evening late in May, John Durbeyfield is walking home to Marlott, a village
in Blackmoor Vale, when he encounters Parson Tringham on a gray mare. When
they exchange greetings, the parson addresses Durbeyfield as Sir John.
Durbeyfield, a common peddler and carter who describes himself as a haggler,
is not used to receiving such respect. It was the third time in a month
that Tringham had addressed him as Sir John. .......Curious,
Durbeyfield asks Tringham why he keeps addressing him that way. The minister,
a devoted antiquarian, says he discovered during research on county history
that the Durbeyfields descended from a noble family, the d'Urbervilles.
One of the d'Urbervilles was a French knight who traveled to England with
William the Conqueror. .......“Branches
of your family held manors all over this part of England," Tringham says. .......Durbeyfield
replies, “And here have I been knocking about, year after year, from pillar
to post, as if I was no more than the commonest feller in the parish." .......Later,
on the way to a country dance, Durbeyfield’s teenage daughter, Tess, runs
into her father. Fancying himself a nobleman, he is singing about his ancestry
while riding in a carriage he rented from the Pure Drop Inn to take him
the rest of the way home. When the other girls with Tess laugh at him,
Tess defends him, saying he is tired and has decided to ride home “because
our own horse has to rest to-day." .......At
the dance is an outsider, Angel Clare, a handsome student of aristocratic
bearing. Along with his older brothers, Cuthbert and Felix, he is on a
walking tour of Blackmoor. Because Cuthbert and Felix do not wish to associate
with common country girls, they continue their walk. .......To
the dismay of Tess, Angel chooses another girl as a dancing partner. But
when he leaves to catch up with his brothers, his eyes meet hers, and he
is sorry that he had not seen her sooner. .......That
evening, Tess’s father reveals to his family that the Durbeyfields come
from noble stock, the d'Urbervilles. And what a boon! For now Mr. and Mrs.
Durbeyfield can prevail upon a wealthy family of that name in a neighboring
village, Trantridge, to provide financial assistance for the indigent Durbeyfields.
Tess is singled out to do the asking. She might even match up with an eligible
d'Urberville bachelor while performing her task. If she marries money,
riches will flow to the Durbeyfield household. Such a prospect gladdens
old Jack Durbeyfield, who loathes hard work. .......Meanwhile,
the family must transport beehives to the retail market in Casterbridge
more than twenty miles away. To get there on time for the morning commerce,
their wagon must leave Marlott by 2 a.m. Because John Durbeyfield has gone
to Rolliver’s alehouse to celebrate his dubbing, Tess agrees to make the
journey with her little brother, Abraham, as company. .......On
the way, Tess falls asleep and the wagon veers into the wrong lane. A mail
cart tearing along in the opposite direction strikes the Durbeyfield horse,
Prince, with its projecting shaft and kills it. It is a terrible blow to
the Durbeyfields, for the horse was the backbone of their livelihood and
a beloved member of the family. When a knacker and tanner offers to buy
Prince’s carcass, John Durbeyfield refuses his offer, saying, “When we
d'Urbervilles was knights in the land, we didn't sell our chargers for
cat's meat." .......With
all the family gathered around, the Durbeyfields bury Prince on their land
in a grave dug by John. There are tears. There is also the question of
what they will do next. Mrs. Durbeyfield has the answer: Tess will go to
the d'Urbervilles at Trantridge to claim kinship and seek help. Tess does
not dispute the plan–intimidating as it seems–because it was she who caused
the death of Prince. .......After
walking to the town of Shaston, she takes a van to Trantridge, then walks
to a forest district known as the Chase, on the edge of which is the estate
of the d'Urbervilles. Actually, they are the Stoke-d’Urbervilles. What
Tess does not know as she approaches the estate with trepidation is that
these d'Urbervilles are not true d'Urbervilles. When the head of the family,
Simon Stoke–now deceased–moved to southern England, he had plenty of money
he had earned in honest business (some said as moneylender) in the north.
However, he lacked a name that would identify him and his family as patricians
of long standing. After conducting research in the British Library on extinct,
ruined, or otherwise deactivated noble families, he decided to affix the
name of one of them, d’Urberville, to his own. Hence, the wealthy Stoke
family became the wealthy, aristocratic Stoke-d’Urberville family. Alec,
the son of Simon, greets Tess on her arrival. .......“Well,
my Beauty, what can I do for you?" .......Tess,
embarrassed, identifies herself as a d’Urberville and says she has come
to visit her relatives, hinting obliquely that she seeks help: “Mother
said we ought to make ourselves beknown to you–as we’ve lost our horse
by a bad accident, and are the oldest branch of the family." .......Alec,
quite taken with the striking young lady, escorts her on a tour of the
grounds and then lunches with her in a tent. Afterward, he questions her
about herself, her family, and the loss of the horse. He then concludes
the visit, saying, “I must think if I can do something for you. My mother
must find a berth [job] for you." .......On
her trip back to Marlott, Tess stays the night in Shaston and resumes her
journey the next day. Upon her return home, she reads a letter from Trantridge
that arrived ahead of her. It announces that Mrs. Stoke-d’Urberville wishes
to hire Tess to tend poultry. Tess would receive a room and a liberal wage. .......After
Tess’s mother urges her daughter to accept the offer, Tess takes the job.
