirts of a garden
and hears the notes of a harp played by Clare. They talk, and Tess admits to fears about “life in general.”
When Angel asks her why she feels this way, Tess describes a dread of the future, a deep conviction that the
world is fierce, cruel, and unconsoling. Angel is surprised that this young, wholesome milkmaid is expressing
the feelings of her age, “the ache of modernism.”
Inevitably, Tess and Angel see more of each other, and each gradually becomes more interested in the other.
Tess feels her lack of learning relative to Clare. Angel volunteers to teach Tess about history, but she says she
does not want to know that she is just like thousands of people who came before her and thousands who will
come after. Tess wonders if her D’Urberville lineage will make Clare, as a student of history, more impressed
by her. From Dairyman Crick, though, she learns that Angel believes that old families probably ran through
all their usefulness in past days and are now good for nothing.
Tess’s newfound optimism is supported by the onset of spring and the new life it returns to the world. She
leaves on a thyme-scented May morning, emblematic of the spring’s regenerative powers. Tess herself is part
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Summary and Analysis 22
of this Nature: she felt akin to the landscape. As a part of Nature, Tess partakes of its redemptive powers, its
rhythms of growth and transfiguration. “The irresistible, universal, automatic tendency to find sweet pleasure
somewhere, which pervades all life, from the meanest to the highest, had at last mastered Tess. Being even
now only a young woman of twenty, one who mentally and sentimentally had not finished growing, it was
impossible that any event should have left upon her an impression that was not in time capable of
transmutation.” Growth, change, the will to joy are ever-present forces in Nature and in Tess.
The first half of Chapter 18 focuses exclusively on the background of Angel Clare. For an atypical few pages,
Tess drops out of sight. The contrast between Hardy’s introduction of Angel and that of Alec, about whose
past we are told very little, makes clear that Angel is the second-most important character in the book. We are
meant to consider seriously his personality, his struggles, and his potential as a person.
Affected by the contemporary spirit of rationalism, Angel is unable to believe in the literal truth of Jesus’
Resurrection and Last Judgment as stated in Article Four of the Articles of Religion: “Christ did truly rise
again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things…of Man’s nature; wherewith he
ascended into Heaven…until he return to judge all Men at the last day.” (To be ordained in the Church of
England, one must profess belief in all the Articles. Entering Cambridge also required one to swear by the
Articles; most who graduated the school went on to be ordained.) Angel criticizes the Church for propounding
an “untenable redemptive theolatry,” a phrase implying skepticism about the entire scheme in which God
sent His Son to Earth to rescue humans from their sinful natures. His father believes in the glory of God;
Angel believes in the glory of man. Reverend Clare stresses the
duty man owes to God; Angel stresses the duty man owes to his fellow man.
Hardy uses the contrast between Reverend Clare and Angel to represent the Victorian debate over religion
versus morality. Hardy here endorses Angel’s opinion, which was the progressive, liberal side of that
contemporary social debate.
Angel feels that his father’s religion contains things worth preserving and others worth abandoning, and it
must therefore be flawed. Reverend Clare feels sending Angel to Cambridge would be a waste if his son did
not pursue a religious career. They agree Angel will not attend university. Angel spends some years drifting in
search of a suitable vocation. He acquires newfangled opinions. Hardy casually refers to an affair Angel had
in London, one he was lucky to get out of without being forced into marriage.
The relationship of Tess and Angel builds very slowly; it takes Angel some time to notice that Tess is there at
all. Hardy drops in a comment about Angel’s imperceptiveness: “he was ever in the habit of neglecting the
particulars of an outward scene for the general impression.” Angel’s perception, then, sometimes does not do
justice to what he is seeing.
Angel first notices Tess when she talks about being able to separate her soul from her body at will. This
theological trick arouses Angel’s interest, since it echoes on an experiential level a naturalistic alternative to
the hidebound religious practice Angel has set aside in his search for higher truth. Angel’s first complete
thought about her is, “What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” He interprets her only
in terms of the good looks and rustic innocence she outwardly presents. He presumes that since she seems like
an innocent country girl she must be a virgin. He believes that the closeness to Nature common to the
landworking classes completely defines Tess’s personality. These inaccurate presumptions are of lasting
importance to Angel’s reaction to future events.
Angel discovers that Tess holds some of the same basic convictions of the seriousness and difficulty of life
and the doubtful consolations of religion that he does. Their conversation about Tess’s “indoor fears,”
unspecific, existential anxieties about “life in general,” makes Angel intrigued by this woman, who
articulates thoughts resembling the advanced ideas of the age. Tess feels, through her experience, the “ache of
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Summary and Analysis 23
modernism,” the dilemma of having nothing to believe in, the feeling of having been thrown into a
threatening, unsure world. Angel has, in intellectual fashion, reached the conclusion that the world affords no
reliable sources of ultimate value. In time-honored fashion, Tess and Angel start to fall in love because they
have similar ideas and philosophies about the world: “something in common” as we might now put it.
Although he is intrigued and attracted by Tess, Angel cannot fully perceive that anything truly serious could
have happened to a woman he regards as a charmingly unsophisticated country girl.
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Summary and
New Characters:
Retty Priddle: a young milkmaid, fair and auburn-haired, in love with Angel Clare
Izz Huett: a pale, dark-haired milkmaid, in love with Angel Clare
Marian: the oldest of the three milkmaids in love with Angel Clare
Under the influence of the warm summer sun and a natural world teeming with the sights and juices of
regeneration and fertilization, the attraction between Tess Durbeyfield and Angel Clare continues to grow.
Possibly by chance, the two are the first up each day at the dairy, and they view each other in the “aqueous”
light of dawn. Tess appears nearly a goddess of feminine beauty, a “divinity.” Clare’s appreciation for her
increases; inspired by her awesome and rare beauty, Angel teasingly, affectionately calls her by the names of
ancient Greek goddesses, such as Artemis and Demeter. Not understanding these references, Tess asks to be
called by her true name. Tess is depressed when she realizes she is much less educated than Angel.
One day a minor crisis hits the dairy. The churn will not produce any butter. Dairyman Crick recalls a
previous time when the butter would not come; this happened because a man named Jack Dollop was inside
the churn, hiding from an angry mother who claimed he had stolen the honor of her daughter. The story
provides a good laugh to all but Tess, who sees in it a reflection of her own shameful past. Tess runs outside,
where the sky looks to her like an inflamed wound.
Tess’s fellow milkmaids, Izz Huett, Retty Priddle, and Marian, meanwhile, all admit to an infatuation with
Angel Clare. They know their love for him is hopeless, both because he is out of their class, and because they
are sure that Tess is his favorite. While Tess knows she is more attractive as a woman and potential wife than
her friends, she has vowed to herself never to marry.
Another crisis mobilizes the farmfolk: the butter just made at the dairy is bitter. Dairyman Crick figures it
must be due to some garlic in a field where the cows have been grazing. Angel manages to work alongside
Tess, and they get a chance to talk. Tess, fighting against her own attraction to Clare, commends the feminine
charms of her fellow milkmaids in preference to her own; but her heart is not fully in this evasion, because she
feels herself more and more drawn to this dutiful young man. Tess is moved to respect Angel because he acts
so conscientiously toward the milkmaids infatuated with him. To Tess, such respectful behavior is unique
among the men she has known.
A few Sundays later, Tess, Izz, Retty, and Marian walk to Mellstock for church. Angel, who prefers sermons
in stones to those in church, is out in the fields. The milkmaids, dressed in their Sunday best, are checked by a
flooded lane. Angel sees the women, and volunteers to carry each of them across. For the panting, lovestruck
women, to be so close to their beloved Clare is an agonizing pleasure. The last to be carried across is Tess:
“Three Leahs to get one Rachel!” says Angel, referring to the Bible story in which Jacob must endure seven
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Summary and Analysis 24
years of marriage to Leah before being allowed to marry his true love Rachel. The incident forces Tess to
admit that there was “no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare.”
One day, Angel and Tess work near each other in an isolated part of the dairy. Tess’s aesthetic power, her
concord with the natural world’s beauty, and her tremendous, singular lips move Angel, perhaps against his
rational judgment, to leap up and embrace his beloved. Tess instinctively but briefly yields to the embrace of
her lover before she pushes him away because her cow may be upset by this unusual sight. Clare avows his
love for Tess. The horizons of these two lives will be forever altered.
Phase the Third contains the most extended pictorial descriptions in the novel, as well as some of the most
beautiful, poetic, evocative prose Hardy ever wrote. Throughout these chapters, Hardy correlates the minds
and hearts of his characters with the warm, passionate, fertile, natural world they inhabit. The sensuous
atmosphere at Talbothays is evoked through descriptions of the season and environment—Hardy’s portraits of
the landscape communicate the conditions governing this phase of Tess’s life. “Rays from the sunrise drew
forth the buds and stretched them into long stalks, lifted up sap in noiseless streams, opened petals, and
sucked out scents in invisible jets and breathings.” In an environment so rife with “germination,” it is
inevitable that Tess and Angel are “converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two streams in one
vale.” Hardy underlines the connection between nature and human behavior: “Amid the oozing fatness and
warm ferments of the Var Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of
fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms
existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.” Tess, being a pure and natural woman, feels suited to
this environment, and is happier here than she has ever been.
Hardy’s metaphors in Chapter 20, in which Angel and Tess court in the aqueous light of dawn, are
extraordinarily thorough and beautiful. Tess’s transcendent beauty is communicated through natural
metaphors. She herself, says Hardy, lights up the environment as if by phosphorescence. Tess is connected to
Nature, part of its entirety, linked to the birds flying through the morning fog. “Birds would soar through [the
fog] into the upper radiance, and hang on the wing sunning themselves, or alight on the wet rails subdividing
the mead, which now shone like glass rods…diamonds of moisture from the mist hung, too, upon Tess’s
eyelashes, and drops upon her hair, like seed pearls.” Tess is completely unalienated from Nature. Hardy’s
language becomes poetic: its use of finely observed details and its implicit association between Tess and the
environment point to Hardy’s later career as a poet.
Given the extraordinary vision Tess presents, Angel Clare can scarcely be blamed for idealizing her. To the
sensitive and intellectual Clare, Tess is reminiscent of mythical figures of womanhood. She encapsulates the
attractions of the entire opposite sex. Hardy tracks Angel’s thoughts carefully here: “She was no longer the
milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman—a whole sex condensed into one typical form. He called her
Artemis, Demeter, and other fanciful names half teasingly, which she did not like because she did not
understand them.” Tess fears such adoration and simply wants to be seen for who she is. Call me Tess, she
says, and so Angel does.
Knowing she plans not to marry, Tess, in self-negating and self-protective fashion, tries to turn Angel’s
attentions to the other milkmaids, her friends Izz Huett, Retty Priddle, and Marian. Hardy presents another
aspect of romantic love through these characters, who as a group illustrate the direct connections in Hardy’s
mind between women, love, and Nature. “The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the
hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them
by cruel Nature’s law—an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired….The differences which
distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this passion, and each was but portion of one organism
called sex.” Their love is pure, involuntary, and so egoless that it makes the milkmaids seem not individuals
but only a part of their sex (or gender). Their love contains no thoughts about consequences (class differences
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Summary and Analysis 25
make a marriage unlikely), and thus no anxious calculations about the future. Nature, a blind and
undiscriminating force, causes these women to experience love. As natural beings, the milkmaids inevitably
are attracted to Angel. He is an acceptable man, and they, as women, must desire such a man. The impulse to
love, Hardy shows, comes from outside our conscious selves.
In Chapter 24, Hardy describes the lovers’ first embrace in passionate terms, but he also makes clear that
Angel is a creature of impulse, somewhat taken aback by his own actions. By shading celebration with
qualification, Hardy gently hints that the love of Angel for Tess will not be a case of happily ever after.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29:
Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Reverend Felix Clare: Angel’s brother, a curate
Reverend Cuthbert Clare: Angel’s brother, a classical scholar and fellow and dean of his college at
Mrs. Clare: the second wife of Reverend Clare, a good-hearted, sympathetic, but slightly snobbish, woman
Beck Knibbs: a wife who believes in withholding information from husbands and smacking them if they
don’t like it
Mercy Chant: a devout and well-brought-up young girl whom Angel’s parents have selected as his future
Hours after their embrace, Tess feels “stilled, almost alarmed.” Angel guiltily believes that his “feeling had
won the better of judgment.” As a man of conscience, Angel realizes that Tess’s future fortunes in life are his
responsibility, something he must treat as seriously as he does his own life. Feeling he should not take
advantage of the situation by being in such close proximity to Tess, he makes an impromptu visit to his family
at Emminster Vicarage. The visit makes the milkmaids ask when Angel will be leaving permanently; they
agonize over the news that he has about four months left at Talbothays before moving on to another farm.
At Emminster, Angel is warmly greeted by his father and mother, as well as his older brothers. Felix is a
curate in a nearby town, and Cuthbert is a classical scholar at Cambridge. His family notes a change in Clare:
he is more countrified, carrying himself less like a scholar or drawing-room gentleman. His time away from
home has led Angel to contemplate the limitations of his brothers. They are willing followers of intellectual
trends who have isolated themselves within their occupational circles. “Felix seemed to him all Church;
Cuthbert all College.” His father is the most rigidly earnest of all his family, but seems to Angel to have a
warmer heart than either of his brothers. In fact, his father has set aside money for Angel to buy farmland.
After a meal, Angel broaches the subject he has come to discuss, the possibility of marriage to Tess. His
parents wish for Angel a “truly Christian woman,” and urge Mercy Chant, an exceptionally devout woman
who is the daughter of a friend, upon Clare. Angel says he is instead thinking of a woman who would be a
helpmate in his agricultural career. Although his mother, carrying middle-class prejudices against the lower
rungs of society, is disappointed that Angel’s intended is not a “lady,” both parents are glad when Angel
discusses Tess’s religious orthodoxy and her frequent churchgoing. They tell Angel not to act hurriedly but
that they will consent to meet his choice.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Summary and Analysis 26
On the way out of town, Reverend Clare walks with Angel and tells his son about a young reprobate by the
name of D’Urberville that he tried unsuccessfully to reform. Angel worries that preaching so directly to the
unregenerate places his father in physical risk.
Returning to Talbothays in the early afternoon, Angel’s mood is affected as if he has thrown off splints and
bandages. All but Tess are away or taking naps; Tess herself is just arising. He embraces her again, saying he
has come back early on her account, while “Tess’s excitable heart beat against his by way of reply.”
Working together skimming the milk, Angel proposes to Tess, perhaps “without quite meaning himself to do
it so soon.” Tess says she cannot marry Angel, although she loves him and is engaged to no one else. Asked
why she nevertheless refuses, Tess invents the excuse that she is not high-born enough to suit his parents. To
move the conversation to a less stressful topic, Clare tells his father’s story about trying to reform Alec
D’Urberville. When Angel asks again about marriage, Tess, with that name ringing in her ears, cries out, “It
can’t be!”
Feeling that Tess, like other women, is saying no only to say yes later, Angel continues to woo Tess. When
Tess says she declines because she is not “worthy,” Angel assumes she is talking about not being a refined
lady. He praises her mental versatility; in fact, Tess has already begun to pick up some of Angel’s intellectual
and conversational habits.
Drawn together by the chore of crumbling the curd, Angel seizes the chance of kissing Tess’s arm and is
rewarded by a devoted smile from his beloved. Angel proposes again. In reply, Tess says she will tell him all
about herself and her experiences on Sunday. Her conscience tells her these experiences will make any
marriage, especially one to a respectable man, a misery. But she knows the force of her love for Angel is
making acquiescence inevitable. “I shall let myself marry him—I cannot help it!” she cries out.
On Sunday, Dairyman Crick recounts another episode in the life of ne’er-do-well Jack Dollop. Dollop
married a widow because she had an annual income of 50 pounds, only to find the income ceased upon her
remarriage. The dairy-workers laugh at the story and argue about whether the widow should have told the
truth about her situation prior to the marriage. A consensus opinion is from Beck Knibbs: “If he’d said two
words to me about not telling him beforehand…I’d ha’ knocked him down wi’ the rolling pin.” To the
workers, the story is a comedy; to Tess, it is a tragedy.
Angel again asks Tess to marry him; she refuses, for his sake, but she knows her moral scruples cannot
continue to hold forth against her passionate love for Clare. One evening after the skimming, Dairyman Crick
needs someone to ride some milk to the train station; Clare volunteers and asks Tess to go along.
Hardy reveals crucial information about Angel Clare by contrasting him to the rest of his family. Clare’s
brothers are creatures of intellectual conventionality; they are secure in their careers, as Angel is not, but they
are severely limited, willfully ignoring life outside their social and intellectual circles. That Angel seeks a
different path than his “hallmarked” brothers indicates his freethinking skepticism is a sincere and genuine
trait, of which Hardy approves.
We see that Angel does not want his choice of a wife to disappoint his parents. This admirable impulse,
however, leads him to emphasize qualities in Tess that are not the ones that drew her to him. Thus, he
exaggerates Tess’s churchgoing and her common piety, which are things that at Talbothays do not count to
Angel for very much. Within the orbit of his parents, Angel comes to see Tess as a sort of project; if she is
taught religion and given cultivation by Angel, she will be acceptable to his parents. Tess, in fact, is an able
student. She once did well in school and wanted to become a teacher. “Her natural quickness, and her
admiration for him, having led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge, to a
surprising extent.” Despite her abilities, however, we experience a slight unease: why does Angel feel a need
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Summary and Analysis 27
to embellish Tess’s personality?
Tess’s life continues to be plagued by ironic coincidence, or, to put it another way, bad timing. Whenever
events take an optimistic turn, a chance occurrence suddenly checks her attainment of happiness. Clare thinks
he is changing the conversation to a more neutral topic in bringing up Alec D’Urberville, but, unbeknownst
to him, he has just named the person whose existence is Tess’s reason for refusing Clare. When Tess goes
outside after the story about Jack Dollop, Angel follows her, takes her by the waist, and asks her again to
marry him. So shocked is he by Tess’s emphatic “no,” uttered in momentary overreaction to this laughable
story, that he lets her go and does not attempt the kiss. “It all turned on that release,” notes the narrator. If
Angel had seized that moment to kiss her, she would have said yes, and their story, Hardy seems to imply,
may have had a happy ending.
Inside Tess there is a battle between an urge to tell Clare the truth about herself and a desire to seize the
chance at happiness he represents to her. She wishes to “snatch ripe pleasure before the iron teeth of pain
could have time to shut upon her.” Her ¬conscience, powerful as always, reminds her of two thoughts: that
she must make a complete confession of her past to Clare, lest he find out after the marriage and accuse her of
deceit, and that her union with D’Urberville has in a religious sense…a certain moral validity. Tess knows her
emotional and physical passion for Clare is stronger than these reservations. “Every see-saw of her breath,
every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears, was a voice that joined with nature in revolt against
her scrupulousness.” Tess knows she will submit to her feelings for Clare, whom she sees almost as a god.
Her acquiescence is not without an element of pride and possessiveness: “I can’t bear to let anybody have
him but me!”
Clare plays the part of the persistent lover in fine fashion, and his love for Tess is pure and genuine; “his
manner,” writes Hardy, “was so much that of one who would love and cherish and defend her under any
conditions, changes, or revelations, that her gloom lessened as she basked in it.”