Alec Stoke-d'Urberville picks her up in his cart for the trip to Trantridge.
Along the way, he makes advances toward her. When she resists, he promises
to keep his hands to himself. .......At
Trantridge, her job is to tend fowls housed in an old thatched cottage.
One of her tasks is to take hens and roosters to Mrs. d’Urberville, who
is blind, so she can feel and identify them. Another of her tasks is to
whistle to the widow’s bullfinches. .......“We
teach ‘em airs that way," Mrs. d’Urberville says. .......Alec,
meanwhile, continues to pursue Tess over the next several months. One September
evening, she is returning with other girls from a dance when Car Darch
(called the Queen of Spades) gets syrup on her dress from a broken container
in a grocery basket she is taking home. There is laughter. Tess contains
herself for a while, then joins in. At that moment, Darch becomes angry
and picks a fight with Tess. The other girls–including her sister, Nancy,
called the Queen of Diamonds–back Darch. When they close in on Tess, Alec
happens by on his horse and rescues her. .......Riding
behind him on the saddle, she becomes weary. After a full day’s work, she
had walked three miles to the dance and a mile back before Alec arrived.
The trauma of the confrontation with the girls had taken its toll too.
Alec takes advantage of the situation, riding past the turnoff to his estate
during a gathering fog, then presses Tess to yield to him. To make her
feel obligated to him, he tells her he has bought her father another horse
and the children some toys. .......The
fog thickens and they lose their way. Alec and Tess dismount. He gives
Tess his coat, then walks off to find a landmark and get his bearings.
Some distance away, he recognizes a fence and a road, then returns and
finds Tess asleep. He kneels to her and decides to take what he wants.
(Although the narrator does not say whether Alec rapes Tess or whether
she awakes and willingly receives him, it appears that he takes her forcibly.) .......In
the ensuing weeks, Tess’s revulsion for Alec builds, and she returns home.
In the summer she bears his child, a boy. The infant fails to thrive and
dies a week later after Tess baptizes him and names him Sorrow. The narrator
describes the burial:
So the baby was
carried in a small deal box, under an ancient woman's shawl, to the churchyard
that night, and buried by lantern-light, at the cost of a shilling and
a pint of beer to the sexton, in that shabby corner of God's allotment
where He lets the nettles grow, and where all unbaptized infants, notorious
drunkards, suicides, and others of the conjecturally damned are laid. In
spite of the untoward surroundings, however, Tess bravely made a little
cross of two laths and a piece of string, and having bound it with flowers,
she stuck it up at the head of the grave one evening when she could enter
the churchyard without being seen, putting at the foot also a bunch of
the same flowers in a little jar of water to keep them alive. What
matter was it that on the outside of the jar the eye of mere observation
noted the words "Keelwell's Marmalade"? The eye of maternal affection did
not see them in its vision of higher things.
years pass. Tess takes a job milking cows at Talbothays dairy farm several
miles away. It is a large operation, with more than one hundred milkers
under the supervision of master dairyman Richard Crick, a kindly man who
welcomes Tess warmly. There she encounters Angel Clare, the young man she
saw at the May dance on the night of the accident that killed Prince. His
appearance is changed somewhat since she first saw him:
saw by degrees that since their first and only encounter his mobile face
had grown more thoughtful, and had acquired a young man's shapely moustache
and beard–the latter of the palest straw colour where it began upon his
cheeks, and deepening to a warm brown farther from its root.
had recently decided to pursue a career in agriculture rather than become
a clergyman like his father, the Rev. James Clare, and his older brothers,
Cuthbert and Felix. “Early association with country solitudes," the narrator
says, “had bred in him an unconquerable, and almost unreasonable, aversion
to modern town life, and shut him out from such success as he might have
aspired to by following a mundane calling in the impracticability of the
spiritual one." Angel also dislikes the class consciousness of his brothers
and the Victorian Age’s preoccupation with noble lineage. .......So,
at age twenty-six, he finds himself at Talbothays studying dairy management
after spending a brief period elsewhere studying sheep farming. He lodges
at the dairy farm. Tess also stays at the farm, sharing a room with three
other milkmaids–Izz Huett, Retty Priddle, and Marian, all of whom are hopelessly
in love with Angel. But it is Tess who wins his heart. The look he and
Tess exchanged at the May dance had promise in it, and now that promise
has blossomed–over milk pails and butter churns–into love. .......On
a sojourn at his father’s vicarage at Emminster, Angel brings his family
up to date about his life at the farm. His minister brothers–Felix, a curate
in a nearby county, and Cuthbert, a classical scholar and dean at a college
in Cambridge–both think him much changed. They believe that
was getting to behave like a farmer; he flung his legs about; the muscles
of his face had grown more expressive; his eyes looked as much information
as his tongue spoke, and more. The manner of the scholar had nearly disappeared;
still more the manner of the drawing-room young man. A prig would
have said that he had lost culture, and a prude that he had become coarse.