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34:
Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
A man from Trantridge: recalling Tess’s past, he makes a judgmental comment about her
The carriage driver: a broken-down, 60-year-old with a running wound on his leg
Jonathan Kail: a simple minded farm worker
Along the way to the station, Angel points out Wellbridge Manor, a converted farmhouse that was once a
mansion belonging to the D’Urberville family. Angel again pleads with Tess to marry him. She says she must
first tell him about her history and begins to tell him about her upbringing and hometown. Just as she is about
to tell her past troubles, she says instead that she is not a Durbeyfield, but a D’Urberville. Angel takes this for
the revelation she was concealing, and Tess does not correct this misimpression. He sees the news of her
ancestry as positive, since society, and especially his mother, will be more accepting of Tess if she has noble
blood. Tess finally says “Yes!” to Angel, and immediately sobs. She asks for permission to write her mother.
When she says she lives in Marlott, Angel finally realizes where he has seen her. Tess hopes that being
overlooked that day will not turn out to be an ill omen.
Joan sends a letter to Tess, advising her not to tell Angel about her past problems. Tess feels that the
responsibility has been lifted from her shoulders, and she and Clare enjoy open-air courting. Angel asks Tess
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34: Summary and Analysis 28
to fix their marriage date, but Tess is reluctant, preferring a “perpetual betrothal.” After they are caught
embracing, Angel announces to Crick and their friends at the dairy that they will be married soon. The
milkmaids are awestruck at Tess’s news. Their admiration activates Tess’s guilt: “You are all better than I!”
She vows again to tell Clare her past.
Fewer milkmaids are necessary as winter comes, and Angel uses this fact to force Tess’s hand. They agree to
get married by the end of the year. Angel has an opportunity to work at a flour-mill nearby at that time. Angel
decides on Wellbridge Manor, near this flour-mill, as a honeymoon site. The wedding is set for December 31.
Angel has taken a wedding license, rather than having the banns of marriage announced in church; he has also
asked the Cricks to keep the date a secret. These arrangements please Tess, who desires privacy so that no one
will tell Angel about D’Urberville, but she fears she will pay for her good fortune. Angel buys Tess wedding
To enjoy some time together before the wedding, Angel and Tess go into town for Christmas Eve. While
waiting for Angel, Tess is observed by a man from the Trantridge area. This man begins to insult Tess; when
Angel hears these words, he punches the man. The stranger apologizes, Angel gives him five pounds, and they
part with no hard feelings. That night, Clare acts out the fight in his sleep, and Tess vows to inform him, this
time in writing, all about herself. She puts a four-page letter under his door. The next day he shows no
response; could she have been forgiven already? The morning of her wedding, she realizes he must not have
read the letter. She discovers that it was wedged out of sight, under a carpet near his door. The anxious
bridesmaid asks to be allowed to make a confession of her faults. Angel brushes her worries aside, saying they
should both be perfect to each other on their wedding day.
The crowd at the church is small. Neither Angel’s parents nor brothers nor Tess’s parents attend. To Tess,
sublimely in love with Clare, nothing matters except her husband. She “felt glorified by an irradiation not her
own,” so overpowering to her was the joy of wedding Angel.
After the ceremony, Tess becomes downcast, oppressed by a sense of seriousness. Angel attempts to jest her
out of this mood, making a quip about the Wellbridge Manor being one of Tess’s ¬“ancestral mansions.”
They are alone at the manor for their first night as a wedded couple, and enjoy a meal together. A messenger
arrives with a package for “Mrs. Angel Clare.” Inside is a full set of jewels—a gift from Angel’s
now-deceased godmother, to be given to whomever Angel married. The jewelry accentuates Tess’s natural
beauty. Jonathan Kail arrives, rather later than expected, with some of their belongings. He was delayed by
unhappy events at Talbothays.
Retty Priddle has tried to drown herself; Marian, never a drinker, got dead drunk; and Izz Huett has fallen into
a depression. Tess reflects to herself that those with the most reason to be unhappy pretend otherwise, and she
vows to tell Angel everything. “She would pay to the uttermost farthing; she would tell, there and then.”
Angel broaches the subject first, saying he would like to confess something to Tess that he should have told
her before. Exactly Tess’s situation!
Angel launches into his confession. He is not a wicked person, he says, but he once acted immorally by
indulging in “eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger” in London. Tess forgives Angel. Feeling
joyously certain she will be forgiven for the same fault, Tess, in a steady voice, begins the painful narrative of
her acquaintance with Alec D’Urberville.
Angel’s previously expressed ideals about the decline of old families are belied by his joy at the news of
Tess’s lineage. Her ancestry will make her more acceptable to his family because “society is slightly
snobbish.” (Clearly, for society we can insert Angel.) Angel will now be able to present Tess “triumphantly”
as a lady. Hardy notes sarcastically that, “Perhaps Tess’s lineage had more value for himself than for
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34: Summary and Analysis 29
anybody in the world besides.”
Tess’s reaction when Angel keeps their wedding a relative secret articulates a tragic perspective on life. “I
don’t feel easy,” Tess says to herself. “All this good fortune may be scourged out of me afterwards by a lot
of ill. That’s how Heaven mostly does.” Tess articulates the concept of retributive justice: humans will be
punished for their pleasure. Tess’s thought echoes the Greek idea of the god Nemesis (or enemy), who strikes
at anyone with the presumption to enjoy too much pride or satisfaction in life.
Tess prefers what Hardy terms a perpetual betrothal rather than a wedding date fixed in time. Even at her
life’s greatest period of happiness, she fears the consequences of marrying Angel, and is beset by doubt, fear,
moodiness, care, and shame. She wishes that her life could always be just as it is now, “that it would always
be summer and autumn, and you always courting me, always thinking as much of me as you have always
done through the past summer-time!” The metaphor linking her life to the season underscores Tess’s
connection to nature.
The power of Tess’s conscience is subdued by a passivity and willlessness that are equally characteristic of
this contradictory heroine. When her mother advises her not to tell Clare about Alec, Tess feels a burden of
responsibility has been lifted from her. When she discovers Clare has not read her confessional letter, she
knows there is time enough to tell him before the wedding, but chooses not to do so.
Angel’s capacity to love is closely analyzed by Hardy. In order to make later events credible, and in order to
emphasize Tess’s victimization by even such as Clare who love her, Hardy continues to provide explanations
for Clare’s behavior which we can use to judge him. He could love desperately, but with a love more inclined
to the imaginative and the ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion, which could jealously guard the loved one
against his very self. Angel, it is suggested, tends to love not the woman in front of him but an idealized or
spiritualized vision of her; and he may be using his love to protect himself against certain aspects of his
personality. Note the contrast between Angel’s limited, partial love for Tess and Tess’s complete adoration
of Angel: “There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare. To her sublime trustfulness he was all that
goodness could be.” She so idolizes Angel that she prays to him and not to God. Such devotion is surely
misplaced, Hardy notes. In her reaction from indignation against the male sex, Tess swerved to excess of
honor for Clare.
At the wedding, Angel’s partial knowledge of the extent of her love for him is revealed. “Clare knew that she
loved him—every curve of her form showed that—but he did not know at that time the full depth of her
devotion, its single-mindedness, its meekness; what long suffering it guaranteed, what honesty, what
endurance, what good faith.” These aspects of love, traditionally thought to be feminine, are precisely what
Tess will show in superabundance in the course of future events.
Hardy communicates the unhappy outcome of the marriage by ill omens. The grotesque touch of the
carriage-driver with a running wound introduces a jarring note, which is amplified by a reference to the darkly
mysterious (but here unexplained) legend of the D’Urberville coach. The crowing of a cock in the afternoon
is interpreted as a bad sign for the future.
Hardy again creates a chain of events which entraps poor Tess. When she hears of the dairymaids’ unhappy
reactions to her marriage, she vows decisively to tell Clare about herself, again using strong language of
self-condemnation: “It was wicked of her to take all without paying. She would pay to the uttermost farthing;
she would tell, there and then.”
The final picture Hardy leaves us with is charged with foreboding. The image relies upon the patterning of red
and white that seems to follow Tess throughout her life. “Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness
in this red-coaled glow [of the fire], which fell on his face and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34: Summary and Analysis 30
about her brow, and firing on the delicate skin underneath…She bent forward, at which each diamond on her
neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s…” The description is pure pathetic fallacy. What this situation looks
like, it feels like.
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44:
Summary and Analysis
Angel simply cannot think after Tess’s revelation. Tess pleads to be forgiven as she has forgiven Angel, but
to Angel it is as if he is looking at another woman in the shape of Tess. The pair wander the countryside at
night, Tess walking behind Clare. Tess even volunteers to kill herself, but Angel will not allow such an absurd
action. When they get home, Tess goes into their bedroom and eventually falls asleep. Clare is about to enter
the room when he is checked by the sight of the merciless, arrogant portraits of Tess’s D’Urberville
ancestors, which bear a resemblance to her.
For several days, the newlyweds lead a formal existence. Angel demands to know if her story is true; Tess
sadly says yes. Clare asks if the man in question is still living, and again Tess replies yes. Angel vents angry
sarcasm at the thought that he rejected a socially advantageous marriage yet has, nevertheless, been deprived
of the rustic innocence he thought Tess represented. Tess points out that “it is in your own mind what you are
angry at…it is not in me.”
Angel cannot accept that their marriage is authentic, since D’Urberville and not he is Tess’s “husband in
Nature.” Even if he could accept their marriage, their children, he points out, would bear calumny if the true
history of their mother were revealed. Perhaps if the man were dead, that would make a difference, Angel tells
her. Tess suggests divorce, but Angel does not consider it an option because of his religion. Never arguing for
herself, Tess meekly takes Angel’s rejection and coldness as her due. She is willing to do whatever Angel
commands. After several days, they discuss parting. Angel recommends the idea, telling Tess, “I think of
people more kindly when I am away from them.”
The night before they are to part, Angel sleepwalks, carrying Tess across a narrow footbridge and then laying
her down in an empty stone coffin. In his sleep, Angel cries out “Dead! Dead! Dead!” but also admits his
love for Tess. The next morning, he shows no recollection, and she decides not to mention the incident.
Husband and wife separate: Tess will journey back home to her family at Marlott. Angel places 50 pounds
and the wedding jewels in trust to provide Tess spending money. “Until I come to you,” he says, “it is better
that you should not try to come to me.”
At home, Tess tells her mother her husband is not with her, but she covers up the true extent of the split.
When Tess tearfully says she confessed her past to her husband, Joan ridicules her for not taking her advice.
When John Durbeyfield is told his daughter has returned home, he asks, “D’ye think he really have married
her?—or is it like the first?” Not being trusted by her own father is a blow to Tess’s pride. Seeing there is no
room in the house for her, and feeling that she brings discredit upon her family, Tess leaves, giving 25 pounds
to her family to compensate for the suffering she has put them through.
Clare’s troubles cannot be lessened by the consoling philosophy he has learned. He visits his parents, telling
them when they are surprised by his wife’s absence, that he is going alone to Brazil for a year to investigate
farming opportunities, and his parents will meet his bride later on. Sensing trouble, Mrs. Clare asks Angel if
his wife is the sort of woman “whose history bears investigation.” Angel lies, saying Tess is “spotless.” At
dinner, his father reads from the Bible King Lemuel’s praise of a good wife: “Who can find a virtuous
woman? for her price is far above rubies.” A “slave to custom and conventionality when surprised back into
his early teachings,” Angel cannot perceive that Tess deserves such praise as much as any other woman.
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Summary and Analysis 31
Angel must go to Wellbridge Manor, the site of his honeymoon, to pick up a few belongings. On the road he
sees Izz Huett. Feeling he has been treated unfairly and been too respectful of convention, Angel asks Izz to
accompany him to Brazil. When he asks if Izz loves him more than Tess does, she truthfully answers that no
one could love Angel more than Tess: “She would have laid down her life for ‘ee. I could do no more!” A
chastened Angel urges Izz to forget the invitation.
Through the spring, summer, and early fall, Tess supports herself doing light farm work, not touching the
money Angel gave her. After harvest-time she is in straitened circumstances and must spend some of the
money. She clings to the hope that Angel will soon return from Brazil to join her. Unbeknownst to her, Angel
lies in Brazil sick from fever. Disdaining indoor work, Tess makes her way toward an upland farm where her
friend Marian works. On the way, Tess encounters the Trantridge man who tried to insult her before her
marriage, and she runs away from him into a forest. There she sleeps on a bed of dry leaves. She hears strange
noises, and at dawn realizes she is surrounded by dying pheasants who have been shot down by hunters.
Ashamed that she thought her own misery greater than the sufferings of the wounded birds, Tess mercifully
snaps the necks of the doomed pheasants.
The next day Tess reaches the farm at Flintcomb-Ash, a desolate, featureless, cold, barren place. Tess is given
a position doing the roughest kind of farm work. Marian is surprised at Tess’s appearance and tells her she
believes neither Angel nor Tess could be at fault for whatever happened between them. Set to work digging
and storing turnip roots, Marian and Tess get through the days by reminiscing about the time “they lived and
loved together at Talbothays Dairy.” Tess does not wear her wedding ring, does not wear the clothes he
bought her, does not use his name, and will not tolerate Marian questioning her about Angel. As winter comes
on, Izz Huett arrives to join her two friends. Tess falls behind doing the strenuous work of drawing reeds, and
is harassed by her boss—who happens to be the Trantridge man who tried to insult her just before her
One day, Marian lets slip the story of Angel’s invitation to Izz. This news makes Tess vow to address Clare;
she starts but does not finish a letter to him. She does not believe she deserves any favor or pity from Angel or
his family. In late December, though, she decides to visit Emminster to appeal to Angel’s parents. She puts
on her boots and walks 15 miles to the Clares’ home. Ringing the doorbell, she gets no answer, and then,
remembering they would be at church, she hides herself away to await their return. She places her boots to the
side for safekeeping. While waiting, she overhears Angel’s two brothers in conversation with Mercy Chant,
criticizing Angel’s unwise marriage. Mercy Chant spies Tess’s boots and decides to take them to give to a
poor person. Feeling scorned by the Clare family, Tess turns and walks back to Flintcomb-Ash. She does not
realize that her husband’s parents would have been far more sympathetic than his brothers.
Walking home, Tess spots a crowd listening to an itinerant preacher. The voice is familiar; startlingly, it
sounds like that of her seducer, Alec. Rounding the corner, Tess studies the man, who truly is, she must soon
believe, none other than Alec D’Urberville.
Readers of the novel are, during this Phase, faced with the challenge of revising their opinion of Angel Clare,
who turns from a potential savior of Tess into another one of her victimizers. Previously, his distinguished,
caring, freethinking, and loving nature seemed to make him the ideal husband for Tess; now his limitations
reveal themselves to a horrifying extent. It may be possible to feel something of Angel’s misery at his
discovery of Tess’s affair, but it is impossible to avoid the word hypocritical in describing his application of
the Victorian sexual double standard to their pasts. Tess has forgiven Angel his sin, but Angel absolutely
cannot forgive Tess the same sin.
Hardy tells us that within Angel Clare’s seemingly freethinking nature, there is “a hard logical deposit, like a
vein of metal in soft loam, which turns the edge of everything that attempted to transverse it.” No appeal,
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Summary and Analysis 32
either to emotion or logic, will change Angel’s mind once it is made up. His condemnation of Tess is marked
by determination and not mere emotion. He willfully subdues the subtler emotion (love or protectiveness) to
the grosser (jealousy and envy or hatred).
Tess’s love for Angel, in great contrast, takes the form of an almost completely unquestioning loyalty. Her
meekness allows Angel to determine their future: “her mood of long-suffering made his way easy for him.”
We can only assume Tess sees ultimate wisdom in Angel’s coldness. We are reminded of her thoughts before
her wedding. “Her one desire, so long resisted, to make herself his, to call him her lord, her own—then, if
necessary, to die—had at last lifted her up…”
The final result of Tess’s abandonment by Clare is her journey to Flintcomb-Ash. The portrait of the natural
environment of this farm is a high point in Hardy’s writing. The whole field was in color a desolate drab; it
was a complexion without features, as if a face, from chin to brow, should be only an expanse of skin. The sky
wore, in another color, the same likeness; a white vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone. Across
this field Tess and Marian crawl as if they were two flies. The descriptions of a drenching cold rain and of the
onset of winter are finely detailed portraits which show Hardy’s skill at communicating the reality of a brute
physical nature. Again, Hardy shows an interaction between setting and mood.
Hardy broadens the book’s struggle into a philosophical statement related to the Flintcomb-Ash environment,
the cruelest and most desolate location in the story. Hardy notes that here, as everywhere, “two forces were at
work…, the inherent will to enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment.” Even in this most
oppressive, inhuman environment, the world can be seen as composed of two opposing tendencies, and Hardy
wishes us to note that the human will toward happiness is more powerful than the circumstances the world
musters to defeat joy.
Hardy uses his persistent identification of Tess with Nature to delineate one of his principal themes, the
opposition between Nature and society. Hardy assumes that society both creates and enforces guilt while
Nature posits only the will to live and knows no moral distinctions. Once again, Tess is described as judging
herself too harshly, by the limiting values of society rather than by the more vital impulses of Nature. “She
was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of
condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which has no foundation in Nature.” Nothing Tess does
contradicts Nature, but she continues to judge herself according to the artificial, arbitrary restrictions of
In a fashion typical of Victorian novels, Hardy crowds his canvas with a large variety of incidents. All events
are more or less realistic, but some tend to the outlandish, and some are related more convincingly than others.
Victorian audiences tended to be more accepting of coincidence and surprise than are contemporary readers.
Many readers now find the sleepwalking scene in particular difficult to believe. However, there is no denying
its dramatic boldness, and one can argue that Clare’s expression of his unconscious thoughts is an effective
way of showing his divided mind—which can accept his love for Tess only when its logical capacities are
subdued. The scene in which Angel extends, than retracts, his offer to Izz Huett is brilliantly constructed to
evoke a strong pathos for the lovestruck but truthful Izz, who turns down a chance for happiness because she
cannot lie about the purity of Tess’s love for Angel. Other pathetic scenes adding to the near-melodramatic
atmosphere of unrelieved misfortune include those of Tess articulating her lost hope for Angel’s return and
the sad, coincidence-laden misunderstanding when she visits the Clares’ home in Emminster.
Phase the Fifth ends with a shock for which we have not been prepared, the discovery of Alec D’Urberville
as a reformed man of the cloth. What this ironic change bodes for Tess is unfolded only in the next Phase of
her life.
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Summary and Analysis 33
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary
and Analysis
New Character:
The man at the threshing machine: a stranger to the agricultural world who operates a mechanical thresher,
dictating an inhuman pace of work
Tess can scarcely believe this man is Alec. His bold, masculine face is ill-adapted to the looks of a pious
preacher. When he sees her, the effect is “electric.” He is dumbstruck, briefly unable to preach. After
finishing his sermon, Alec catches up to Tess. She wishes to have nothing to do with him; he claims merely to
want to save her soul, on account of how he has “grievously wronged” her in the past. Tess scoffs at his
conversion, which she thinks is an easy way for Alec to buy off the consequences of his evil deeds, and at his
religious ideas, which she disbelieves because her husband has transmitted his own religious skepticism to
When they walk by a stone called “Cross-in-Hand” Alec asks Tess to swear that she will tempt him no
longer. Tess reluctantly does so. The stone, she soon discovers, is not a holy relic as Alec said, but a “thing of
ill omen” commemorating a murder.