Such was the contagion of domiciliary fellowship with the Talbothays nymphs
Angel tells the family that he likes country life. What is more, he says,
he has set his heart on a country girl, Tess. She would make a proper wife
for him, he says, noting that he shares with her a knowledge of farm life.
His parents had been under the impression that he would one day marry a
local schoolteacher, Mercy Chant. However, his father is open to his match
with Tess and even says he will make money available for Angel to buy farmland. .......When
Angel returns to Talbothays, he asks Tess to marry him. This news both
gladdens and disturbs Tess. What if he finds about her past–Alec, the baby?
So she says no. When he presses her on the question, she says, "Your father
is a parson, and your mother wouldn't like you to marry such as me. She
will want you to marry a lady." .......Angel
informs her that he has already settled his parents' minds on the matter.
However, he gives her time to consider the proposal, and one evening she
decides to marry him:
shall give way–I shall say yes–I shall let myself marry him–I cannot help
it!" she jealously panted, with her hot face to the pillow that night,
on hearing one of the other girls sigh his [Angel’s] name in her sleep.
one occasion, Tess tries to tell Angel about her past. However, failing
to muster courage, she ends up telling him about her family’s d’Urberville
connection, noting that “I was told you hated old families." Although he
says that he does “hate the aristocratic principle of blood before everything,"
he makes light of Tess’s noble connection and says he loves her too much
to allow it to matter. .......Tess
then writes home to ask her mother for advice. Her mother writes back,
saying, “On no account do you say a word of your Bygone Trouble [with Alec]
to him [Angel]." .......However,
on the night before the wedding, Tess decides to tell all. She and Angel
are staying at an inn after shopping and spending the day together–he in
an attic room and she in a room below. Knowing that words might fail her
if she tells of her past face to face, she writes a four-page letter explaining
everything, tiptoes upstairs, and slips it under his door. Unfortunately,
he overlooks it, and the next day they marry. .......Angel
has arranged for them to spend their wedding night at an old mansion once
owned by the d'Urbervilles of former times. After they arrive, a messenger
brings a package from Angel's mother. It contains a diamond necklace, a
bracelet, earrings, and small ornaments that Angel’s late godmother, Mrs.
Pitney, ordered in her will to be reserved for Angel's wife. Tess puts
them on, and she and Angel talk happily and eat supper. Jonathan Kail,
one of Talbothays’ employees, brings their luggage. He also bears shocking
news: Retty Priddle tried to drown herself. Meanwhile, Marian got dead
drunk, and Izz took on a somber mood. Tess well knows the cause of it all:
They have lost Angel. Tess thinks,
were simple and innocent girls on whom the unhappiness of unrequited love
had fallen; they had deserved better at the hands of Fate. She had deserved
worse–yet she was the chosen one. It was wicked of her to take all without
paying. She would pay to the uttermost farthing; she would tell [about
her past], there and then. This final determination she came to when she
looked into the fire, he holding her hand.
it is Angel who speaks up first, confessing an indiscretion of his own–an
intimate encounter with a woman in London. It lasted forty-eight hours,
he says, “after which I awoke immediately to my sense of folly." Tess is
understanding. Now believing it safe to own up to her past, she tells him
about her relationship with Alec. Angel’s reaction devastates Tess. Although
he does not condemn her, he says her disclosure makes her a different woman
from the one he courted. When she asks for forgiveness, he says, "O Tess,
forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are
days later, they separate, but Angel leaves open the possibility that they
will one day reconcile–if he can reconcile himself with Tess’s past. Tess
returns home to Marlott. .......After
visiting his parents, Angel prepares to travel to Brazil, touted in an
advertisement, the narrator says, “as a field for the emigrating agriculturist"
with land available for “exceptionally advantageous terms." Before leaving,
he drives out to settle an account with a farmer. On the road, he chances
upon Izz Huett and offers her a ride. After traveling some distance, he
asks her on a whim to accompany him to South America as his lover. She
is willing. When he asks her whether she loves him, she says she does. .......“More
than Tess?" he asks. .......“No.
. . . Nobody could love ‘ee more than Tess did! She would have laid down
her life for ‘ee." .......The
words echo round in Angel’s mind. Then he says, “Forget our idle talk.
I don’t know what I’ve been saying." He turns around and drives Izz back
to her home while Izz bursts into tears. .......Meanwhile,
Tess takes various temporary jobs, including dairy work west of Blackmoor
Valley near Port Bredy, to support herself and relieve the financial burdens
on her parents, who need a new roof and rafters after damaging rains. She
had already given them twenty-five pounds from money Angel left her, but
that was not enough. Finally, Tess accepts full-time employment at a farm
called Flintcombe-Ash, where she works as a field hand digging turnips
and sometimes as a reed-drawer in a barn. Marian and Izz work there, too,
having left Talbothays because of the painful memories associated with
it. It was Marian who informed Tess of the availability of a job. The work
is hard, very hard. Tess must labor in the fields through morning frosts
and afternoon rains under the supervision of a taskmaster, Farmer Groby.