A few days later, Alec finds Tess in the fields at Flintcomb-Ash. He wishes to inquire about her material
condition. He offers a marriage license to Tess, who replies that she loves and is married to someone else.
Alec realizes she is a deserted wife, and is upset that Tess will not allow him to protect her.
Later in February, Alec knocks at Tess’s door, asking her to pray for him. “How can I pray for you,” Tess
asks, “when I am forbidden to believe that the great Power who moves the world would alter his plans on my
account?” Tess says she has religion but doesn’t believe in anything supernatural. She echoes to Alec several
of the rationalist, anti-religious arguments she has learned from Angel Clare. These logical arguments
demolish Alec’s new-found religious convictions.
On a March morning, Tess is working at Flintcomb-Ash, feeding wheat into a mechanical thresher, when
Alec, having shed his parson’s outfit, seeks to talk to her. “You have been the cause of my backsliding,” he
says, “and you should be willing to share it, and leave that mule you call your husband for ever.” Tess
impulsively slaps him across the face, drawing blood. “Whip me, crush me,” she baits him. “Once victim,
always victim—that’s the law!” He shakes her by the shoulders and tells her, “Remember, my lady, I was
your master once! I will be your master again.”
When Tess finishes the exhausting day’s work, Alec reappears and walks her home. Going straight at Tess’s
chief anxiety, he informs Tess he has enough money to keep her family out of need. Tess hesitates before
making a full refusal of this offer.
Once at her cottage, Tess writes a long, passionate letter to her husband, pleading for kind treatment. She is
devoted to Angel but needs rescuing from an enemy.
Meanwhile, Angel, in Brazil, is reconsidering the entire moral scheme by which he has judged his wife. He
realizes “the beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and
impulses”—he should not blame Tess for what she did against her will. An Englishman who is his traveling
companion advises Angel that he was wrong to leave Tess, that he should have judged her not according to
what she had been in the past, but according to what she promised to be to him as a wife in the future. When
this stranger dies of fever, Angel takes his words to heart and shifts from being Tess’s critic to her advocate.
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary and Analysis 34
One morning, about a week before her term at Flintcomb-Ash is up, Tess’s younger sister, ‘Liza-Lu, arrives
with dire family news. Joan is seriously ill and John, still in uncertain health, refuses to do any work. At
home, Tess nurses her mother, who gets better, and works on the family garden so the family will have
enough to eat.
One night, when she and other villagers are at work in a field burning brushes, Tess is surprised by the sight
of Alec D’Urberville alongside her. Alluding both to the fires surrounding them and his persistent attempts to
seduce the innocent Tess, Alec compares himself to Satan. Tess rejects the comparison. Alec again implores
Tess to accept his help. She puts him off, though she knows how much her brothers and sisters could use
D’Urberville’s aid.
Walking home after this encounter, Tess is given startling news: her father has just died. His diseased heart
finally gave way. The implications of his death go beyond the personal. The Durbeyfield family held the lease
on their cottage only until John died. Thus, the family has to move, since the tenant-farmer wants the house
for fieldworkers he wishes to hire. Although the family might be able to stay on as weekly tenants, the
shiftlessness of the family, the queerness of the unions made by Tess, and the undesirable social independence
of families of this artisanal class, lead to the Durbeyfields being put out. It is doubtful that their ancestors gave
such rude treatment to others in the time of their ascendancy.
Joan decides the family will seek lodgings at Kingsbere, the town in which lies the cathedral containing the
D’Urberville family vaults. On Old Lady-Day, the day when many country laborers choose or are forced to
find new jobs and residences, the Durbeyfields pack up their belongings and leave Marlott. When they get to
Kingsbere, they discover their letter asking for rooms has arrived too late. There is no shelter for them. On a
whim, Joan unpacks a bed underneath the church wall, directly below a stained-glass window named after the
Alec rides up and tells Tess of the legend of the D’Urberville coach: those of D’Urberville blood are prone
to hear the sound of a non-existent coach. The story dates back to an abduction and murder involving a
D’Urberville. Alec offers to allow them to live at Trantridge; Joan can have a job tending fowl. Tess is barely
able to refuse this necessary help. Seeking solace amid the vaults, or graves, of her ancestors in the Kingsbere
cathedral, she is taken aback by the sight of D’Urberville reclining on one of the tombs. He can do more for
her than can any of the real D’Urbervilles lying in these vaults, he boasts. Looking at the entrance to the
vaults, Tess wonders, “Why am I on the wrong side of this door!”
Meanwhile, Marian and Izz decide they must take action to repair the marriage of their friends. They write a
brief, plain letter to Angel at Emminster warning him to look after his wife because she is being set upon by
an enemy.
Phase the Sixth is the most eventful of the novel. Material is presented that relates to every theme in the book.
All three principal characters, and the changes they undergo, influence the story, while the narrative also
incorporates major segments of the lives of secondary characters such as Tess’s family. The issues of religion
and morality are presented through the stories of Alec’s religious conversion, his conflict and arguments with
Tess, and the changes Angel undergoes in Brazil. The final decline of Tess’s family and the mechanized
nature of the farmwork at Flintcomb-Ash provide Hardy an opportunity to introduce the social and economic
shifts that influence her downfall.
Tess herself undergoes a major psychological change in this Phase, being so worked over by circumstances
that she yields to D’Urberville a second time, again contrary to her moral nature and better judgment. The
pattern of her harassment by forces outside herself, including individuals such as D’Urberville and the absent
Clare, as well as more impersonal forces, such as a changing economic order, her position at the tail end of the
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary and Analysis 35
decayed D’Urberville family, and the implacable ironies of life itself, continues like a drumbeat throughout
Phase the Sixth. Although Hardy does not announce it in so many words, Tess makes the decision at the end
of this Phase to trade her body to D’Urberville for his support of her family. It is a decision that ultimately
seals her fate. The ¬psychological stress prior to this decision can be measured by the ¬differences between
her two letters to Clare. The first, longer one admits that she deserves punishment but pleads for the husband
she loves greatly to treat her kindly. The second letter is an ¬expression of anger and outrage at the injustice
she has been dealt by Angel. For the first time, Tess realizes that she is not at fault and that the punishment
she has received has been unfair. She has committed sins of inadvertence, not of intention.
The first few chapters expose Tess to an Alec D’Urberville outwardly quite different from the one we
remember. These changes allow Hardy to introduce an important and topical debate about religion and
morality into his novel. Later, after the religious conversion does not “take,” Hardy emphasizes Alec’s
relentless physical pursuit of Tess. Wherever Tess goes, Alec finds her. He even adopts a comic disguise
when he wears an old-fashioned rural smockfrock to surprise Tess when she is living at Marlott. However
Alec dresses or disguises himself, he is dangerous to Tess.
Further evidence of Tess’s moral purity in the face of continual poverty, stress, and temptation comes, in fact,
from an unlikely source, the mouth of Alec D’Urberville. Alec sees Tess as guiltless in their affair and as the
only innocent woman he has ever known. He says she is “unsmirched in spite of all.” At some moments, he
rather convincingly plays the part of a rejected lover seeking a renewed relationship, as when he forlornly rips
up the marriage license Tess has declined.
Alec experiences numerous changes of personality in this Phase. The first one, his conversion to the extreme
Calvinism of Reverend Clare, is one for which we have not been prepared. The sight of Alec preaching the
word of God is just as strange to us as it is to Tess. Hardy depicts Alec in such a manner that we can easily
share Tess’s idea that there is something fraudulent and cynical about his religious conversion. Alec
compares the spiritual satisfaction of his religion to the masochistic “pleasure of having a good slap at
yourself”; his conversion, he says, came upon him as a “jolly good idea.” Alec’s unseriousness and villainy
serve to emphasize the singular goodness of the pure Tess.
The religious arguments between Alec and Tess substantiate a theme of concern to Hardy and other
Victorians, which is the relationship of religion to morality. Tess becomes the spokesperson for Hardy’s own
sense of religious skepticism. Hardy does not choose to write out fully the anti-religious beliefs shared by
Angel and Tess. In this choice, we can measure the distance between Hardy’s novel and the traditional novel
of ideas, in which characters give long speeches explaining and defending their opinions and beliefs. We
know that Tess is Hardy’s heroine and Alec is the villain, and we perceive that Alec’s Calvinist-flavored
dogma is being suggested as the “wrong” alternative to Tess’s correct religion of “loving-kindness,” a
version of Christianity stripped of supernaturalism down to its supposed essence in the Sermon on the Mount
(Christ’s lesson on the importance of mercy and compassion).
A major issue in Victorian thought concerned the maintenance of ethics in the absence of an agreed-upon
religion. If religion were to be discredited, how could people be trusted to act morally and ethically, and if
people could not be so trusted, how could society remain cohesive? Religious freethinkers claimed that
individual humans could, and would have to be, trusted as the guardians and enforcers of their own moral
authenticity. The traditionalist’s counterargument relied upon reasoning similar to Alec’s statement: “If
there’s nobody to say, ‘Do this, and it will be a good thing for you after you are dead; do that, and it will be a
bad thing for you,’ I can’t warm up…I am not going to feel responsible for my deeds and passions if there’s
nobody to be responsible to.” But Alec, as we see repeatedly, is just the sort of person incapable of resisting
the urge to harm others. Lacking the innate “loving-kindness” Tess espouses, Alec needs to imagine a
“boss” outside himself who will punish him when he is bad and reward him when he is good. In contrast to
Tess, he cannot be responsible for himself.
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary and Analysis 36
Hardy develops a further aspect of the question of moral behavior and judgment through the changes
undergone by Angel in this Phase. Angel surmounts his own previous doubts about Tess as he learns a new,
more charitable, less orthodox definition of morality. “Having long discredited the old systems of mysticism,
he now began to discredit the old appraisements of morality. He thought they wanted readjusting. Who was
the moral man? Still more pertinently, who was the moral woman? The beauty or ugliness of a character lay
not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not only among things done, but
among things willed.” Morality is not a simple, legalistic equation of particular deeds with particular sins. In
judging, what must be taken into account is what the person wanted and willed, not just what they did or were
influenced, or perhaps forced, to do. In sum, what one does is not equal to what one is. If we judge only by
what someone did, we will ignore the quality of their hearts and minds, their truest moral tendencies. Angel
learns that anyone who wishes to be a moral judge of others incurs a deep responsibility to perceive correctly.
The steam-driven threshing machine is described so vividly by Hardy that we can imagine it to be another of
the characters victimizing Tess. The mechanical thresher, that red tyrant, is a representative of the modern,
industrialized world which is destroying the traditional independence and human rhythms of the agricultural
community. The thresher, operated by an engineer from the north of England, makes despotic demands upon
the endurance of those who must work on it. It produces, in short, alienated labor. In Tess’s case, she is again
victimized in being denied control by the thresher over her body. Hardy conjoins the thresher scene,
representing economic oppression, with another visit from Alec, representing sexual oppression.
As Phase the Sixth moves towards completion, Hardy puts all the necessary plot machinery in place to drive
the novel towards its ultimate conclusion. Different characters are (even if unwittingly) working for and
against Tess as if engaged in a battle to claim her. The stranger who befriends Angel in Brazil gives Clare a
new philosophy and a new outlook on Tess. Izz Huett and Marian try, through their letter, to reunite Angel
with Tess. Alec and the thresher attempt to keep Tess away from Angel, and deprived of any capacity for
independence. These forces arrayed for and against Tess take on the aspect of good versus evil. Izz, Marian,
and Clare’s friend are positive, moral, sympathetic forces. The thresher and Alec are described as negative,
diabolic, and oppressive.
Phase the Sixth contains Hardy’s most important and sustained association of Tess’s downfall with her
socioeconomic position. Hardy’s focus is on the individual tragedy of Tess, but he continually returns to the
theme of the tragic destruction of the traditional English rural village, most directly in the following passage
describing the Durbeyfields being put out: “The village had formerly contained, side by side with the
agricultural laborers, an interesting and better-informed class, ranking distinctly above the former—the class to
which Tess’s father and mother had belonged…: a set of people who owed a certain stability of aim and
conduct to the fact of their being lifeholders like Tess’s father, or copyholders, or, occasionally, small
freeholders. But as the long holdings fell in they were seldom let again to similar tenants, and were mostly
pulled down, if not absolutely required by the farmer for his hands. Cottagers who were not directly employed
on the land were looked down upon with disfavour, and the banishment of some starved the trade of
others…These families, who had formed the backbone of village life in the past, who were the depositaries of
the village traditions, had to seek refuge in the large centres; the process humorously designated by the
statisticians as the tendency of the rural populations toward the large towns, being really the tendency of water
to flow uphill when forced by machinery.”
Hardy thus includes the tragedy of Tess and the destruction of her family within the larger socioeconomic
contexts of the agricultural unrest and the depopulation of the countryside. From this point of view, Tess’s
sufferings seem not arbitrary or unique but rather become part of the decline of her class. The villain of this
piece, we see from Hardy’s conclusion here, is machinery. The forces of mechanization make their most
significant appearance in the novel in the form of the recently described threshing machine. We can also note
that Hardy’s family came from the rural class of the Durbeyfields—slightly above the farm laborers, but never
far enough above that class to experience complete economic stability.
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary and Analysis 37
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Summary
and Analysis
New Characters:
A family of farm laborers: the new inhabitants of the cottage where the Durbeyfields once lived
Mrs. Brooks: a generally uncurious landlady at a fashionable Sandbourne lodging-house
A Sandbourne workman: the first to view D’Urberville’s corpse
The caretaker at Bramshurst Court: a woman who oversees a property for its owners
Sixteen policemen: hunters of a wanted murderess
Angel Clare returns home to Emminster so ravaged by his illness that his parents can scarcely recognize him.
When his mother wonders why Angel is so anxious about a “mere child of the soil,” Angel reveals that Tess
is a member of the ancient D’Urberville family.
Angel sends a letter to Marlott looking for Tess. A reply comes from Joan, who informs him that Tess is gone
from her, but that she will write Angel when she returns. Angel is chastened by his treatment of Tess. He
wonders why he did not view his wife “constructively rather than biographically, by the will rather than by
the deed.” His father tells him Tess never asked the Clares for any money during his sojourn, and Angel
begins to realize how much Tess has suffered.
Angel goes to Flintcomb-Ash in search of Tess and then on to Marlott. He learns Tess has not used her
married name in his absence. In Marlott, he discovers Tess and her family are no longer living at their cottage,
which is now inhabited by a family concerned only with its own circumstances and completely ignorant of
Tess’s history. Angel sees the elaborately carved headstone of John, which details his illustrious ancestry.
When he discovers the carver has not been paid, he does a good turn for the Durbeyfields by paying off the
Angel is able to find Joan at Kingsbere. Their meeting is awkward, but Joan tells him Tess is at Sandbourne, a
local resort town, at an address unknown to Joan.
Angel Clare arrives in Sandbourne the next day. Asking around for a Mrs. Clare or a Miss Durbeyfield, Angel
receives no information. A local postman says there is a Mrs. D’Urberville at a lodging house called The
Herons. When Angel announces himself to the landlady, Tess herself descends the stairs.
It is a much-changed Tess: she is dressed in luxurious clothes, evidently given her by D’Urberville. Angel
pleads for forgiveness. He now appreciates Tess for what she is. “Too late, too late!” cries Tess in response;
D’Urberville has won her back; she no longer cares what happens to her. The unhappy pair stand paralyzed,
seeming to “implore something to shelter them from reality.”
The landlady of The Herons, Mrs. Brooks, is a usually incurious woman, but Angel’s visit leads her to
eavesdrop at the keyhole of Tess and Alec’s room. She hears Tess remonstrating Alec for causing her to lose
Angel a second time, and she hears Alec’s sharp reply. A little while later, she notices what seems to be a
bloodstain on the ceiling above her. She flags down a local workman, who goes into the D’Urberville suite
and discovers that Alec D’Urberville has been stabbed to death.
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Summary and Analysis 38
Meanwhile, Angel has gone to the train station. Running towards him, he sees, is a woman—Tess, who wishes
to tell her husband that she has killed D’Urberville. Though he scarcely believes this news, Angel is at last
completely tender toward his wife. He must now be her protector. The pair walk northward on remote
footpaths. When they see a mansion called Bramshurst Court, unoccupied because it is for rent, they decide to
take refuge there.
By unspoken consent, Angel and Tess do not speak of anything that happened after their marriage. They
spend five days of bliss isolated from the world, experiencing “affection, union, error forgiven,” until the
caretaker notices their presence. Tess does not want to, but they leave, planning an escape from England out
of a northern port town.
That night, they stumble across a series of stone pillars which make an odd humming sound in the wind.
Angel realizes the place is Stonehenge, the ancient temple at which heathens made sacrifices to the sun. Tess
lays herself down upon an altar stone. Tess asks Angel to marry her younger sister ‘Liza-Lu, who has all the
good qualities of Tess and none of the bad, when she herself is
gone. Angel is shocked at the idea.
In the light of dawn, Angel sees a group of men advancing toward the ancient monument. He implores the
men to leave Tess alone until she wakes. When Tess rises, she accepts her capture: “It is as it should be…I am
ready.” The scene shifts to Wintoncester, once capital of Wessex.
The view of this city is dominated by an ugly, red-brick jail. Standing on a nearby hillside just outside of
town, Angel and ‘Liza-Lu hold hands as they see a black flag rise up over the jail. Tess Durbeyfield has been
executed. “‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport
with Tess.”
The title of the novel’s final Phase, “Fulfillment,” is ironic but accurate. Tess, the ultimate victim, can find
peace, happiness, and content only outside this world, not in it. Her victimization—by Fate, by historical
conditions, by her family, by social standards, by D’Urberville, by Clare—is so complete that it seems as if
Tess is being hounded from this world.
In their temporary hideaway at Bramshurst Court, hidden from the sight of the world, Tess and Angel
experience a brief period of contentment. Only away from the moral codes of the world can Angel and Tess
experience the happiness they deserve, a state of “affection, union, error forgiven.”
Hardy’s use of Stonehenge as a setting allows him a final echo of several important patterns of reference. The
motif of Tess being hunted and pursued is underscored visually by the scene in which Tess awakes at dawn
surrounded by a circle of policemen, official guardians of the social morality Tess has continually been
punished by. Her connection to Nature and to paganism makes this ancient monument an appropriate setting.
Tess herself notes Angel used to call her a heathen. The connection between Tess and places of death reaches
a culmination here. Tess finds final rest on an altar, or place of sacrifice. The sense of present action being
only part of a vast history—Hardy’s appeal to an ultra-historic imagination—is activated through the use of this
ancient historical site.
Tess’s tragic victimization points to a new set of possibilities for human conduct. Her devotion to Clare
establishes a new vision of selfless love. She is so forward-looking and selfless that she urges Angel to marry
‘Liza-Lu, whom Tess thinks is a better, and Hardy calls a more spiritualized, version of herself. Tess
becomes not the illustration of a thesis (about the decline of the peasantry or the sexual double standard) but,
as in the stories of saint’s lives, a person who lived an exceptional life.