If there is snow, she must work in the barn. .......After
a time, Tess decides to seek assistance from the Rev. and Mrs. Clare, whom
Angel said she could call upon if she ever needed help. Even though the
Rev. Clare's vicarage is fifteen miles away, she walks there on her day
off, Sunday. When she arrives, no one is home. Later, she discovers that
the Clares had gone to church and, after the service ends, she waits for
them behind hedges along the side of the road. When Angel's brothers, Cuthbert
and Felix, approach, she overhears their conversation:
poor Angel, poor Angel! I never see that nice girl [Mercy Chant] without
more and more regretting his precipitancy in throwing himself away upon
a dairymaid, or whatever she may be. It is a queer business, apparently.
Whether she has joined him yet or not I don't know; but she had not done
so some months ago when I heard from him."
can't say. He never tells me anything nowadays. His ill-considered marriage
seems to have completed that estrangement from me which was begun by his
she decides to return to Flintcombe-Ash. On her way, she comes to a barn
where a minister standing on sacks of corn is preaching a fiery sermon:
"O foolish galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the
truth," he says. Tess recognizes the voice as that of Alec d'Urberville.
When she passes by the open barn door, he recognizes her and later catches
up with her on the road, telling her he has had a conversion experience.
But Tess questions his sincerity and resolve: "Such flashes as you feel,
Alec, I fear don't last." He assures her that his conversion (brought about
by the Rev. James Clare) is genuine. At a place on the road called Cross-in-Hand,
he says he must turn right to preach at a six o'clock meeting. Before leaving,
he says will see her again, a prospect Tess does not welcome. True to his
word, he does visit her at Flintcombe-Ash, hoping she will consent to marrying
him. After she informs him of her marriage to Angel Clare and his trip
abroad, he predicts that Angel will never return. He then continues to
visit Tess again and again. .......Meanwhile,
Tess's mother becomes seriously ill and is expected to die. But after Tess
returns home, it is not her mother who dies (she rallies and recovers);
it is her father. Apparently, his heart gave out. .......Because
the lease extends only to his death, the landlord evicts Mrs. Durbeyfield
and her children. They then travel to Kingsbere, the home of their ancestors,
where they have arranged to rent rooms. But the deal falls through, and
they are forced to camp out. .......Meanwhile,
Angel’s agricultural venture fails after he becomes ill, and he decides
to return to England. He also now realizes that he was wrong to abandon
Tess. After his arrival, he first tracks down Tess’s mother, Joan, who
now lives in a cottage provided by Alec. She tells him Tess has moved to
the seaside town of Sandbourne. After traveling there and taking a room,
he learns from the post office that Tess resides at a fashionable lodging
house, The Herons. When he meets Tess there, she tells him that Alec "won
me back" after persuading her that Angel would never return. However, she
hate him now, because he told me a lie–that you would not come again; and
you HAVE come! These clothes are what he's put upon me: I didn't
care what he did wi' me! But–will you go away, Angel, please, and
never come any more?
Tess returns to her apartment, she cries uncontrollably and blames Alec
for misleading her. Angry words are exchanged. Sometime later, she goes
out to find Angel. In quarters below her apartment, the owner, Mrs. Brooks
sees a red stain on the ceiling and notifies authorities, who discover
Alec dead of stab wounds. .......After
Tess finds Angel, she tells him she killed Alec; he doubts her story. After
traveling inland, they spend a week together at an abandoned house before
they are discovered. They then head northward, hoping to book passage on
a ship and leave the country. However, police catch up with them when they
are resting at Stonehenge, near Salisbury. The police arrest and jail Tess.
Angel now realizes Tess was telling the truth about killing Alec. Sometime
later, Angel and Tess’s sister, Liza-Lu watch from a hill as a black flag
rises over Salisbury Prison when Tess goes to the gallows.
Most of the action takes
place in the late 19th Century in Southwestern England in the county of
Wessex, the fictional name of Dorset County. The town where Tess lives,
Marlott (fictional), is four hours from London by horse-drawn coach or
wagon. In Chapter 41, the action shifts for a time to Curitiba, Brazil,
where Angel Clare and other Englishmen discover that the promise of riches
is an ignis fatuus. In Chapter 58, the scene shifts to the prehistoric
monument of Stonehenge, north of the town of Salisbury, England, in the
county of Wiltshire. Author Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset County in 1840
and died there in 1928. Because he knew the county intimately, his descriptions
of its landscape, its people, and its customs ring with authenticity.
Intelligent, sensitive, and attractive teenager who lives with her impoverished
family in the village of Marlott in Southwestern England. She is a diligent
worker who helps her father support the family and assists her mother in
looking after the younger children. The narrator says Tess has completed
the Sixth Standard in the National School under a London teacher and, therefore,
can speak two languages: the local dialect and standard English. She could
have become a teacher but had to abandon her studies to go to work at home.
After her father discovers one day that he is descended from an aristocratic
family, the d'Urbervilles, he and his wife send Tess to a wealthy family
of that name in the neighboring village of Trantridge. The idea is to have
Tess prevail upon the members of the family, the Stoke-d'Urbervilles, to
provide financial help for their Marlott relatives. What Tess and her parents
do not realize, however, is that the Trantridge d'Urbervilles–though indeed
wealthy–are parvenus who adopted the d'Urberville name and are not relatives
at all. Nevertheless, Tess lands a job there as a poultry keeper after
one of the family members, Alec, ogles the pretty Tess and plans to use
her as his sexual plaything. Thereafter, all goes wrong for Tess as fate
appears to single her out its plaything.
Middle-aged father of Tess. He is a self-described haggler who peddles
goods and works the land. But because he is lazy and irresponsible, his
family lives in constant want in a Marlott cottage. He relies heavily on
Tess to help keep the family going. When he discovers that he is a descendant
of an aristocratic family (see Tess Durbeyfield,
above) he hopes to capitalize on the cachet of that name.
Mother of Tess. She is generally a pleasant, easygoing woman, although
at times she manipulates Tess.
Abraham (Aby) Durbeyfield:
Brother of Tess. He is nine years old at the beginning of the novel. Aby
is with Tess on the night of the accident that kills their horse, Prince.
Durbeyfield: Sister of Tess. At the beginning of the novel, she is
twelve years old. She is with Angel Clare at Salisbury when Tess is executed.
Hope and Modesty Durbeyfield:
Very young sisters of Tess.
Brothers of Tess, ages three and one at the beginning of the novel.
Deceased businessman who made a fortune in northern England through hard
work and wise handling of money. Before moving to southwestern England
to live in a quiet country setting, he researched the families that had
lived in that part of the country to find a name "that would not too readily
identify him with the smart tradesman [that he was in] the past." Among
the names of "extinct, half-extinct, obscured, and ruined families" he
came upon d'Urberville and, thinking it appropriate, "annexed it
to his own name for himself and his heirs eternally." After his death,
his wife and son continue to live on his estate in Trantridge. John and
Joan Durbeyfield mistake the Stoke-d'Urbervilles as relatives.
Alexander (Alec) Stoke-d'Urberville:
Son of Simon Stoke-d'Urberville. After Tess arrives at the Stoke-d'Urberville
estate, he gives her a job as a poultry keeper and immediately makes sexual
advances toward her. Tess rejects them, but he persists. One evening, while
Tess is asleep, he sees his opportunity and seizes it, forever changing
her and sending her on a tragic journey.
Mother of Alec d'Urberville and widow of Simon. She is blind and confined
to her home. One of Tess's tasks as a poultry keeper is to take chickens
to Mrs. d'Urberville so that she can feel them.
Angel Clare: Son
of a vicar and the vicar's second wife. Although Angel's father wants him
to be a minister, Angel, who has studied at Cambridge, wishes to pursue
a career in agriculture. He is more open-minded to new ideas than the rest
of his family and more accepting of common folk. While studying agriculture
at a dairy where Tess works, he falls in love with her, and they eventually
marry. But when he learns about Tess's past, he leaves her shortly after
Rev. James Clare:
Vicar and father of Angel Clare. The narrator describes him as a "spiritual
descendant in the direct line from Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin; an Evangelical
of the Evangelicals, a Conversionist, a man of Apostolic simplicity in
life and thought . . . [whose] creed of determinism was such that it almost
amounted to a vice."
Cutherbert and Felix
Clare: Brothers of Angel Clare. Both become ministers. They look down
upon common folk, including Tess.
Richard Crick: Master
dairyman at Talbothays Dairy, where Tess takes a job and falls in love
with Angel Clare.
Crick: Wife of Richard Crick.
Izz Huett, Retty Priddle,
Marian: Milkmaids at Talbothays Dairy who befriend Tess and share a
room with her. They fall in love with Angel Clare and are broken-hearted
when he marries Tess.
Mercy Chant: Prissy
young woman who conducts Bible classes. Before Angel Clare meets Tess,
his parents think she would make him a fine wife.
Car Darch: Shrewish
young woman who was a favorite of Alec Stoke-d'Urberville before he met
Tess. She is nicknamed the Queen of Spades. When she picks a fight with
Tess, Alec comes to Tess's rescue.
Nancy Darch: Car
Darch's sister, known as the Queen of Diamonds. She backs her sister in
the fight with Tess.
Car Darch's Mother Deborah Fyander:
Elderly worker at Talbothays dairy farm. She helps Tess with skimming when
other workers are unavailable.