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Summary and Analysis 39
In tragic fashion, Tess comes to experience a new orientation to the world, completely different from the
everyday way we typically view life. She experiences her pain not as material fact but as a sort of
transcendence. Tess welcomes the final punishments of capture and execution. Of what does Tess speak when
she greets the policemen who will arrest her with the phrase, “I am ready”? On the Darwinian level, we
might say the final rhythm of the life of a species, extinction, has been reached. Tess was born, reproduced,
tried to adapt to a cruel world, and now will die. On a tragic level, we might say Tess’s assent to her
victimization is a final, ennobling act of forgiveness toward the world.
Hardy underscores the tragic atmosphere by a series of references to famous tragedies of Western literature.
Stonehenge, the monument to the sun, recalls the sun-blasted heath upon which Lear, in Shakespeare’s King
Lear, experiences his re-evaluation of life. Tess’s “I am ready” echoes Edgar’s death-embracing statement
“Readiness is all” from the same play. The last image of the book, Angel and ‘Liza-Lu walking
hand-in-hand, recalls the final moment of John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost, in which Adam and Eve move
hand-in-hand into a fallen world in which they must exercise choice and moral responsibility.
Most famously, Hardy refers to the Greek tragedian Aeschylus to describe the malignant plan the universe had
in store for Tess Durbeyfield: “‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase,
has ended his sport with Tess.” This bitter statement encapsulates the idea that some higher power has
victimized Tess, and has probably done so just for fun. Whatever term we use for the Supreme Being, this
figure does not have the best interests of humans at heart. Although this categorical skepticism may not be all
that surprising contemporarily, the majority of the novel’s detractors passionately disapproved of these lines’
belief that the universe is not controlled by a beneficent, Christian God.
Our final impression of the novel does not have to do with a philosophical lesson on the existence of God, or
an illustration of historic and economic forces. What we are left with is a feeling of profound, humanistic
sympathy for Tess Durbeyfield, pure woman and pure victim.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Quizzes
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Questions and
Study Questions
1. How does John Durbeyfield learn about his true family heritage?
2. What is the name of the valley where Tess and her family live?
3. What distinguishes Tess from her fellow country maidens?
4. What happens at the first meeting between Tess and Angel?
5. What do the two older brothers on a walking tour wish to do, instead of dancing with local girls?
6. Who takes care of the children in the Durbeyfield family?
7. What happens on the road to Casterbridge market?
8. What is the subject of Tess’s and Abraham’s conversation as they ride to market?
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Quizzes 40
9. What does Joan Durbeyfield rely on when deciding Tess’s future plans?
10. Why does Tess consent to her mother’s plan that she ask Mrs. D’Urberville for a job?
1. On impulse, a local man gives this information to John Durbeyfield as they meet by chance on a country
2. The Durbeyfield’s home village is in the vale (or valley) of Blakemore or Blackmoor.
3. Tess’s beauty sets her apart from her friends. She is the only girl in the procession adorned with a red
4. Angel, drawn by curiosity, dances with a local woman at Marlott’s May-Day procession. Tess sees Angel
and is impressed by his distinguished manner and looks. Angel sees Tess and is momentarily regretful he did
not dance with her.
5. The two older brothers wish to have time later on to discuss a book dealing with a contemporary religious
controversy, the rise of atheism.
6. Tess is the oldest child by more than four years, and the hardest-working member of the family. Much of
the child-care responsibility goes to her.
7. Abraham and Tess fall asleep early in the morning as their horse, Prince, drags a cart loaded up with
beehives to market in Casterbridge. Walking on the wrong side of the road, Prince is gored by the mail cart,
and dies.
8. Tess describes how humans live on a “blighted star,” thus accounting for the miserable position of the
Durbeyfield family.
9. Joan relies on a book, the Compleat Fortune-Teller, to predict Tess’s future.
10. “Nobody blamed Tess as she blamed herself” for the death of Prince. Her guilt over this accident and her
sense of responsibility for her family override her intuition that the project of “claiming kin” with the
D’Urbervilles is unwise.
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Questions and
Study Questions
1. What tips the balance of Tess’s decision as to whether to approach Mrs. D’Urberville?
2. What is the name of the home of Mrs. D’Urberville?
3. Why has Simon Stoke decided to rename himself D’Urberville?
4. What job is Tess given by the D’Urbervilles?
5. How is Tess dressed when her parents send her off?
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Questions andAnswers 41
6. What is the mother-son relationship of Mrs. D’Urberville and Alec like?
7. What does Alec teach Tess how to do?
8. What defect marks the social life of the people in and around Trantridge?
9. Who picks a fight with Tess on the way home from Chase¬borough, and why?
10. What happens in The Chase?
1. Her guilt over the death of Prince, combined with her feeling that she is responsible for the family, cause
Tess finally to agree to the idea of applying to Mrs. D’Urberville for help.
2. The manorial home of Mrs. D’Urberville is named The Slopes.
3. Simon Stoke has earned a fortune as a merchant, or perhaps as a moneylender, in the industrialized north of
England. Stoke does not want to be associated with his unprestigious (or shady) past, and he believes that an
aristocratic name would be more distinguished than his original one. He found the name D’Urberville in a
history book dealing with old families in the south of England.
4. Tess is assigned the job of tending to a group of fowl kept by Mrs. D’Urberville. She must feed, care for,
and entertain these birds.
5. Tess is dressed in a white muslin dress and her newly washed hair is tied with a large red ribbon.
6. Mrs. D’Urberville is not ignorant of her son’s faults, but nevertheless loves him. She is “bitterly fond” of
7. Alec teaches Tess how to whistle so that she can keep Mrs. D’Urberville’s birds happy.
8. The villagers around Trantridge live for the moment, disdaining the idea of saving for the future. Many of
them are hard drinkers.
9. The Darch sisters, jealous that Alec is now smitten with Tess instead of them, pick a fight with her.
10. Unheedful of the route home, Alec drives his carriage until his horse is exhausted. He deposits Tess in a
portion of The Chase and goes to look for directions. When he comes back, he ascertains Tess is asleep, and
takes her.
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15:
Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does Alec want to catch up with and talk to Tess?
2. What final piece of advice does Alec give Tess?
3. Who has started the sign-painter on his work?
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Questions andAnswers 42
4. Why is Tess so struck by the sign-painter’s messages?
5. Why is Joan disappointed with Tess?
6. What happens when Tess decides to attend church?
7. What does Tess do after the parson is not allowed in to see her dying infant?
8. What is Tess’s reaction to the parson saying her infant may not be allowed a standard Christian burial?
9. What name does Tess give to her infant?
10. Why does Tess wish to leave Marlott?
1. If he cannot convince her to return to Trantridge, he will at least ride her the rest of the way home to
2. Alec advises Tess to display her beauty, her prime advantage, to the world.
3. An evangelical preacher named Mr. Clare started the sign-painter on his unusual work.
4. Tess has the uncanny, irrational feeling that this man knows what has just happened to her.
5. Having heard about Tess being a favorite of Alec, Joan assumes a marriage, which will materially help the
Durbey¬fields, is in the near future. Joan is shocked and disappointed when she learns otherwise.
6. Her neighbors gossip and whisper in her direction, making Tess feel she is being singled out as one who is
7. Tess performs the baptism on her own, getting her siblings to pray and reading the prayers herself.
8. Tess vows never to go to the parson’s church again.
9. After recollecting a phrase from the book of Genesis in the Bible (Chapter 3, Verse 16: “in sorrow thou
shalt bring forth children”), Tess gives her infant the name “Sorrow.”
10. Tess feels she cannot be happy in a place which knows the particulars of her lost maidenhood. It is best for
her and her family if she moves elsewhere.
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Questions and
Study Questions
1. What distinguishes the Valley of the Great Dairies from Blackmoor Vale, where Tess was raised?
2. What is the relationship between Tess’s inner mood and her outward beauty?
3. What are Tess’s feelings after getting to work milking the cows?
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15:Questions and Answers 43
4. Why does Angel Clare reject a career in the Church?
5. What effect does this rejection have on his family’s plans for his future?
6. Does Angel notice Tess at first?
7. What comes to Angel’s mind after he first pays attention to Tess’s presence?
8. How does Angel’s time at Talbothays change his attitude towards country folk and his overall mood?
9. What rule of the dairy does Angel break for Tess’s benefit?
10. What does Angel think about aristocratic families, according to Dairyman Crick?
1. The Valley of the Great Dairies is larger than, and perhaps not so beautiful as, the valley in which Tess has
so far lived her life.
2. There is an inverse relationship: when her mood is less happy, her beauty is greater; when she is happy, her
looks are more or less ordinary.
3. Getting to work gives Tess a sense of security and confidence. She “appeared to feel that she really had laid
a new foundation for her future.”
4. Affected by the contemporary spirit of rationalism, Angel is unable to believe in the literal truth of Jesus’
Resurrection and Last Judgment as stated in Article Four of the Articles of Religion. Angel concludes that
since he does not believe all of this religion he cannot rightly take orders in it.
5. The Reverend Clare feels that to send Angel to Cambridge for an education would be a waste if he did not
use that education as training for a religious career. Thus, Angel and he agree Angel will not attend
Cambridge. Angel spends some years drifting in search of a suitable vocation.
6. Angel does not notice Tess until several days after her arrival at Talbothays.
7. Angel is struck by the vague thought that he has seen her somewhere before. He says to himself, “What a
fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!”
8. Living with farm workers, Angel begins to see them as individual people rather than as stereotypical
country bumpkins. He becomes less melancholy as he spends more time outdoors.
9. Angel lines up the cows so that Tess will be able to milk her favorites.
10. Dairyman Crick tells Tess that the strongest of Angel’s unorthodox opinions is a hatred of old,
aristocratic families, whom Angel feels have used their best energies and seen their best days in the past.
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Questions and
Study Questions
1. Who are usually the first two people to wake each day at Talbothays?
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19: Questions andAnswers 44
2. What names does Angel call Tess?
3. What is responsible for the Talbothays butter having a bitter “twang”?
4. What is Tess’s opinion of herself as a woman as compared to the other milkmaids?
5. Who carries Tess, Marian, Izz, and Retty across a flooded lane?
6. What quality exhibited by Angel earns him Tess’s respect?
7. How do the milkmaids react when they surmise Angel’s affections are only for Tess, and why have the
milkmaids thought it unlikely Angel would consider them as future wives?
8. Whom is Angel supposed to marry?
9. What technique does Tess use in milking cows?
10. What part of Tess’s body is deemed by Angel to be the most enticing?
1. Angel and Tess, “possibly not always by chance,” are the first two people to arise each day at the
2. Angel calls her Artemis and Demeter, the names of women from Greek mythology. Artemis was the virgin
goddess of the hunt; Demeter was the goddess of fertility.
3. A few garlic shoots in a nearby meadow are responsible for imparting a bitter flavor to the butter recently
produced at Talbothays. The last time this happened, Dairyman Crick thought the meadow was “bewitched”;
now he has arrived at a more plausible hypothesis.
4. Tess realizes that she is “more finely formed, better educated…and more woman than” any of her friends.
5. Angel carries the milkmaids across a flooded lane as they attempt to make their way to church.
6. Tess is impressed by Clare’s sense of self-control and duty in not taking advantage of Retty’s, Marian’s,
and Izz’s attraction to him.
7. The milkmaids’ attitudes are largely of fatalistic resignation. They do not envy Tess because they accept
the fact they never had any real chance of permanently attracting Clare’s attentions. The milkmaids assume
they have no chance with Angel because he is from a different class.
8. The milkmaids have heard that his parents want Angel to marry a woman of his own class, who is a
daughter of a Doctor of Divinity.
9. Tess, like the younger milkmaids, tends to rest her head sideways on the cow, looking out into the distance.
10. It is her mouth that exemplifies Tess’s physical beauty to Angel. “[H]er mouth he had seen nothing to
equal on the face of the earth. To a young man with the least fire in him that little upward lift in the middle of
her red top lip was distracting, infatuating, maddening.”
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Questions andAnswers 45
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29:
Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. How long will Angel remain at Talbothays?
2. What gifts from Mrs. Crick does Angel carry home to his ¬family at Emminster?
3. What changes does his family note in Angel?
4. What qualities are the Clares looking for in a future daughter-in-law?
5. Who is Mercy Chant?
6. How much forethought lies behind the timing of Angel’s first proposal to Tess?
7. What rationale does Tess use to explain this initial refusal?
8. What story about his father does Angel tell Tess?
9. How does Tess react to the story about the woeful rogue Jack Dollop?
10. On what errand does Tess accompany Clare?
1. Angel is planning to stay at Talbothays for about four more months before visiting another farm.
2. Angel carries home two gifts from Mrs. Crick to his family: black-pudding and mead (an alcoholic
beverage made from fermented honey).
3. Angel seems more countrified, carrying himself more like a farmer and less like the scholar his family had
hoped him to be.
4. The Clares want a God-fearing, Christian woman for their son. Mrs. Clare, additionally, is concerned that
her son marry a “lady.”
5. Mercy Chant is the woman Clare’s parents hope and expect he will marry. She is a church-going, devout
girl, the daughter of family friends.
6. Angel had not meant to propose so quickly. His proposal is rather impulsive.
7. Tess seizes on the idea (which is, unknown to her, more than partially true) that she is not upper-class or
learned enough to fit in with Angel’s social circle and his family.
8. To bring the conversation to a more general and less stressful level, Angel tells of a young, dissolute squire
named D’Urberville whom his father tried to convert to a more holy life.
9. Tess is horrified that everyone laughs at the story of Jack Dollop, whose future wife did not tell him all
about her past history before they got married. Tess feels that the story, which echoes her own dilemma, is
quite serious.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Questions and Answers 46
10. On a chilly September night, Angel and Tess ride some milk to the railway station, where it will be
shipped to London.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34:
Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What is Angel’s true attitude toward the decline of renowned families?
2. What is the only modern encroachment upon the pastoral area around Talbothays?
3. Why is Angel cheered by Tess’s revelation that she is a D’Urberville?
4. What premarital advice does Joan give Tess?
5. Does Angel allow news of the marriage to be publicized?
6. Why is Angel forced to punch the man from Trantridge?
7. Do any of Angel’s or Tess’s close relatives attend the wedding?
8. What is Tess’s mood after the ceremony?
9. How do Marian, Izz, and Retty behave after the ceremony?
10. Where do Angel and Tess go for their honeymoon?
1. Angel does not believe that noble blood equals individual virtue, but his emotions are stirred by the story of
a family come down in the world.
2. A railway line is the only modern intrusion upon the area around Talbothays.
3. He feels that “society is slightly snobbish,” and Angel believes Tess’s aristocratic lineage will make her
more respectable and impressive to his family.
4. Joan counsels Tess not to tell Angel about the relationship with D’Urberville.
5. Angel asks the Cricks to keep the wedding date secret and also asks that the banns (announcements of an
upcoming marriage) not be called out in church. He has arranged instead for a marriage license.
6. The man from Trantridge has just stopped himself from completing an insult of Tess. To avenge this
attempted slight, Angel punches the man.
7. No one from either Tess’s or Angel’s immediate family attends the marriage ceremony.
8. After the ceremony, Tess is apprehensive and fearful about the future. Angel tries to coax and joke her out
of this mood.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34: Questions and Answers 47
9. In the hours after the wedding, Retty Priddle has tried to drown herself, Marian got very drunk, and Izz
Huett has fallen into a severe depression.
10. Angel and Tess go to Wellbridge Manor, a converted farmhouse once owned by the D’Urbervilles.
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44:
Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What prevents Angel from going into Tess’s bedroom when he hears her breathing?
2. Why does Tess reject thoughts of suicide?
3. Where does Angel carry Tess in his sleep?
4. To what country does Angel decide to go?
5. What comment does her father make upon hearing that Tess has returned home?
6. Whom does Angel ask to accompany him overseas?
7. What are Tess’s duties on the farm at Flintcomb-Ash?
8. What characters from Phase the First does Tess meet up with again at Flintcomb-Ash?
9. Who takes Tess’s boots?
10. Whom does Tess observe preaching at a local barn?
1. The fearsome, sinister-looking portraits of the D’Urberville ancestors, which remind Angel of Tess, cause
him to turn back.
2. She does not want her action to bring suspicion or discredit upon Angel.
3. He carries her over a footbridge and into an open coffin.
4. Angel decides to go to Brazil, to investigate farming opportunities.
5. He asks if she really got married this time, or if her present relationship with Angel is like her liaison with
6. Angel asks Izz Huett to go to Brazil and live with him, but soon comes to his senses and rescinds the
impulsive offer.
7. Tess must dig up turnip roots so they can be eaten by livestock. Her other duties include trimming and
storing those roots, as well as reed-drawing.
8. The Darch sisters, Car (the Queen of Spades) and Nancy (the Queen of Diamonds), are also working at
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Questions and Answers 48
9. Mercy Chant takes Tess’s boots.
10. Tess spots Alec D’Urberville preaching to a crowd outside a barn as she walks back from Emminster to
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Questions
and Answers
Study Questions
1. Does Tess believe Alec’s conversion?
2. With what does Tess strike Alec?
3. What happens when the rick (or pile) of wheat is nearly ¬levelled?
4. What advice does Angel receive from the cosmopolitan Englishman he meets in Brazil?
5. What are the implications of John’s death?
6. To what figure does Alec compare himself when he surprises Tess in a field?
7. What is the story of the D’Urberville Coach?
8. What generally happens each Old Lady-Day?
9. Where do Tess and her family decide to make a new home?
10. What advice do Izz and Marian give Angel?
1. Tess cannot believe that Alec has truly been converted.
2. Tess hits Alec across the face with her rough leather gloves.
3. The rats which have taken refuge near the bottom of the rick must be caught. This activity sometimes draws
a crowd of observers from the area.
4. Angel is told that he was foolish in rejecting a woman who loves him, and wrong in estimating what Tess
would be as a wife solely by what she had been in the past.
5. The Durbeyfield family had the lease on their cottage only until John died. Thus, the family has to move,
since the owner wants the house for fieldworkers he wishes to hire.
6. Alec compares himself to Satan, the Eternal Tempter. Surprisingly enough, Tess rejects this comparison.
7. The legend of the coach is that those of D’Urberville blood are prone to hear the sound of a non-existent
coach. The legend dates back to an abduction and murder involving a D’Urberville.
8. Laborers and artisans frequently start new jobs in different towns, areas, or farms, and are forced to move.
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Questions and Answers 49
9. Tess and her family move to Kingsbere, the town in which lies the cathedral containing the D’Urberville
family vaults (graves).