Jonathan Kail: Talbothays
worker who informs Tess and Angel on their wedding night of the attempted
suicide of Retty Priddle.
Bill Lewell, Beck Knibbs,
Frances: Workers at Talbothays dairy farm.
Farmer Groby: Cruel
supervisor at Flintcombe-Ash dairy farm.
Amby Seedling: Man
who declares his love for Izz Huett when she is working at Flintcombe-Ash.
Pitney: Angel’s late godmother, who bequeathed jewelry to the wife
Sister of Angel Clare:
Oldest of Angel Clare's siblings. She had married a missionary and gone
with him to Africa. Her picture hangs in the Clare home.
Work and Year of Publication
Tess of the d'Urbervilles:
A Pure Woman is a novel depicting the dreary life and tragic death
of country girl. Because the narrator maintains that she is a victim of
forces she cannot control, literary critics have often characterized Tess
as a naturalistic novel. (See below.) It was
published in 1891.
as a Naturalistic Novel
Tess of the d'Urbervilles:
A Pure Woman exhibits the characteristics of literary naturalism, an
extreme form of realism
France in the 19th Century. It was inspired in part by the scientific determinism
of Charles Darwin, an Englishman, and the economic determinism of Karl
Marx and Friedrich Engels, both Germans. Four Frenchmen–Hippolyte Taine,
Edmond and Jules Goncourt, and Emile Zola–applied the principles of scientific
and economic determinism to literature to create literary naturalism. According
to its followers, literary naturalism stresses the following beliefs:
(1) Heredity and environment
are the major forces that shape human beings. In Tess, Cuthbert
and Felix Clare exemplify this principle in that they adopt their father's
views and follow him into the ministry. Angel Clare dares to entertain
different views and pursue a different career. However, when he learns
about Tess's past, the mindset of his family asserts itself and he abandons
(2) Human beings have no
free will, or very little of it, because heredity and environment are so
powerful in determining the course of human action.
(3) Human beings, like lower
animals, have no soul. Religion and morality are irrelevant. (Hardy's narrator
promotes this position with preachments that are sometimes less than subtle.)
(4) A literary work should
present life exactly as it is. In this respect, naturalism is akin to realism.
However, naturalism goes further than realism in that it presents a more
detailed picture of everyday life. Whereas the realist writer omits insignificant
details when depicting a particular scene, a naturalist writer generally
includes them. He wants the scene to be as “natural" as possible.
(5) The naturalist writer
should be painstakingly objective and detached. (Hardy, however, sometimes
injects his own views, allowing his narrator to rail against God and religion.)
(6) Rather than manipulating
characters as if they were puppets, the naturalist writer prefers to observe
the characters as if they were animals in the wild. Then he reports on
(7) Naturalism attempts
to present dialogue as spoken in everyday life. Rather than putting “unnatural"
wording in the mouth of a character, the naturalist writer attempts to
reproduce the speech patterns of people in a particular time and place.
(Hardy usually succeeds in this respect when presenting dialogue spoken
by common folk, such as Tess's mother, Joan Durbeyfield. When she informs
Tess about her father's noble heritage, she says, "O yes! 'Tis thoughted
that great things may come o't. No doubt a
mampus of volk of our own
rank will be down here in their carriages as soon as 'tis known. Your father
learnt it on his way hwome
from Shaston, and he has
been telling me the whole pedigree of the matter."
Naturalist writers generally
achieve only limited success in adhering to Number 5. The main problem
is that it is next to impossible for a writer to remain objective and detached,
like a scientist in a laboratory. After all, a scientist analyzes existing
natural objects and phenomena. A naturalist writer, on the other hand,
analyzes characters he created; they may be based on real people, but they
themselves are not real. Thus, in bringing these characters to the printed
page, the naturalist writer brings a part of himself–a subjective part.
For additional information about objectivity, see Point
of View, below.
Thomas Hardy invests his
narrator with omniscient, third-person point of view. In other words, the
narrator can present not only what people speak and say but also what they
think. Oftentimes, an omniscient narrator in a novel is objective, unbiased,
reporting only what takes place. However, in Tess,
uses his narrator as a mouthpiece for his own opinions, as in the following
example centering on the Durbeyfield children. In it, he characterizes
them as victims of a divine plan gone wrong:
All these young
souls were passengers in the Durbeyfield ship–entirely dependent on the
judgement of the two Durbeyfield adults for their pleasures, their necessities,
their health, even their existence. If the heads of the Durbeyfield household
chose to sail into difficulty, disaster, starvation, disease, degradation,
death, thither were these half-dozen little captives under hatches compelled
to sail with them–six helpless creatures, who had never been asked if they
wished for life on any terms, much less if they wished for it on such hard
conditions as were involved in being of the shiftless house of Durbeyfield.
Some people would like to know whence the poet whose philosophy is in these
days deemed as profound and trustworthy as his song is breezy and pure,
gets his authority for speaking of "Nature's holy plan."