10. Izz and Marian urge Angel to take care of his wife because she is being set upon by an enemy.
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Questions
and Answers
Study Questions
1. How is Angel Clare’s health after his journey to Brazil?
2. What causes Angel Clare finally to reveal Tess’s noble blood?
3. What does Angel discover when he reaches Tess’s Marlott cottage?
4. Where does Joan tell Angel to seek Tess?
5. What does Tess say when Angel asks forgiveness for leaving her?
6. How is the death of D’Urberville discovered?
7. What does the bloodstain seem to resemble?
8. What is the location of the lovers’ temporary refuge from the law?
9. At what monument is Tess taken prisoner?
10. What two characters see a sign of Tess’s execution?
1. Angel is weak and emaciated after living through an attack of fever in Brazil.
2. After Mrs. Clare refers to Angel’s wife as a “mere child of the soil,” Angel tells his parents of Tess’s
3. Angel discovers the Durbeyfields have been turned out of the cottage and that a new family is living there.
4. Joan tells Angel that Tess is living at Sandbourne, a fashionable seaside resort. Joan does not know the
exact address.
5. Tess cries “Too late”—she has been won back by D’Urberville.
6. Mrs. Brooks, the landlady, notices a bloodstain and gets a local workman to go inside the room to see what
has happened.
7. Alec’s blood, after leaving his body, takes shape as a large ace of hearts.
8. Angel and Tess take shelter at a mansion called Bramshurst Court that is being offered for rent.
9. Tess is captured at Stonehenge.
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Questions and Answers 50
10. Angel and ‘Liza-Lu see a black flag, the sign of Tess’s execution.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Themes
Fate and Chance
The characters in Hardy's novel of seduction, abandonment, and murder appear to be under the control of a
force greater than they. Marlott is Tess's home and, as the name of the town implies, her lot in life appears be
marred or damaged. As the novel opens, Tess's father, John Durbeyfield, learns that he is the last remaining
member of the once illustrious d'Urberville family. The parson who tells him admits he had previously
"resolved not to disturb [Durbeyfield] with such a useless piece of information," but he is unable to control his
"impulses." This event, which starts Tess's tragedy, seems unavoidable, as do many others in the novel. In
scene after scene something goes wrong. The most obvious scene in which fate intervenes occurs when Tess
writes Angel a letter telling him of her past, but upon pushing it under his door, she unwittingly pushes it
under the rug on the floor in the room. If only he could have found it and read it before they were married. If
only Angel could have danced with Tess that spring day when they first met But for Hardy, like Tess, the
Earth is a "blighted star" without hope. At the end of the novel, after Tess dies, Hardy writes, " 'Justice' was
done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess." Tess was
powerless to change her fate, because she had been the plaything of a malevolent universe.
Culture Clash
During Tess's time, the industrialization of the cities was diminishing the quality of life of the inhabitants of
rural areas. Hardy explores this theme in many ways. The contrast between what is rural (and therefore good)
and what is urban (and therefore bad) is apparent in Tess's last names. When Tess is unquestioningly innocent
she is "of the field," as the name Durbeyfield implies. D'Urberville invokes both "urban" and "village," and
because it belongs to a diminished ancient family, the name is further associated with decrepitude and decay.
It is significant that Angel's "fall" happens when he was "nearly entrapped" by a woman much older than
himself in London. When Angel and Tess leave Talbothays to take the milk to the train, Hardy writes,
"Modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the native
existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it touched had been uncongenial." He uses the
word "feeler" as if the train were a type of insect, indicating his disgust with the intrusion. Later, he calls the
thresher at Flintcomb Ash "the red tyrant" and says "that the women had come to serve" it. As the old ways
fade away, people serve machines and not each other.
Knowledge and Ignorance
Knowledge—whether from formal education or innate sensibility—causes conflict between those who see the
truth of a situation, and those who are ignorant. Tess and Angel feel isolated from their parents, who appear
set in their ways, unable to grasp new ideas. The intellectual gap between Tess, who has gone to school, and
her mother is enormous, but Tess's strong sense of right and wrong widens the gap even more. With Angel, in
particular, Hardy recognizes that true knowledge is not just a product of schooling. He contrasts Angel, who
alone in his family is not a college graduate, with his brother Cuthbert Clare, a classical scholar who marries
the "priggish" Mercy Chant. Although Angel has less formal education, he alone recognizes Tess's worth and
wisely chooses her over Mercy's religiosity. When he rejects Tess after their marriage, he does so because her
confession "surprised [him] back into his early teachings," the strict moralistic beliefs of his father. True
knowledge, therefore, is understanding one another and one's self, and is an essential ingredient for happiness.
The village parson refuses to preside at a Christian burial for Tess's infant because he "was a newcomer, and
did not know her." When Angel leaves Tess, "he...hardly knew that he loved her still."
Natural Law
Hardy's contrast between false knowledge and knowledge that allows insight into the needs and desires of
others, is also seen in his insistence on a natural law that exists independent of humanity. He repeats several
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Themes 51
times in the novel that what has happened to Tess has not offended nature, but merely society. When she
returns pregnant to her home in Marlott from her visit with Alec, she likes to walk in the countryside in the
evening away from the disapproving eyes of the townsfolk, but feels that because of what has happened she
should not enjoy the beauty around her. "She had been made to break an accepted social law," Hardy
observes, "but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly." Later, Hardy
notes that Tess's shame was "a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which had no
foundation in Nature." Victorian society, with its strict code of appropriate and inappropriate social behavior,
was anything but natural.
God and Religion
The "arbitrary law of society" that Hardy criticizes is a product of organized religion. His religious characters
are pious hypocrites, except for Angel's father, who appears to have a good heart. The local parson's
hypocritical attitude forces Tess to bury her child in the section of the cemetery reserved for drunkards and
suicides. Alec's appearance as a preacher is a thinly disguised criticism of religious convictions that are held
for appearances only. After seeing Tess again, Alec's true nature is again revealed. The stifled atmosphere of
the Emminster parsonage where Rev. Clare and his wife live is contrasted with the lively warmth of the
Talbothays dairy. In one of the novel's few humorous incidents, Angel sits down to eat with his parents and
brothers, expecting to feast on the black puddings (a sausage made of blood and suet) and mead Dairyman
Crick's wife had given to him when he left the dairy. On the contrary, he is told that the food has been given to
the poor and the drink would be saved for its medicinal properties and used as needed. His disappointment is
Victorian society preferred to avoid talking about sex, but Hardy believed the elimination of sex from popular
writing produced "a literature of quackery." In Tess sex is often associated with nature; it is presented as a
natural part of life. The scene of Tess's seduction by Alec takes place in The Chase, an ancient stand of woods
that dates from before the time of established societal morality. The valley of the Froom, where Talbothays is
located, is described as so lush and fertile that "it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow
passionate." Tess and Angel fall in love there. Tess's three milkmaid friends toss and turn in their beds,
tortured by sexual desire. "Each was but a portion of the organism called sex," Hardy asserts. Later, when
Tess forgives Angel his "four and twenty hours dissipation with a stranger;" Angel cannot forgive her similar
fault. Hardy condemns such unequal treatment.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Style
Tess of the d'Urbervilles tells the story of a girl who is seduced and has a child who dies. When she meets
another man whom she wants to marry, she is unable to tell him about her past until after their wedding. Her
husband abandons her, and Tess is driven by despair into the arms of her former seducer. When her husband
returns, Tess kills the man she is living with. Hardy uses a third-person ("he/she") narrator with an omniscient
(all-knowing) point of view to tell Tess's story. Thus the narrator not only describes the characters but can
reveal their thoughts Hardy also uses his power as narrator to offer his philosophical insights on the action.
The novel's closing paragraph, which begins " 'Justice' was done, and the President of the Immortals, in
Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess" is a good example of how Hardy comments on the action.
Some critics believe the novel would have been better if Hardy could have remained silent and let the actions
of the characters tell the story. At several spots in the novel, Hardy's narrator loses his omniscient ability and
comments on the story through the eyes of a storyteller of local history. For example, when he tells the story
of Tess and Angel's first meeting, when Angel chooses another girl to dance with him, the narrator says he
does not know the lucky girl's name. "The name of the eclipsing girl, whatever it was, has not been handed
down," he notes.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Style 52
The story takes place in Wessex, an invented territory based on the Dorset countryside where Hardy was born
and which fascinated him his entire life. Hardy gives Wessex its own vitality by depicting the region's folk
customs (such as the "club-walking" in the scene in which we meet Tess), the "folklore dialect" with its
colorful expressions like "get green malt in floor" (meaning to get pregnant), and its superstitions (such as the
story of the d'Urberville coach). Hardy's settings seem to mirror the emotions of his characters. Talbothays
Dairy, where Angel and Tess's love grows, is described as "oozing fatness and warm ferments" and there "the
rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization." Everything about Talbothays drips with
the moisture of fertility and sensuality. In stark contrast to the dairy are scenes at Flintcomb Ash where Tess
goes after she is abandoned by Angel. It is "a starve-acre place" where the fields are "a desolate drab" color
and the work is exhausting and demeaning. The scene of Tess's capture is Stonehenge, the famous prehistoric
ruins on the Salisbury Plain, consisting of large upright stones surrounding an altar stone. Significantly, it is
on this altar stone, thought to have been the site of bloody sacrificial offerings, that Tess lies when the police
come to arrest her for Alec's murder. Through his choice of settings Hardy is able to make additional
comment on the action of the story without further narrative intrusions. By placing Tess on the sacrificial altar
Hardy makes clear that he believes she is an innocent victim. Time of year is also important in the novel as
Hardy uses the changing of the seasons over the period of about five years as representative of the changing
fortunes of his heroine. It is "a particularly fine spring" when she goes to Talbothays; summer as Angel courts
her; and finally winter at Flintcomb Ash where she tries to once more avoid Alec's advances. Time of day is
equally as important: unhappy events usually happen in the evening or night.
The settings in Tess of the d'Urbervilles function as symbols in that their names have meanings more
important than just geographical points. Mar-lott, Tess's birthplace, for example, alludes to her "marred" or
disfigured lot or destiny. Flintcomb Ash, as its name implies, is a hard, barren place. Several characters have
symbolic names as well, including the girl that Angel's parents want him to marry, Mercy Chant, who is
depicted as religious to a fault, and Angel Clare, who seems to be an "angel" to Tess and her three milkmaid
friends, and even plays a harp. The harp, however, we are told is secondhand, and it symbolizes Angel's
imperfect character. Throughout the novel Angel and Tess are symbolically associated with Adam and Eve of
the Bible. In one of the most commented on scenes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Tess approaches Angel, who
is playing his harp, through the wildflowers and weeds in an unkempt garden with an apple tree. As she
approaches, she is unaware of the "thistle-milk and slug-slime" and other disagreeable natural secretions that
coat her skirts and arms. Even though Talbothays may seem like Paradise, the reader understands that this
Garden of Eden is one that has been spoiled. Later in the novel, more references appear that, again, equate
Tess with Eve and Angel with Adam. Alec, on the other hand, appears to Tess as she plants potatoes in a
Marlott field. Amid the fires of burning weeds, he appears holding a pitchfork and he says, "You are Eve, and
I am the old Other One come to tempt you." Tess is also repeatedly identified with a captured bird. Other
important symbolic images in the novel include a bloodstained piece of butcher paper caught in the gate of the
Clare residence as Tess attempts to contact Angel's parents in Emminster, the bloody heart-shaped stain on the
ceiling at "The Herons" after Tess kills Alec in the room above, and the capture of Tess on the stone of
sacrifice at Stonehenge.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Historical Context
Darwin and Social Darwinism
The last fifty years of the nineteenth century saw innovations in science and technology that changed society
to a greater degree than ever before. The theory of evolution popularized by naturalist Charles Darwin in his
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859, had enormous cultural
implications. The idea that humans were descended from apes changed accepted views of religion and society.
It shook belief in the Biblical creation story and, therefore, all religious beliefs. It shocked the Victorians
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Historical Context 53
(those who lived during the reign of the British Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901) to think that their
ancestors were animals. They glorified order and high-mindedness, and thought themselves, as British
subjects, the pinnacle of culture.
To make Darwin's theory more palatable, a complementary theory called Social Darwinism was formulated.
Proponents of this social philosophy argued that Darwin's ideas of "survival of the fittest" also applied to
society. The existence of lower classes could be explained by their inferior intelligence and initiative in
comparison to that of the upper classes. Angel refers to this theory when he expresses his surprise that there is
no "Hodge" amongst the workers at Talbothays. "The conventional farm-folk of his imagination—personified
in the newspaper-press by the pitiable dummy known as Hodge—were obliterated after a few days'
residences." He is surprised to discover in Tess "the ache of modernism." For Tess, Angel, and others of their
era, the God of their childhood was no longer able to answer their questions. Darwin's book ended forever the
security of a society that could offer unalterable answers to every question; like Angel, many began to put
their faith in "intellectual liberty" rather than religion.
Industrialization and Rural England
When the railroad came to the area of southwest England where Tess was born, the area still led an isolated,
almost medieval existence. The railroad made it easier for country folk looking for work to leave the towns
where their families had lived for centuries. The railroad also fostered new types of agricultural use of the
land. Large dairies such as Talbothays, where Tess worked as a milkmaid, could flourish only because the
rapid trains allowed transport of fresh milk to heavily populated areas. When Tess and Angel take milk cans
from the dairy to the nearest train station, Tess reflects that the next morning in London "strange people we
have never seen" will drink the milk. The trains converted a closely-knit society into one where consumers
never met the producers and where strangers lived together in larger and larger groups.
England entered an agricultural depression in the 1870s, brought on in part by the completion of the first
transcontinental railroad across the United States in 1869. (This made it easier and cheaper for American
goods to complete with British goods.) Rural workers unable to get jobs, flocked to British cities, causing
urban population to double between 1851 and 1881. Less profitable farming, meant farms had to become
larger in order to turn a profit, so smaller farms were bought out by larger farm owners. Machines, like the
steam threshing machine at Flintcomb Ash, made agricultural workers less in demand. The large landowners
felt no connection with the families living on their land, so to not renew their leases—as was done to Tess's
family on Old Ladies Day—was a question of economic good sense, nothing more. Hardy criticized this
practice in "The Dorsetshire Labourer," an essay published in Longman's magazine in July 1883 quoted in
Martin Seymour-Smith's biography of Hardy. "But the question of the Dorset cottager," Hardy notes, "here
merges in that of all the house less and landless poor and the vast topic of the Rights of Man."
Women in Victorian Society
In Tess Hardy considers both the "Rights of Man" and, with equal sympathy, the rights of women. Women of
the Victorian era were idealized as the helpmate of man, the keeper of the home, and the "weaker sex."
Heroines in popular fiction were expected to be frail and virtuous. The thought that Hardy subtitled his novel
"A Pure Woman" infuriated some Victorian critics, because it flew in the face of all they held sacred. For
while the Victorian era was a time of national pride and belief in British superiority, it was also an age
best-remembered for its emphasis on a strict code of morality, unequally applied to men and women. The term
Victorian has come to refer to any person or group with a narrow, uncompromising sense of right and wrong.
Women were not only discriminated against by the moral code, but they were also discriminated against by
the legal code of the day. Until the 1880s married women were unable to hold property in their own name;
and the wages of rural workers would go directly to the husband, even if he failed to provide anything for his
family. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 granted the right to a divorce to both men and women on the
basis of adultery but, in order to divorce her husband, a women would have to further prove gross cruelty or
desertion. Women who sought divorce for whatever reason were ostracized from polite society. Women, like
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Historical Context 54
children, were best "seen, but not heard," or as Seymour-Smith observes, "The Victorian middle-class
wife...was admired upon her pedestal of moral superiority only so long as she remained there silently."
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Critical Overview
Tess of the d'Urbervilles was a great success, marred only by controversy over its frank treatment of sex and
its pessimistic view of life. After a little over a year, more than twenty thousand copies of the book had been
sold. Undoubtedly, sales were inflated by the curious who wanted to know what the controversy was about.
Several foreign language editions were printed as well. While a popular success, critical opinion was mixed,
with commentary ranging from highest praise to deepest contempt. Both the Anthenaeum and the London
Times highly recommended the novel, but for different reasons. A critic in Anthenaeum not only found the
novel "well in front of Mr. Hardy's previous work," but also praised the novelist's creation of Tess, "a
credible, sympathetic creature." The same critic, however, did regret Hardy's excessive "use of scientific and
ecclesiastical terminology." A reviewer in Times was moved by the story and praised Hardy's effective
criticism of Victorian moral standards. On the negative side, a critic in Saturday Review, while identifying
Tess as the most true to life character in the novel, found the other characters "stagy" or "farcical." He
objected to what he saw as Hardy's excessive concern with descriptions of Tess's appealing physical attributes
and deemed the story improbable. The critic admitted that even with a poor story, good technique could have
saved the novel, but "Hardy, it must be conceded, tells an unpleasant story in a very unpleasant way." Public
sentiment was such, however, that the those who disliked the novel felt outnumbered. In Longman's
magazine, Andrew Lang found the characters in Tess to be "far from plausible," the story "beyond...belief,"
and Hardy's use of "psychological terminology," unskillful, but resigned himself to the fact that "on all
sides—not only from the essays of reviewers, but from the spoken opinions of the most various kinds of
readers—one learns that Tess is a masterpiece."
According to novelist and critic Albert Guerard, Hardy critics before 1940 seemed to chide Hardy for many of
the same points of style that later reviewers found admirable. That year the Southern Review celebrated the
centennial of Hardy's birth with the publication of an issue devoted entirely to the author. Earlier critics such
as Lang and Lionel Johnson, who wrote the first book length critique of Hardy, praise his ability to describe
the country folk of Wessex, while condemning his fatalistic view of life. Guerard states in his introduction to
Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays, that, beginning with the essays in the Southern Review, modern
reviewers enjoy Hardy because of his pessimism; they find Hardy's "mismatched destinies, the darkness of the
physical and moral landscapes, the awareness of dwindling energies, and the sense of man's appalling
limitations... peculiarly modern." One Southern Review contributor, Donald Davidson, discovers in the
fatalism of the novel, as well as in Hardy's controversial closing paragraph about "The President of the
Immortals," reflections of Hardy's interest in the folk ballads of his native Dorset Davidson contends that
fateful coincidences are comparable to the supernatural occurrences that frequently occur in the ballads and
that Hardy's closing paragraph functions merely as a closing statement to the novel much like a traditional
ballad ending. In Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad, John Holloway disregards Hardy's use of coincidence,
saying that the scenes that might seem unrealistic are out of necessity so "in order that their other dimension
take meaning, their relevance to the larger rhythms of the work, shall transpire." In Tess the "larger rhythm,"
as Holloway sees it, is in repeated identification of Tess with a hunted animal and a Darwinian vision that
takes Tess, much like a developing species, from formation, through adaptation, to ultimate extinction.
Dorothy Van Ghent notes in The English Novel: Form and Function, that "in the accidentalism of Hardy's
universe we can recognize the profound truth of the darkness in which life is cast, darkness both within the
soul and without"
For Guerard, "Hardy the novelist is a major transitional figure between the popular moralists and popular
entertainer of Victorian fiction and the serious, visionary, often symbolizing novelists of today." Other critics
also place Hardy in the doorway to modernism. Harold Bloom maintains that this is especially evident in Tess
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Critical Overview 55
of the d'Urbervilles. "It can be asserted that Hardy's novel," he writes in his introduction to Thomas Hardy:
Modern Critical Views, "has proved to be prophetic of a sensibility by no means fully emergent in 1891.
Nearly a century later, the book sometimes seems to have moments of vision that are contemporary with us."
In particular, critics have reevaluated the novel m the light of new emphasis on women rights and feminist
issues. As Hardy biographer Martin Seymour-Smith concludes, Hardy's novel remains one of riveting validity
even one hundred years after publication. "Tess was a woman who stabbed her husband. Then, as now, in the
eyes of most judges, there is one law for men who kill their wives, and quite another for women who kill their
husbands." For Seymour-Smith, Tess and her pitiful treatment by the men in her life are at the core of
discovering the true importance of the work. "The question raised by the novel is this: what would a woman
be if she were released from male oppression and allowed to be herself?"
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Character Analysis
Angel Clare
Angel is the youngest son of Rev. James Clare and his wife. He appears in the opening chapters of the book as
a young man with upper-class bearings that dances with Tess's friends as they celebrate their May festival. He
demonstrates immediately the differences between him and his brothers; while they hurry home to their
studies, he pauses to dance and admire Tess's beauty. The two meet again at Talbothays Dairy where Angel is
in apprenticeship for being a gentleman farmer. Although his father and his two older brothers are members of
the clergy, Angel wants no part of their orthodox Christianity. To Tess, he is "educated, reserved, subtle, sad,
[and] differing." He idealizes Tess as a "fresh, virginal daughter of nature," and asks her to marry him. When
she hesitates, he asks again and again, and when she puts off a wedding date, he insists. At Talbothays he and
Tess are portrayed as Adam and Eve where in the early mornings they notice "a feeling of isolation, as if they
were Adam and Eve," and Angel plays his secondhand harp in a garden complete with an apple tree. Three of
the other milkmaids at the farm worship Angel from afar and despair at the thought that Angel will never be
theirs. Although he defends his choice of her for a wife before his parents, he seems not really to accept her as
she is, and is secretly elated when she tells him she is of the d'Urberville family. His true feelings are revealed
when, after their marriage, he confesses to "eight-and-forty hours' dissipation with a stranger" which Tess
promptly forgives. He, however, is unable to for give Tess when she confesses what had happened with Alec.
He gives her some money but leaves her to seek his fortune in Brazil His total lack of concern for Tess is seen
when he happens upon one of the milkmaids from the farm, Izz Huett, and asks her to go with him to Brazil.
He changes his mind, however, when she tells him no one could love him as much as Tess. When he returns
to England from Brazil, he is finally able to accept her as his wife. The two enjoy a few days of happiness
together before Tess is captured. After her death, he follows her wishes and marries her sister.
Tess Durbeyfield
Hardy's heroine is the daughter of John and Joan Durbeyfield of Marlott in Wessex; the eldest of seven
children. The subtitle to the novel, "A Pure Woman" emphasizes her purity, but critics debate whether a
woman who is seduced by one man, marries another one who abandons her, and then kills the first, could be
considered "pure." But, purity aside, she is, with rare exception, praised by critics who admire her steadfast
hope under adversity. To some, like Donald Davidson in the Southern Review, she is like a figure from a folk
ballad "the deserted maiden who murders her seducer with a knife," while to others, including Irving Howe in
Thomas Hardy, she is "a girl who is at once a simple milkmaid and an archetype of feminine strength." To
Angel she is "a regular churchgoer of simple faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent, graceful to a degree,
chaste as a vestal, and, in personal appearance, exceptionally beautiful." She has "passed the Sixth Standard in
the National School," and thinks about becoming a teacher. While she is unimpressed with the news that she
has noble ancestors, she feels so much guilt when she unwittingly causes the death of the family horse, that
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Character Analysis 56
she follows her parents' wish that she "claim kin" at the nearby d'Urberville estate. She is shown as a hard
worker, working in the fields after her baby is born, working at the dairy, and, later, working in the rutabaga
fields at Flintcomb-Ash. But for all her strength, she is like a trapped bird. In her simplicity, she hies to do
what is right, but her well-meaning actions often are futile. Her effort to help her family by going to the
d'Urberville estate, ends with her seduction; when she tries to tell Angel about what happened between her
and Alec, she is unable to until after the wedding. When Alec keeps pursuing her she tells him, "Whip me,
crush me...I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim—that's the law." Later, she murders Alec in
desperation, knowing that if he had only gone away when she told him to, she could have been happy with
Angel. Before she is taken away by the police, she asks Angel to marry her sister, Liza Lu. As the book ends,
she is hung for Alec's murder.
Alexander Stoke-d'Urberville
In his early twenties when he first appears in the novel, Alec is the son of the late Mr. Simon Stoke, who
added "d'Urberville" to his name to conceal his real identity when the family moved from southern England.
He seems immediately taken with his pretty "Coz," when she comes to the estate to "claim kin," and after she
leaves, he sends a letter purported to be from his invalid mother to Tess's mother asking that Tess come to
work for her. Tess tries to avoid him, but one night he follows her when she goes to a fair and market at a
neighboring town. He cajoles her into accepting his offer of a ride in his buggy, because she fears to be out so
late by herself. Taking advantage of the lateness of the hour and her fatigued condition, Alec seduces her. The
next time he appears in the novel, he is a preacher, converted by Angel's father. When he and Tess
accidentally meet, Alec's softer side is revealed as he seems to be particularly touched when Tess tells him for
the first time of their child. Alec becomes once again obsessed by her and pursues Tess to Flintcomb-Ash
where she reveals to him that she is married. She refuses to have anything to do with him, but when she sees
him again he no longer wears his parson's frock. Instead he is described as a villain from a melodrama,
twirling a "gay walking cane." He belittles Tess for being faithful to her absent husband. Infuriated, she hits
him in the face with a leather glove. Although they part, when she returns to Mar-lott to care for her ailing
mother Alec pursues her again. As she works in the family garden, in the light of fires of burning weeds, he
appears as a devil with a pitchfork in hand and says to her, "You are Eve, and I am the old Other One come up
to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior animal." His constant reproaching her for believing in Angel, his
bestowal of gifts upon her family, and the family's desperate situation when Tess's father dies and the family
is forced to leave their home, all contribute to Tess's final agreement to live with him as his wife. The pair go
to Sandbourne, a fashionable resort area, where Tess finally kills him by stabbing him with a knife.
Other Characters
Mercy Chant
The only daughter of a friend and neighbor of the Clares, Mercy Chant, is the girl Angel Clare's parents hope
he will marry. She is religious and holds Bible classes, but appears cold and unyielding. She ends up married
to Angel's brother, Cuthbert.
Cuthbert Clare
A classical scholar, and a fellow and dean of his college at Cambridge, Cuthbert Clare is Angel's eldest
brother. He seems to think of nothing but his academic work, and has little patience for those not sharing his
interests. He marries Mercy Chant.
Felix Clare
Felix is the middle boy in the Clare family, being Angel's older brother, and Cuthbert's younger brother. As
curate at a nearby town, he is as much a churchman as his older brother is an academician. When Tess hears
Felix and his brother talking in a derogatory fashion about her and Angel's marriage, she decides not to try to
Tess Durbeyfield 57
contact Angel's parents for help. This, the narrator says, is "the greatest misfortune of her life."
Reverend James Clare
Angel's father, Reverend James Clare, is a respected minister who is known for "his austere and Calvinist
tenets." He and his wife live a frugal existence in Emminster. Although he seems cold, "the kindness of his
heart was such that he never resented anything for long." His compassion is demonstrated when, although he
is disappointed that Angel doesn't want to go into the ministry like the rest of the family, he pledges to help
his son financially in whatever he does by giving him the money he had saved to pay his university expenses.
He and his wife hope that Angel will marry Mercy Chant, the daughter of their neighbor, but are resigned to
Angel's choosing a wife for himself. He asks only that she be from "a truly Christian family."
Mrs. Clare
Angel's mother, identified only as Mrs. Clare, helps her husband with his duties as a parson. She believes in
living a simple, faith-filled life, but unlike her husband, appearances are important to her. When Angel speaks
of wanting to marry, Mrs. Clare wants to know if the woman in question is a "lady."
Dairyman Crick
See Richard Crick
Mrs. Crick
Mrs. Crick looks after the help at Talbothays Dairy. She is somewhat snobbish—she considers herself "too
respectable" to milk the cows herself. She shows her kind heart when she sends some black pudding and a
bottle of mead home with Angel when he visits his parents.
Richard Crick
A master-dairyman. Dairyman Crick runs Talbothays Dairy and is portrayed as a warm, jovial man who is
friendly with his help.
Car Darch
Described as "a dark virago," and called "Queen of Spades," Car Darch was the receiver of Alec d'Urberville's
attentions until Tess appeared. Tess decides to go with Alec the night he seduces her, partially because she is
afraid of what the jealous Car Darch might do to her.
Abraham Durbeyfield
Tess's nine year old brother, Abraham, accompanies her on her early morning ride delivering the bee hives
after her father becomes too drunk to take them. In an important scene, the two look up at the stars and Tess
explains that most are "splendid," but some are "blighted." Then, Abraham asks, "Which do we live on—a
splendid one or a blighted one?" Tess answers. "A blighted one." Soon after this, Prince, the family horse dies
in an accident.
Eliza-Louisa Durbeyfield
Tess's sister, Eliza-Louisa, is twelve-and-a-half when the novel opens. Tess describes Liza-Lu as "gentle and
sweet, and she is growing so beautiful," when she asks Angel to marry Liza-Lu after she dies.
Jack Durbeyfield
See John Durbeyfield
Joan Durbeyfleld
Tess's mother, Joan Durbeyfleld, is a simple woman, proud of the beauty that her daughter has inherited from
her and anxious to have her "claim kin" at the d'Urberville estate. She has the common peasant attitude of
accepting whatever fate comes her way, but is superstitious and consults the Compleat Fortune-Teller for
Other Characters 58
advice. When Tess is distraught over her seduction and pregnancy, Joan tells her daughter. "Well, we must
make the best of it, I suppose. Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!"
John Durbeyfield
Tess's father, John Durbeyfield, works as a peddler and a wagon driver. He is greatly impressed with the news
that he is the last descendant of the once noble d'Urbervilles. He immediately orders a carriage to take him
home and proceeds to celebrate for the rest of the evening, bringing about the scene of Prince's death.
Durbeyfield seems to do as little work as possible, and the news that he is connected with nobility seems like
a good reason to do even less. When Tess returns to Marlott to look after her sick mother, she finds her father
ready to send all antiquarians in England a letter asking for a donation to keep the family going as a national
treasure. He suffers a heart attack, and dies soon afterwards.
Farmer Groby
Farmer Groby is the owner of Flintcomb-Ash farm, where Tess finds work after Angel leaves her. A cruel
man, he is particularly harsh with Tess because of an incident in which Angel punched him because he
thought the farmer had insulted her. Groby's temperament seems to match the harshness of the land he keeps
and serves as a contrast to the joviality of Talbothays Dairy.
Izz Huett
"The pale, dark-eyed" Izz Huett is one of the three other milkmaids besides Tess who fall in love with Angel
Clare at Talbothays Dairy. After Angel leaves Tess, he asks Izz to go with him to Brazil, but her honesty
betrays her when she tells Angel that Tess loved him more than anyone else. Hearing this, Angel tells her he
can no longer take her with him.
See Eliza-Louisa Durbeyfield
The "jolly-faced" Marian is the eldest of the three milkmaids besides Tess who fall in love with Angel at
Talbothays Dairy. She is despondent when Angel and Tess marry, and soon afterward loses her job at the
dairy because she starts drinking heavily. Her friendship with Tess is strong, however, and when she finds out
that Tess is separated from her husband, she asks her to come and work with her at Flintcomb-Ash.
Retty Priddle
The "auburn-haired" Retty Pnddle is the youngest of the three milkmaids besides Tess who fall in love with
Angel at Talbothays Dairy. When Tess and Angel get married, she tries to drown herself but is rescued.
Queen of Spades
See Car Darch
Mrs. Stoke-d'Urberville
A blind invalid, Mrs. Stoke-d'Urberville is Alec's mother and lives with him at the estate at Tantridge. A note
written by Alec in her name, asking for someone to help her with her birds, brings Tess to work at the family's
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Essays and Criticism
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Essays and Criticism 59
Validity of Tess as a Pessimistic work
Tess of the d'Urbervilles was Thomas Hardy's penultimate novel, published in 1891 when he was fifty-one
years old (Jude the Obscure, his final novel, appeared four years later). After Jude, Hardy returned to his
original love, poetry, producing eight volumes of verse during the last thirty years of his life. In his
two-volume autobiography (credited to his second wife, Florence Emily Hardy, but written predominantly by
Hardy himself), he claimed to have taken up the writing of novels "under the stress of necessity," and to have
"long intended to abandon [it] at some indefinite time." It was the troubles he experienced with the publication
of Tess, however, that "well-nigh compelled him, in his own judgement at any rate," to abandon novels. These
troubles arose chiefly around his attempts to have the novel published serially (that is, in regular installments
in a newspaper or magazine).
The cultural climate in England at the time was one of widespread prudery and intolerance, and "family
values" were being promoted as the medicine to combat a perceived spread of sexual decadence, according to
Elaine Showalter in Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle. As periodicals were by and
large seen as family organs, some of the "adult" scenes in Tess were deemed inappropriate. Thus the novel
was turned down by two periodicals. It was accepted by a third only after Hardy, with what he described in his
autobiography as "cynical amusement," agreed to some significant changes. The novel was restored to its
original form when it was published as a book later that year. Ironically, it proved to be perhaps the most
popular of his novels with readers, while it was widely, though not universally, admired by critics.
Hardy viewed the writing of novels as being closely akin to the writing of poetry. He aimed, he said in his
autobiography, "at keeping his narratives...as near to poetry in their subject as the conditions would allow."
By "near to poetry" he meant, more or less, "close to natural life," a condition to which he contrasted the
production of "stories of modern artificial life and manners showing a certain smartness of treatment."
Certainly Hardy is concerned in Tess with portraying the natural world: among the most memorable scenes in
the novel are those in which he evokes the fields and woods of his beloved Wessex. Yet some critics have
argued that on the whole Tess is hardly "close to natural life." Hardy's contemporary Andrew Lang wrote in a
review in Longman's that by his own "personal standard," "Tess is not real or credible," and he characterized it
as a "morally squalid fairy tale." Robert Louis Stevenson complained in a letter to fellow writer Henry James
that Hardy's novel was "not alive, not true,...not even honest!" In Nineteenth-Century Fiction, modern critic
Hugh Kenner dismissed Hardy's "situations" as "melodrama" and his characters as "phases in the sociology of
A quick look at many of the incidents in Tess, particularly in the second half of the novel, lends at least some
weight to these criticisms. The response of Tess' fellow dairymaids to her wedding Angel Clare; the scene in
which Angel sleepwalks with Tess in his arms; the fact that Farmer Groby, Tess' employer at Flintcomb-Ash,
was a man with whom Angel and she had had a previous run-in; and the fact that Alec d'Urberville's brief
conversion to Primitive Methodism (unlikely in itself) is precipitated by a confrontation with Angel's father,
as well as other events, all stretch the boundaries of credibility.
Critics have more generally agreed in their assessment of Hardy as a pessimistic writer. There is ample
evidence in Tess to support such an assessment. It is clear, for example, that while Hardy honors the practice
of truly pious people like Angel Clare's parents, he recognizes little if anything in their creed to support its
claims to possessing an exclusive hold on truth. In this Hardy was very much in step with his time: the
nineteenth century had witnessed the waning of the Christian faith in the face of mid-century discoveries in
geology (Charles Lyell) and biology (Charles Darwin), and the rise of comparative linguistics, which had
begun treating the Bible "scientifically," as an historical document like any other Hardy does locate a
universal principle in nature, yet his Wessex is not the deified nature of poet William Wordsworth and many
of the other English Romantics. At times, Hardy challenges Wordsworth directly, as when he says, "Some
Validity of Tess as a Pessimistic work 60
people would like to know whence the poet (Wordsworth) whose philosophy is in these days deemed as
profound and trustworthy as his song is breezy and pure, gets his authority to speaking of 'Nature's holy
plan.'" Nature for Hardy is instead an arena of conflict between "the two forces...at work...everywhere, the
inherent will to enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment." In such an arena, "the call seldom
produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving;" and we are constantly made to
distinguish between the world as we perceive it and the world as it might be said to be in and of itself, and
thus to acknowledge finally how relatively insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
Hardy himself objected to the charge of pessimism. While the bitterness or depression many readers feel after
reading Tess may seem to make such an objection indefensible, audiences would do well to remember that
there are many moments of joy in the novel. The "circumstantial will against enjoyment" is only half of the
equation. And if in the end Tess is the victim of circumstance, the "sport" of the "President of the Immortals,"
those earlier moments of joy have not been without their value. Indeed, her final fugitive tromp through the
countryside with Angel, a sort of extended moment, a suspension of the last turning of the wheels of "Justice,"
is spiritually recuperative to such a degree that when she is captured, Tess says simply and quietly, "I am
ready." Thus perhaps redemption is, in Hardy's view, available to us after all, though not in the places we
might have expected (e.g., Christian faith) Rather, it is to be found in these moments—"moments of vision"
(the title of his fifth volume of verse), "impressions," to be experienced and valued, in the words of Hardy's
contemporary Walter Pater in Hardy: A Biography, "simply for those moments' sake."
Source: Stan Walker, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1998.
Accident and Coincidence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles
The plot of Tess of the d'Urbervilles turns on a succession of accidents and coincidences. Again and again
Tess's tragic fate depends on some disastrous mischance. One or two of these may seem possible—after all is
full of mischance—but heaped on top of each other they produce a final effect of gross improbability. Does
this matter? Are we to see them as blemishes on an otherwise fine novel; or are they such a pervasive part of it
that they must either condemn it or form part of its success.
At its face value the novel suggests not only that these accidents and misfortunes are included by intention but
that it is the author's view that life does give human beings just such a succession of kicks downhill to
disaster. The refrain 'where was Tess's guardian angel?' is more than an attack on the conventional Christian
idea of a benevolent and protecting Almighty; it implies the exact opposite. Our problem, if we don't share
this view, is that we see Tess as not so much the victim of Fate, nor as the victim of her own character and
circumstances, but as Hardy's personal victim.
It is he who appears to make her suffer her improbable sequence of accidents. In criticizing this effect I do not
imply that probability is a criterion by which we should universally or invariably judge. A novel sets its own
standards, and no one, to take an obvious example, expects the same 'realism' from Kafka as from Tolstoy.
The problem with Hardy's novels is that in most other ways they set up expectations of a quite conventional
realism. It is against this self-established standard that the plot of Tess, as much as that of any of his novels
which came before it and which it otherwise excels, at first sight appears equally to offend.
I say at first sight because my purpose is to suggest a way of looking at Tess which sees its many accidents
and coincidences neither as blemishes, nor as valid samples of Hardy's neither credible nor particularly
interesting view of the part played in life by a persecuting fate; if encouragement were needed to search for
such a view it would be provided by Tess's many admirers who seem undismayed by its improbabilities,
though these begin on the very first page and feature regularly throughout the book.
Accident and Coincidence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles 61
Setting the scene, and necessary if there is to be any novel at all, is the coincidence of names:the rich north
country manufacturer Stoke who buys his way into the southern landed gentry has arbitrarily chosen from a
British Museum list of defunct families the name d'Urberville to add to his own, and this is the original name
of the family from which Tess Durbeyfield is distantly descended. The story opens with Parson Tringham
telling Tess's father about his aristocratic ancestors, which till now he has not known about. John Durbeyfield
puts two and two together and makes five, concluding not only that he is related to the Stoke-d'Urbervilles but
that he probably belongs to the senior branch.