Another example is the reference
to God in the first sentence of the final paragraph of the novel, depicting
a scene in which Angel Clare and Tess's little sister watch from a hilltop
as a flag rises over the prison at Salisbury.
"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. The two speechless gazers bent themselves down to the
earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long time, absolutely motionless:
the flag continued to wave silently. As soon as they had strength, they
arose, joined hands again, and went on.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
is rich in nature imagery that establishes moods, presents allusions, makes
comparisons, suggests the fate of Tess or another character, and presents
views of the author. Here are examples:
From Chapter 14
It was a hazy sunrise
in August. The denser nocturnal vapours, attacked by the warm beams, were
dividing and shrinking into isolated fleeces within hollows and coverts,
where they waited till they should be dried away to nothing. The sun, on
account of the mist, had a curious sentient, personal look, demanding the
masculine pronoun for its adequate expression. His present aspect, coupled
with the lack of all human forms in the scene, explained the old-time
in a moment. One could feel that a saner religion had never prevailed
under the sky. The luminary was a golden-haired, beaming, mild-eyed,
God-like creature, gazing down in the vigour and intentness of youth upon
an earth that was brimming with interest for him. His light, a little later,
broke though chinks of cottage shutters, throwing stripes like red-hot
pokers upon cupboards, chests of drawers, and other furniture within; and
awakening harvesters who were not already astir.
Comment: This paragraph is
an extended metaphor in which the narrator personifies the sun.
Heliolatries: Religions that
worshipped the sun. In ancient Egyptian mythology, the sun god was named
Ra. In ancient Greek mythology, the sun god was named Helios. Beginning
in the Fifth Century BC, the Greeks began identifying Apollo as a sun god.
One . . . sky: This sentence
presents the view that "natural" religion is preferable to organized religion.
From Chapter 16
The river itself,
which nourished the grass and cows of these renowned dairies, flowed not
like the streams in Blackmoor. Those were slow, silent, often turbid; flowing
over beds of mud into which the incautious wader might sink and vanish
unawares. The Froom waters were clear as the pure
River of Life shown to the Evangelist,
as the shadow of a cloud, with
shallows that prattled to the sky all day long. There the water-flower
was the lily; the crow-foot here.
the change in the quality of the air from heavy to light, or the sense
of being amid new scenes where there were no invidious eyes upon her, sent
up her spirits wonderfully. Her hopes mingled with the sunshine in an ideal
photosphere which surrounded her as she
bounded along against the
south wind. She heard a pleasant voice
in every breeze, and in every bird's note seemed to lurk a joy.
. . Life: Simile.
. . cloud: Simile.
. . . prattled: Alliteration and personifcation.
. . . breeze: Personification.
From Chapter 24
July passed over
their heads, and the Thermidorean weather
which came in its wake seemed an effort
on the part of Nature to match the state of hearts at Talbothays
Dairy. The air of the place, so fresh in the spring and early summer, was
stagnant and enervating now. Its heavy scents weighed upon them, and at
mid-day the landscape seemed lying in a swoon.
scorchings browned the upper slopes of the pastures, but there was still
bright green herbage here wherethe
watercourses purled. And as Clare was oppressed by the outward
heats, so was he burdened inwardly by waxing fervour of passion for the
and silent Tess.
Thermidorean: Adjective referring
to Thermidor, a month in the calendar used during the French Revolution.
Thermidor began on July 20 (Gregorian calendar) and ended on August 18.
. . . match: Personification.
. . . swoon: Personification.
Ethiopic: Adjective referring
to the African country of Ethiopia.
From Chapter 29
At first Tess seemed
to regard Angel Clare as an intelligence rather than as a man. As such
she compared him with herself; and at every discovery of the abundance
of his illuminations, of the distance between her own modest mental standpoint
and the unmeasurable,
Andean altitude of his,
she became quite dejected, disheartened from all further effort on her
own part whatever.
Andean Altitude: Metaphor
and hyperbole comparing Angel's intellect to the altitude of the Andes,
a mountain range in South America with the highest peak in the western
hemisphere, Mount Aconcagua, which rises 22,831 feet.
From Chapter 50
air was fresh and keen there was a whisper of spring in it that
cheered the workers on. Something in the place, the hours, the crackling
fires, the fantastic mysteries of light and shade,
made others as well as Tess enjoy being there. Nightfall,
which in the frost of winter comes as a fiend
and in the warmth of summer as a lover, came
as a tranquillizer on this March day.
Air . .
. it: Personification.
. . . made: Alliteration.
and Direct References
Hardy alludes or directly
refers to literature, including the Bible, and historical and mythological
figures to underscore themes or the qualities or attitudes of characters.
Following are examples:
Chapter 19: Angel Clare
as Peter the Great
It was true that
he [Angel Clare] was at present out of his class. But she [Tess] knew that
was only because, like Peter the Great in a shipwright's yard, he
was studying what he wanted to know. He did not milk cows because he was
obliged to milk cows, but because he was learning to be a rich and prosperous
dairyman, landowner, agriculturist, and breeder of cattle. He would become
an American or Australian Abraham, commanding like a monarch his
flocks and his herds, his spotted and his ring-straked, his men-servants
and his maids.