Up to this point all could be said to be reasonable enough. If it is an accident it is one which sooner or later
seems possible if not probable. In any case, even a realistic novelist may, without offending against his own
criterion of probability, precipitate his story with such a single event, then stand back to demonstrate with no
further interference the inevitable consequences.
There seems no such inevitability about the next kick downhill which Fate gives Tess. Driving her father's
cart to market at night because he is too drunk to go, she is run down by the mail coach, and Prince, the horse
on which his livelihood as a haggler depends, is pierced to the heart by the mail coach's shaft. Tess's guilt at
what she has done persuades her to agree to her mother's plan that she should visit the nouveaux riches Stoke
d'Urbervilles in the hope of making a prosperous marriage.
Here she meets the young and buckish Alec d'Urberville; once again a flavour of managed accident surrounds
her seduction by him. Her quarrel, late at night in open country, with the drunken Trantridge village women
provides her with just the motive which makes plausible her acceptance of Alec's offer of a pillion ride when
he spurs up at a convenient moment. Criticism is only disarmed by the splendid dramatic quality of this scene,
set as it is with sinister omen and diabolic detail.
At Talbothays, where Tess goes a few years later and after the death of her child to become a milkmaid, who
should she meet but Angel Clare, the young man who, in a more insidious but surer way, is to lead her to her
tragic end.
From this moment the plot turns on Angel's plan to marry Tess, and on whether or not Tess can bring herself
to confess her sinful past with Alec d'Urberville before their wedding day. Though she can't tell Angel to his
face she at last makes herself write to him and late at night pushes the letter under his door. Only on her
wedding eve does she discover that Fate has struck again: she has accidently pushed it under the carpet as well
as the door and Angel has never received it.
Her confession after her marriage leads to their separation, Angel to go to Brazil, Tess to return to Marlott. He
has left her an allowance but a succession of minor misfortunes—in particular the neediness and imprudence of
her parents—leaves Tess destitute by the time winter comes. Angel has told her that she should go to his
parents if she is ever in need, but Fate, which has already put him personally beyond her reach, closes this
escape too. She walks to Emminster and finds Angel's father, the vicar, out. Before she can try his door again
Angel's brothers discover her walking boots which she has hidden on the outskirts of the village and Miss
Mercy Chant bears them off for charity. Tess's courage fails her and she turns for home. "It was somewhat
unfortunate," Hardy writes, "that she had encountered the sons and not the father, who, despite his
narrowness, was far less starched and ironed than they, and had to the full the gift of Christian charity."
Though we may read this as a confession of clumsy plotting, that is far from Hardy's intention. His tone is
ironic. The world may consider that Tess here suffered an improbable and untypical stroke of ill luck, but
Hardy, better informed about the working of Fate, knows that such accidents are in fact typical and probable.
Meanwhile Tess has taken on the humblest and most oppressive sort of agricultural labour: work on arable
land The description of her grubbing up swedes for cattle food, creeping across the icy uplands of Flintcomb
Ash in drenching rain, is one of the most memorable in the book. And who should turn out to be her employer
Accident and Coincidence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles 62
but a farmer who knows her past and whom Angel once struck on the jaw when he insultingly hinted at it
during the last days before their marriage. Inevitably he takes his revenge on Tess.
Alec d'Urberville's conversion to evangelical Christianity—coincidentally performed by Angel Clare's
father—now gives Alec the chance to harass Tess again and, more important, weakens her power to resist him.
The scene is set for her final disastrous return to Alec. The various letters Angel ultimately receives from her
and from others reach him at moments which time his return exactly too late to save her from the murder of
Alec and ultimately the gallows.
Though this is only a brief selection of the blows which Fate stakes Tess, I hope it is sufficient to show that
the plot of the novel turns on a succession of disastrous accidents which far exceeds realistic probability But
as in all such abstracts, vital elements which seem unrelated to the book's plot have been left out, in particular
one to which Hardy persistently returns even though his attention is overtly directed towards Tess and her
personal tragedy. This is the equally sure and tragic destruction of the traditional society of the English village
Twice he shows us mechanized agriculture at work; on the first occasion he describes how the reaping
machine, with its red arms in the shape of a Maltese cross, gradually reduces the standing corn.
Rabbits, hares, snakes, rats, mice, retreated into a fastness, unaware of the ephemeral nature
of their refuge, and of the doom that awaited them later in the day when their covert shrinking
to a more and more horrible narrowness, they were huddled together, friends and foes, till the
last few yards of upright wheat fell also under the teeth of the unerring reaper, and they were
every one put to death by the sticks and stones of the harvesters
It needs little intuition to see that Hardy is here describing by parallel the fate of the human inhabitants of such
a village as Marlott. Humans themselves are the victims on the second occasion. Tess and her fellow workers
who feed the monstrous itinerant threshing machine at Flintcombe Ash, with its diabolical master....
Apart from the implications of such incidents, Hardy as author continually comments on the changing and
deteriorating condition of rural Wessex. The May Day dance, for example, where we first meet Tess, is "a gay
survival from Old Style days when cheerfulness and May were synonyms". The refreshments which the rural
labourers of Trantridge drink on Saturday nights are "curious compounds sold to them as beer by the
monopolizers of the once independent inns". Still more important, it is the tenant farmers, deprived of their
mdependence, who are 'the natural enemies of bush and brake', and to whom Tess falls victim at the lowest
point of her decline at Flintcombe Ash.
And it is because Tess's family are victims of another aspect of this destruction of rural independence that she
is finally exposed once more to Alec d'Urberville. As soon as her father dies her mother loses her right to their
cottage, and the family must join all those other labourers' families which take to the road on Lady Day, their
worldly goods loaded on to hired waggons, to hunt for new jobs and homes. Oppressed by responsibility for
her family, she no longer feels she has the moral right to resist his advances when they could bring with them
the financial help she so badly needs.
Indeed, a good many of Tess's misfortunes turn out, on closer inspection, to have economic causes which
seem almost as important as the random vengefulness of Fate to which Hardy attributes them. It is only a
short step from realizing this to wondering whether Hardy is not—consciously or unconsciously—concerned
throughout the book not so much with Tess's personal fortune as with her fate as a personification of rural
Just why Tess should be an appropriate figure to play this part is clearly explained in Chapter II, in a passage
which holds the clue to the book's social message....
Accident and Coincidence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles 63
At once much that appeared arbitrary becomes logical. The destruction of the haggler's daughter no longer
seems a cruel mischance, but inevitable. And many more of the accidents she suffers, which on a personal
level seem so excessive and gratuitous, become those which her class must suffer.
The mail coach which runs down the haggler's cart and kills his horse is the vehicle which will destroy the
livelihood of all hagglers, whether they are drunkards like John Durbeyfield, or sober and hard-working.
Deprived of their former independence, the children of this village middle class will be driven downwards
into just the sort of menial labouring jobs that Tess is forced to take. Her downward progress from milkmaid
to arable worker of the lowest sort is the path ahead for all of them.
Tess is of course many other things as well. She is, for example, the embodiment of "nature" and in particular
of natural womanhood. "Women whose chief companions are the forms and forces of outdoor Nature retain in
their souls far more of the Pagan fantasy of their remote forefathers than of the systematized religion taught
their race at later date." And however much she may stand for a principle or a passing society, she remains a
lost and frightened human being in a world which misleads then persecutes her. Scenes such as the splendid
but appalling one in which she baptizes her dying child in her bedroom wash basin may indeed seem to
establish her tragedy too clearly as a personal one for the interpretation I am suggesting.
But such a view of Tess becomes less and less satisfactory as Hardy inflicts on her a less and less probable
sequence of accidental and coincidental misfortune. It is only when she is seen to some extent also to be a
daughter of the doomed rural England which Hardy loved, and in particular of that class m the rural
community from which Hardy himself came and which was once "the backbone of the village life" that her
fate no longer seems arbitrary and author-imposed but inescapable.
Source: Thomas Hinde, "Accident and Coincidence in Tess of the d'Urbervilles," in The Genius of Thomas
Hardy, edited by Margaret Drabble, Alfred A. Knopf, 1976, pp 74-79
Repetition as Imminent Design
The episodes of Tess of the d'Urbervilles take place in a line, each following the last. Ultimately they form a
row traced out in time, just as Tess's course is traced across the roads of southern England. Each episode in
Tess's life, as it occurs, adds itself to previous ones, and, as they accumulate, behold, they make a pattern.
They make a design traced through time and on the landscape of England, like the prehistoric horses carved
out on the chalk downs. Suddenly, to the retrospective eye of the narrator, of the reader, and ultimately even
of the protagonist herself, the pattern is there. Each event, as it happens, is alienated from itself and swept up
into the design. It ceases to be enclosed in itself and through its resonances with other events becomes a sign
referring to previous and to later episodes which are signs in their turn. When an event becomes a sign it
ceases to be present. It becomes other than itself, a reference to something else. For this reason Tess's
violation and the murder must not be described directly. They do not happen as present events because they
occur as repetitions of a pattern of violence which exists only in its recurrences and has always already
occurred, however far back one goes.
In one way or another most analyses of prose fiction, including most interpretations of Tess of the
d'Urbervilles, are based on the presupposition that a novel is a centered structure which may be interpreted if
that center can be identified. This center will be outside the play of elements in the work and will explain and
organize them into a fixed pattern of meaning deriving from this center. Hardy's insistent asking of the
question "Why does Tess suffer so?" has led critics to assume that their main task is to find the explanatory
cause. The reader tends to assume that Hardy's world is in one way or another deterministic. Readers have,
moreover, tended to assume that this cause will be single. It will be some one force, original and originating.
The various causes proposed have been social, psychological, genetic, material, mythical, metaphysical, or
Repetition as Imminent Design 64
coincidental. Each such interpretation describes the text as a process of totalization from the point of departure
of some central principle that makes things happen as they happen. Tess has been described as the victim of
social changes in nineteenth-century England, or of her own personality, or of her inherited nature, or of
physical or biological forces, or of Alec and Angel as different embodiments of man's inhumanity to woman.
She has been explained in terms of mythical prototypes, as a Victorian fertility goddess, or as the helpless
embodiment of the Immanent Will, or as a victim of unhappy coincidence, sheer hazard, or happenstance, or
as the puppet of Hardy's deliberate or unconscious manipulations.
The novel provides evidence to support any or all of these interpretations. Tess of the d'Urbervilles, like
Hardy's work in general, is overdetermined. The reader is faced with an embarrassment of riches. The
problem is not that there are no explanations proposed in the text, but that there are too many. A large group
of incompatible causes or explanations are present in the novel. It would seem that they cannot all be correct
My following through of some threads in the intricate web of Hardy's text has converged toward the
conclusion that it is wrong in principle to assume that there must be some single accounting cause. For Hardy,
the design has no source. It happens. It does not come into existence in any one version of the design which
serves as a model for the others. There is no "original version," only an endless sequence of them, rows and
rows written down as it were "in some old book," always recorded from some previously existing exemplar.
An emblem in the novel for this generation of meaning from a repetitive sequence is that red sign Tess sees
painted by the itinerant preacher THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT. Each episode of the novel, or
each element in its chains of recurrent motifs, is like one of these words. Each is a configuration which draws
its meaning from its spacing in relation to the others. In the strange notation of the sign-painter, this gap is
designated by the comma. The comma is a mark of punctuation which signifies nothing in itself but
punctuation, a pause. The comma indicates the spacing in the rhythm of articulation that makes meaning
possible. Each episode of the novel is, like one of the words in the sign, separated from the others, but when
all are there in a row the meaning emerges. This meaning is not outside the words but within them. Such is the
coercive power of pre-established syntactic sequences, that a reader is able to complete an incomplete pattern
of words. Tess completes in terror and shame the second sign the painter writes: THOU, SHALT, NOT,
COMMIT, and the reader knows that the relation of 'Liza-Lu and Angel will repeat in some new way the
universal pattern of suffering, betrayal, and unfulfilled desire which has been established through its previous
versions in the book.
Tess wanders through her life like a sleepwalker, unaware of the meaning of what she is doing. She seeks a
present satisfaction which always eludes her until her final happiness in the shadow of death. Her damnation,
however, slumbereth not. This "damnation" lies in the fact that whatever she does becomes a sign, takes on a
meaning alienated from her intention. Hardy affirms his sense of the meaning of Tess's story not by
explaining its causes but by objectively tracing out her itinerary so that its pattern ultimately emerges for the
reader to see.
Hardy's notion of fatality is the reflex of his notion of chance. Out of the "flux and reflux—the rhythm of
change" which "alternate[s] and persists] in everything under the sky" ... emerges as if by miracle the pattern
of repetitions in difference forming the design of Tess's life. Such repetitions produce similarity out of
difference and are controlled by no center, origin, or end outside the chain of recurrent elements. For Tess of
the d'Urbervilles this alternative to the traditional metaphysical concept of repetition emerges as the way the
text produces and affirms its meaning.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles, like Hardy's other novels, brilliantly explores the implications for an understanding
of human life of a form of repetition which is immanent. Such a sequence is without a source outside the
Repetition as Imminent Design 65
On the basis of this definition of immanent repetition, it is possible to identify what Hardy means by the first
half of his definition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles as "an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of
things." The artistic form is the novelist's interpretation of the events. This interpretation does not falsify the
events, but it imposes meaning on them by reading them in a certain way, as a sentence may have entirely
different meanings depending on how it is articulated. The meaning is there and not there. It is a matter of
position, of emphasis, of spacing, of punctuation.
Attention is insistently called to the act of reading, in the broad sense of deciphering, throughout Tess. One
way is the many examples of false interpretation which are exposed by the narrator. These include the comic
example of the bull who thought it was Christmas Eve because he heard the Nativity Hymn, or the more
serious dramatization of Angel's infatuation with Tess and his interpretation of her as like Artemis or like
Demeter..., or the description of Tess's "idolatry" of Angel..., or Tess's false reading of nature as reproaching
her for her impurity. All interpretation is the imposition of a pattern by a certain way of making
cross-connections between one sign and those which come before or after Any interpretation is an artistic
form given to the true sequence of things. Meaning in such a process emerges from a reciprocal act in which
both the interpreter and what is interpreted contribute to the making or the finding of a pattern....
To add a new interpretation to the interpretation already proposed by the author is to attach another link to the
chain of interpretations. The reader takes an impression in his turn. He represents to himself what already
exists purely as a representation. To one purity the reader adds a subsequent purity of his own. This is Hardy's
version of the notion of multiple valid but incompatible interpretations....
In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in any case, the narrator always presents not only the event with its "objective"
elements, but also his interpretation of the event. At the same time he shows his awareness that the
interpretation is "purely" imposed not inherent, except as it is one possibility among a limited repertoire of
others. An example would be the "objective" description of the sun casting its beams on Tess. This is first
interpreted as like the act of a god, but that interpretation is then ironically undercut: "His present aspect ...
explained the old time heliolatries in a moment."... The narrator's act in not only describing the true sequence
of things but also giving it artistic form is shown as what it is by its doubling within the text in the
interpretative acts of the characters. The narrator always sees clearly what is "subjective" in Tess's reading of
her life, but this insight casts back to undermine his own readings These multiple acts of interpretation are not
misinterpretations in relation to some "true" interpretation. Each telling, even the most clear-sighted one, is
another reading in its turn. The bare "reality" Angel sees when he falls out of love with Tess is as much an
interpretation as the transfiguration of the world he experiences when he sees her as a goddess and the world
as irradiated by her presence.
The power of readings to go on multiplying means that Tess's wish to be "forgotten quite" cannot be fulfilled.
The chain of interpretations will continue to add new links. Tess can die, but the traces of her life will remain,
for example in the book which records the impression she has made on the narrator's imagination. Her life has
a power of duplicating itself which cancels the ending her failure to have progeny might have brought. The
life of her sister will be, beyond the end of the book, another repetition with a difference of the pattern of
Tess's life. Beyond that, the reader comes to see, there will be another, and then another, ad infini-tum. If the
novel is the impression made on Hardy's candid mind by Tess's story, the candid reader is invited to receive
the impression again in his turn, according to that power of a work of art to repeat itself indefinitely to which
the novel calls attention in a curious passage concerning Tess's sensitivity to music. Here is a final bit of
evidence that Hardy saw the principle of repetition, in life as in art, as impersonal, immanent, and
self-proliferating rather than as controlled by any external power, at least once a given repeatable sequence
gets recorded in some form of notation or "trace." The "simplest music" has "a power over" Tess which can
"well-nigh drag her heart out of her bosom at times."... She reflects on the strange coercive effect church
music has on her feelings: "She thought, without exactly wording the thought, how strange and godlike was a
composer's power, who from the grave could lead through sequences of emotion, which he alone had felt at
Repetition as Imminent Design 66
first, a girl like her who had never heard of his name, and never would have a clue to his personality."... In the
same way, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, as long as a single copy exists, will have its strange and godlike power to
lead its readers through some version of the sequences of emotion for which it provides the notation.
Source: J. Hillis Miller, "Tess of the d'Urbervilles- Repetition as Imminent Design," in his Fiction and
Repetition' Seven English Novels, Harvard University Press, 1982, pp 116-42.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Suggested Essay Topics
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4
1. One of Hardy’s concerns in the novel is to describe the customs and manners of England’s rural life,
which he felt were being lost to industrialization and modernization. What descriptions and incidents in the
first four chapters build a picture of rural life in the late nineteenth century?
2. What parts do Fate, Chance, and sheer accident play in the beginning of Tess’s life story?
3. How is Tess contrasted to her parents?
4. How does Hardy make Tess appear as a representative example of her native environment and her gender?
Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11
1. Research the historical phenomenon of newly rich families buying titles or adopting aristocratic names in
Victorian England. How common were such practices? How closely in accordance with these historical facts
is Hardy’s fictional presentation of Simon Stoke?
2. Thomas Hardy frequently indicates which of his characters he morally approves of by describing their
attitude to hard work. Pick three characters from Phase the First and analyze how Hardy judges them by
portraying their differing attitudes to work and labor. Devote one paragraph to each character and include
several quotes from the novel in each paragraph. Write an introductory paragraph with an appropriately
worded thesis statement and end the essay with a conclusion restating your findings and assessing their
3. At two important moments in Chapters Five and 11, Hardy departs from describing events and shifts into
an omniscient narrative voice which makes philosophical pronouncements. How do these shifts of narrative
voice add to our experience of the novel?
4. Literary critics frequently describe characters as being either round or flat. Round characters are constantly
changing, evolving, maturing, presenting new, unpredictable aspects to readers. Flat characters are defined
more in terms of several focused and unchanging characteristics, making them easily memorable but not,
perhaps, so interesting for the reader to spend time with. (The English novelist E. M. Forster formulated this
distinction in his book Aspects of the Novel, published in 1927, a number of years after Hardy wrote Tess.)
Assess whether Tess, Alec D’Urberville, Angel Clare, or Joan Durbeyfield are round or flat characters. Can a
flat character compel our interest?
5. How many times does the thought of Prince’s death affect Tess’s behavior? Describe how Tess constantly
shows responsibility for the well-being and reputation of her family.
Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15
1. Hardy presents two characters associated with organized religion. What criticisms does he make of these
characters and of their religion?
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Suggested Essay Topics 67
2. Trace and analyze the references to death in this Phase. What does Hardy mean to suggest through these
3. How do the landscapes presented in the end of Chapter 13 and throughout Chapter 14 reflect Tess’s state
of mind? Discuss the details through which Hardy builds informative, and psychologically appropriate
portraits of these natural and agricultural environments.
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19
1. Research the Victorian reaction against organized religion, especially as embodied in the Articles of Faith
of the Church of England. How typical were Angel Clare’s misgivings about religion and religious faith?
2. Hardy writes of Angel, “[H]e made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known but
darkly—the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers,
trees, waters, and mists, shades and silence, and the voices of inanimate things.” Citing and analyzing several
passages descriptive of nature, argue that this quotation names those things Hardy most wants us to perceive
and appreciate as we read the novel.
3. How does Angel misjudge and misperceive Tess even as he first begins to be attracted to her?
Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24
1. Trace the connections Hardy suggests between the natural environment at Talbothays, the summer season,
and the growing love of Angel and Tess.
2. Analyze Hardy’s language in this passage: “The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the
hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them
by cruel Nature’s law—an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired….The differences which
distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this passion, and each was but portion of one organism
called sex.” What connections is Hardy assuming between women and emotionality, and between women and
Nature? How could you use this passage to argue that Hardy’s view of Nature is not straightforwardly
positive but rather complex and ambiguous?
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29
1. Compare Angel Clare to his brothers. How do their achievements and limitations underline both what is
questionable and what is admirable about Angel’s character?
2. Does Hardy want us to think well of Angel Clare’s parents? (That is, do their good qualities outweigh their
bad ones?) Provide evidence on both sides and reach an appropriate conclusion.
3. Secure a copy of Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (first published, 1869). Read Chapter IV for
Arnold’s account of Hellenism (right-thinking, free play of the mind) versus Hebraism (rightness of conduct,
severity of conscience). By the time Hardy wrote Tess, these labels were well established in England. Now
explain Angel’s remark that it might have been better if Greece and not Palestine had served as “the source
of the religion of modern civilization.” How well does Reverend Clare embody Hebraism and Angel
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34
1. Readers have criticized Hardy for inserting too many unlikely coincidences in the plots of his novels. Is the
episode of Tess’s letter being mistakenly placed under the rug excessively arbitrary or unlikely? If Hardy
does depart from the limits of a strict realism here, is it for a valid artistic purpose? Would Tess’s tragedy
have been prevented if Angel had read the letter?
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Suggested Essay Topics 68
2. Tess’s desire, Hardy states, is not so much to be a wife as it is to live in a state of “perpetual betrothal,”
eternally promised, but never married to Angel Clare. Is there a feminist insight here about the unworkability
of marriage and its basic unfairness to women? To a woman, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a
“perpetual betrothal” as compared to a traditional marriage? What other moments in Phase the Fourth show
that Hardy is aware of how women suffer in society?
3. Hardy intimates throughout these chapters that the love Angel has for Tess may be insufficient, limited,
flawed. How does Hardy suggest the limits to Angel’s love, and to his character as a whole, without losing
his readers’ basic sympathy for and approval of Clare?
4. “Phase the Fourth is the most tragic segment of this novel because it is here that the distance between Tess
and happiness seems the shortest.” Justify this statement.
5. Trace the influence of the D’Urberville family over the events of these chapters. How does Tess’s ancestry
recur as a determining factor in her life?
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44
1. Examine how the sexual double standard (the idea that men but not women are allowed sexual freedom)
influences the characters and their actions in Phase the Fifth. Explain Hardy’s title for this Phase: “The
Woman Pays.”
2. Analyze the metaphors which compare Tess to a trapped animal. How do these metaphors increase our
sympathy for Tess? How do they further reinforce the connection between Tess and Nature?
3. Determine where this Phase fits on the pyramid of dramatic structure: antecedent action (what has taken
place before the story proper starts), inciting moment (the catalyst which creates conflict and thus interest in
the events to follow), rising action (the development of suspense and interest), climax (the most intense
moment defining the protagonist’s future), reversal (falling action, the playing out of previously established
conflicts), or denouement (the tying up of loose ends). Defend your decision.
4. Analyze Angel’s relationship with his parents. How do they both help and hinder Angel? What determines
their behavior toward him? Why does Angel feel he must lie to them about the extent of his separation from
Tess? Hardy indicts Angel for being a “slave to custom and conventionality”: is this merely another way of
stating the inevitable fact that he is the product of his particular upbringing?
5. In Chapter 40, Angel cries out, “O Tess! If you had only told me sooner, I would have forgiven you!” Is
this the truth (making Tess again a victim of circumstances and bad timing), or is Hardy ironically showing us
Angel attempting to deceive himself?
Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52
1. Alec D’Urberville shows new aspects to his character in Phase the Sixth. Analyze how we judge Alec less
harshly after this Phase—how does he show himself to be a better, more considerate, less purely villainous
person than we might have believed him to be earlier? Are his actions toward Tess ever motivated by love?
2. “And yet these harshnesses [of individual men to individual women and vice versa] are tenderness itself
when compared with the universal harshness out of which they grow; the harshness of the position towards
the temperament, of the means towards the aims, of to-day towards yesterday, of hereafter towards to-day.”
Define these “harshnesses” in your own words, and then try to account for the presence of this sentence in the
novel. Does Hardy detract from his novel by inserting such philosophical generalities? Or do they make
profound sense against the background of the novel’s plot?
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Suggested Essay Topics 69
3. How do larger economic and demographic forces affect the social class occupied by the Durbeyfield
4. A protagonist is defined as “the leading character or principal figure in a narrative.” The form and
sequence of a novel arise from the delineation of the growth and complexity of a protagonist. Demonstrate
that this Phase has two protagonists, Tess and Angel.
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59
1. Phase the Seventh acquires an aura of inevitability because its events are so heavily influenced by the past.
The past is a recurrent force which determines what happens in the present. Write about the connections
between past events and the incidents of Phase the Seventh. Analyze the many parallels and repetitions Hardy
inserts in the conclusion of his book. For example: Angel meets Tess at a lodging house called The Heron,
while their courting went on in early morning surrounded by herons (Phase the Third); Angel asks Tess,
unsuccessfully, for forgiveness, just as Tess did of Angel; Angel’s casual remark in Phase the Fifth about
Alec being still alive has apparently stayed in Tess’s mind and compelled her to kill Alec. Does Hardy
persuade us of the idea that the past cannot be escaped? How do these connections lend unity to the novel?
2. Analyze the levels of symbolism and patterns of reference that culminate in the Stonehenge scene.
3. Explain the significance of the final lines: “ ‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in
Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the D’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their
tombs unknowing.” Points to explain would include the meaning of the quotation marks around “Justice,”
the interpretation of the phrase “President of the Immortals,” and the significance of the book’s final
reference to the extinct and useless D’Urberville nobility. You may also compare this line to Hardy’s 1891
version, which substitutes “Time, the Arch-satirist” for “President of the Immortals.”
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Sample Essay Outlines
The following paper topics are based on the entire book. Following each topic is a thesis and sample outline.
Use these as a starting point for your paper. Each major point in your essay should refer to at least one quote
from the novel, properly introduced and explained.
Topic #1
Hardy defines tragedy as “the worthy encompassed by the inevitable” and adds that the tragedies of immoral
and worthless people are not of the best. Interpret Tess of the D’Urbervilles as a tragedy, using these ideas.
I. Thesis Statement: Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a tragedy because it depicts the destruction of a morally
worthy person by inevitable and unalterable forces outside human control.
II. Tess Durbeyfield is continually depicted as innocent, conscientious, and morally pure
A. The novelist repeatedly uses words such as innocent and pure to describe Tess
B. Her thoughts are always to help her family, not herself
C. She is a creature of Nature
D. Tess is a morally pure woman, despite her actions
1. Hardy’s subtitle shows his evaluation of her
2. Both Angel and Alec accept Tess as pure
3. Tess’s actions of submitting to Alec and later killing him are motivated only by need and desperation
4. Tess shows more moral understanding than anyone else in the novel
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Sample Essay Outlines 70
III. Tess is brought down by a variety of forces which neither she nor anyone else would have been able to
A. Tess is victimized by people more powerful than she
B. The world is malignantly organized to deny human happiness
C. Historical and social forces render Tess vulnerable to exploitation
IV. Tess’s downfall is partially caused by what she cannot help, her ancestry as a D’Urberville
A. She has inherited a slight incautiousness of character from her family
B. She is being paid back for all the ways the ancient D’Urbervilles victimized others when they were
C. The decline of the D’Urberville family is irreversible
V. Hardy depicts Tess’s downfall as one in a series of tragedies representative of human history
A. As Tess says, her life is just like that of thousands before and after her
B. References to classical and Shakespearean tragedy show Tess as related to other tragic victims
Topic #2
Analyze the role of religion and religious faith in the book. How are the characters motivated by their
religious beliefs or doubts? What does Hardy wish to say about the practice of religion?
I. Thesis Statement: Thomas Hardy depicts the characters of Tess of the D’Urbervilles to suggest that moral
purity is not necessarily related to religious orthodoxy.
II. The two most important and morally worthy characters experience religious doubts
A. Tess admits she does not know the Lord yet
1. She cannot accept that God would want her to feel so sinful
B. Angel goes through the religious doubts of his age
III. The best thing about Angel’s parents is their charity, not their Calvinist earnestness
A. Reverend Clare is warm-hearted
B. Mrs. Clare is able to sympathize with her son
IV. Tess’s moral purity is not related to her churchgoing
A.Tess is pure and innocent because of her innate nature and the strength of her conscience
V. Hardy presents several characters associated with religion in a harsh, satiric light
A. The parson is a man of little charity
B. Mercy Chant inadvertently becomes another victimizer of Tess
C. Reverend Cuthbert and Felix Clare are limited people
D. Alec’s conversion shows that even the sinful can appear to be religious
Topic #3
Show how Hardy’s descriptions of landscapes and the environment convey his idea of the centrality of
Nature to human life.
I. Thesis Statement: To Thomas Hardy, Nature is an ever-present aspect of life.
II. The happenings at Talbothays are an outgrowth of the fertile natural environment
A. Descriptions of weather and growth are linked to Tess’s courtship
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Sample Essay Outlines 71
III. Every Phase of the novel contains references to natural landscapes and natural facts
A. Phase the Second contains a scene of reaping wheat
B. Tess must walk 15 cold and muddy miles back from Emminster to Flintcomb Ash without her boots
C. Flintcomb Ash is desolate and barren
IV. Tess is a field woman, pure and simple
A. She is most happy when doing outdoor work
V. Hardy’s metaphors frequently rely on natural elements
A. When Tess is upset, the sky looks like a wound
B. Tess’s situation is paralleled to that of dying pheasants
Topic #4
The one key factor in Tess’s downfall is her gender. Her tragedy is a woman’s tragedy.
I. Thesis Statement: Tess’s tragedy is a direct result of the lack of social and personal opportunities afforded
to women in a male-dominated country.
II. She has internalized the lack of self-esteem forced upon women
A. She speaks of wishing to die
B. She speaks of the shame of ever having been born
C. She is excessively deferential to Clare. She wishes to think of him as her lord and master and even to die
for him
D. She internally accepts that she is guilty for having committed the same action as did Clare
III. Tess is continually victimized by men who assume they have the right to control or judge her
A. The powerful Alec is able to have his way with her
B. Angel punishes her because he fails to see the reality of who Tess is
C. Minor characters such as the parson and Farmer Groby harass Tess
IV. As a poor peasant woman, Tess has few opportunities to make a living and explore the world
A. Her lack of education cuts off her knowledge of other opportunities in the world
B. She must implore men like Alec and Angel to be her protector
C. Her family exploits her to help out their finances
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Compare and Contrast
1890s: The rural population was forced to move toward urban areas as low prices and industrialization of farm
equipment made smaller farms less profitable.
Today: Family-run farms are disappearing across the United States at the rate of several hundred a year,
primarily due to large corporations controlling food production and pricing.
1890s: The advent of rail transportation from rural to the teeming cities of the late nineteenth century made
dairy farming more attractive than crop farming, since production was less weather dependent, costs were
lower, and an ever-expanding customer-base was within easy reach.
Today: While small dairies still exist, increasing production costs and lower prices have forced many dairy
farmers to sell out to larger concerns, with an average dairy in the western United States milking one to two
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Compare and Contrast 72
thousand cows.
1890s: Women could not divorce their husbands, even for having an affair, unless they could prove their
husbands had treated them cruelly or abandoned them.
Today: All fifty states permit couples to divorce by mutual consent, although in twenty, pro-family groups
have proposed, and in several cases passed, legislation for making divorce harder to obtain when children are
1890s: State supported education was provided for all children, with education being compulsory to age
Today: Increasing dissatisfaction with public schooling has led to exploration of alternative educational
methods, including independent public charter schools and 1.2 million students in home-schools.
1890s: Teacher, rural worker, domestic helper, and nurse were some of the positions open to women seeking
financial independence; those who chose nontraditional career paths, such as medicine, were ridiculed.
Today: Although on the average women still earn less per hour than male workers, unlimited career
opportunities are now available to them; in 1997, Madeleine Albright became the first woman to ever serve as
U. S. Secretary of State, eliminating yet another barrier to advancement for women.
1890s: Women who bore children out of wedlock were considered "ruined"; they and their children could
hope for little more than social marginalization.
Today: Single parenting has become commonplace, with more than 30% of U.S. children being born to
fathers and mothers who are not married.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Topics for Further Study
Imagine Tess's story taking place in today's U. S. society and analyze how her story would have ended up
differently or the same, refer to specific scenes from the novel in your analysis.
Research late 19th century British laws then, playing the role of either the prosecuting or defense attorney,
plan your defense or prosecution of Tess for the murder of Alec d'Urberville using details from the novel.
Compare American novelist William Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County with Hardy's Wessex,
examining the personality and physical description of each literary environment.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Media Adaptations
Tess of the d'Urbervilles was adapted as a film directed by Roman Polanski, starring Nastassja Kinski, Leigh
Lawson, and Peter Firth, 1980. The film received many Academy Award nominations, including one for best
picture, it won Oscars for best cinematography, best art direction and best costume design. It is available from
Columbia Tristar Home Video.
It was also recorded on audio cassette, narrated by Davina Porter, published by Recorded Books, 1994.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Topics for Further Study 73
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: What Do I Read Next?
Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca's widely-performed lyrical folk tragedies, Blood Wedding (1933),
Yerma (1934), and The House of Bernarda Alba (1936), dealing with sexual repression and tradition in rural
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert's 1857 best-selling satirical novel of Emma Bovary's search for romantic
love in provincial France.
Norwegian poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen's 1890 drama Hedda Gabler, about a woman who tries to live
her life through a man, but finds it impossible to submerge her own desires and play the role of a housewife.
Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native (1878) in which Hardy explores the conflict between the forces of
nature, represented by the Egdon Heath, and the area's inhabitants.
Edith Wharton' s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of manners The Age of Innocence (1920), set in the New York
City of the 1870s, examines the negative effects of social convention on three members of society's elite.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Bibliography and Further Reading
Harold Bloom, "Introduction," in Thomas Hardy Modern Critical Views, Chelsea House, 1987, pp 1-22.
Butler, Lance St. John, Thomas Hardy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Donald Davidson, "The Traditional Basis of Thomas Hardy's Fiction," in Hardy A Collection of Critical
Essays, edited by Albert J. Guerard, Prentice-Hall, 1963 pp.
Gittings, Robert. Young Thomas Hardy. London: Heinemann, 1975.
Gregor, Ian. The Great Web. London: Faber, 1974.
Guerard, A. J. (ed.). Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
Albert J. Guerard, "Introduction," in his Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1963, pp 1-9.
Florence Emily Hardy, "Background Hardy's Autobiography," in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy,
2nd edition, edited by Scott Elledge, Norton, 1979, pp. 343-63.
Hardy, F. E. The Life of Thomas Hardy. London: Macmillan, 1962.
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Norton Critical Edition, WW Norton, 1979.
John Holloway, "Hardy's Major Fiction," in Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Albert Guerard,
Prentice-Hall, 1963, pp 52-62.
Martin Seymour-Smith, Hardy A Biography, St. Martin's Press, 1994
Review of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in Anthenaeum, January 9, 1892.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: What Do I Read Next? 74
Review of Tess of the d'Urbervilles in Times (London), January 13,1892.
Dorothy Van Ghent, "On Tess of the d'Urbervilles," in Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by
Albert J. Guerard, Prentice-Hall, 1963, pp 77-90.
For Further Study
Byron Caminero-Santangelo, "A Moral Dilemma: Ethics in Tess of the d'Urbervilles," in English Studies, Vol
75, No 1, January, 1994, pp. 46-61. Caminero-Santangelo begins by noting that the world of Tess is a
post-Darwinian one in which ethics have no basis in nature. He then goes on to argue that the novel's "ethical
center" can be located in a "community of careful readers" who will recognize the injustice in the novel and
emulate Tess in challenging it.
Peter J. Casagrande, Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Unorthodox Beauty, Twayne's Masterwork Studies, 1992. In
this book-length study, Casagrande argues that Hardy, in exploring the question of why innocents suffer, finds
beauty in Tess's suffering at the same time that he deplores that suffering.
Graham Handley, in Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Penguin, 1991. Handley analyzes Tess in terms
of "narrative structures." He gives particular weight to the roles of the characters in the novel, and also
examines the novel in terms of such things as its "figurative patterns" and "themes."
Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy, Macmillan, 1967. Howe provides a lengthy discussion of Tess, including a
comparison between Hardy's novel and Bun-yan's Pilgrim's Progress.
Lionel Johnson, "The Argument," in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy, 2nd edition, edited by Scott
EUedge, Norton, 1979, pp. 389-400. A portion of poet Lionel Johnson's acclaimed early analysis of Hardy's
fiction in which he examines Hardy's attitude toward Nature, his depiction of the Wessex country folk, and his
fatalistic view of life.
Hugh Kenner, "J. Hilhs Miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire," in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 26,
No. 2, September, 1971, pp. 230-34. In the course of reviewing a book by scholar-cntic J. Hilhs Miller on
Hardy, Kenner provides his own perspective on Hardy's merits and importance.
Andrew Lang, review of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in Longman's, November, 1892. An early review in which
the critic finds little to praise in the novel.
Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, University of California Press, 1980. A landmark
study focusing mainly on the visual arts in Renaissance Italy, and first published in 1873.
Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle, Viking Penguin, 1990.
Showalter's study discusses gender issues in 1890s Britain and draws several parallels with the U.S in the
Peter Widdowson, editor Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Macmillan, 1993. A collection of essays meant to
represent a response to Hardy's novel from a range of critical positions, in particular Marxism, feminism, and
Terence Wnght, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Macmillan, 1987. This short book is divided into two parts. In the
first, Wnght surveys various critical approaches to the novel, which he divides into five basic categories In the
second, he attempts to synthesize what he considers to be the best elements of all these approaches into a
single reading of the novel.

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