Peter the Great: Peter I
(1672-1725), czar and later emperor of Russia who shaped his country into
a great power. Early in his rule, one of his priorities was to educate
himself about life in Europe and to learn technology that would empower
his regime. To accomplish these tasks, he lived in Western Europe for a
time under an assumed name. To gain the knowledge necessary to build a
formidable navy, he worked as a carpenter in a Dutch shipyard and later
labored in a British Royal Navy yard.
Abraham: Hebrew patriarch
who went forth in the Second Millennium BC. from his native city, Ur, to
found a great nation, supervising the tending of sheep and other animals
along the way.
Chapter 19: Tess as a Dispirited
Queen of Sheba
do you look so woebegone all of a sudden?" he [Angel Clare] asked.
'tis only–about my own self," she said, with a frail laugh of sadness .
. . . Just a sense of what might have been with me! My life looks as if
it had been wasted for want of chances! When I see what you know,
what you have read, and seen, and thought, I feel what a nothing I am!
I'm like the poor Queen of Sheba who lived in the Bible. There is
no more spirit in me."
Queen of Sheba: Ruler of
Saba' (Sheba) in Arabia in the Tenth Century BC who visited King Solomon
to test his knowledge and wisdom. Here was the result, as told in 3 Kings,
Chapter 10, Verses 3-5:
And Solomon informed her
of all the things she proposed to him: there was not any word the king
was ignorant of, and which he could not answer her. And when the queen
of Saba saw all the wisdom of Solomon, and the house which he had built,
and the meat of his table, and the apartments of his servants, and the
order of his ministers, and their apparel, and the cupbearers, and the
holocausts, which he offered in the house of the Lord, she had no longer
any spirit in her.
Chapter 20: Happiness in
the Garden of Eden
Being so often–possibly
not always by chance–the first two persons to get up at the dairy-house,
they [Angel and Tess] seemed to themselves the first persons up of all
the world. In these early days of her residence here Tess did not skim,
but went out of doors at once after rising, where he was generally awaiting
her. The spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light which pervaded the open
mead impressed them with a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and
Chapter 23: Metaphor Alluding
to a Shakespeare Trope
aspect was probably as un-Sabbatarian a one as a dogmatic parson's son
often presented; his attire being his dairy clothes, long wading boots,
a cabbage-leaf inside his hat to keep his head cool, with a thistle-spud
to finish him off. "He's not going to church," said Marian.
wish he was!" murmured Tess.
in fact, rightly or wrongly (to adopt the safe phrase of evasive controversialists),
sermons in stones to sermons in churches and chapels on
fine summer days.
Sermons in stones: Words
spoken by Duke Senior in Scene 1 of Act 2 in Shakespeare's As You Like
It. The duke is exulting in the advantages of life in the forest, where
nature speaks the sermons instead of a representative of organized religion.
To access the As You Like It study guide, click
Chapter 27: Eve Regarding
Having been lying
down in her clothes she was warm as a sunned cat. At first she would not
look straight up at him, but her eyes soon lifted, and his plumbed the
deepness of the ever-varying pupils, with their radiating fibrils of blue,
and black, and gray, and violet, while she regarded him as Eve at her second
waking might have regarded Adam.
Chapter 29: Life Beyond Eden
The outskirt of
the garden in which Tess found herself had been left uncultivated for some
years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass which sent up mists of
pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells–weeds
whose red and yellow and purple hues formed a polychrome as dazzling as
that of cultivated flowers. She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion
of growth, gathering cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that
were underfoot, staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and
rubbing off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white
on the apple-tree trunks, made madder stains on her skin; thus she drew
quite near to Clare, still unobserved of him.
Chapter 35: Allusion to Shakespeare's
I [Tess] was a child–a child when it happened! I knew nothing of
were more sinned against than sinning, that I [Angel Clare] admit."
Sinned . . . sinning: In
Scene 2 of Act 3 of Shakespeare's play King Lear, the title character
says, "I am a man / More sinn'd against than sinning." Lear had just been
rejected by two of his daughters, who are conspiring against him. To access
the King Lear study guide, click here.
Chapter 45: Corrupted Alec
(Adam) Attempting to Excuse Himself
"I have done
nothing!" said he indifferently. "Heaven, as I have been telling my hearers,
has done all. No amount of contempt that you can pour upon me, Tess, will
equal what I have poured upon myself–the old Adam of my former years!
Chapter 50: Alec Claiming
Tess Wrongfully Regards Him as Satanic
jester might say this is just like Paradise. You are Eve, and I am the
old Other One come to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior animal.
I used to be quite up in that scene of Milton's when I was theological.
Some of it goes–
"Empress, the way is ready,
and not long,
Beyond a row of myrtles...
... If thou accept
My conduct, I can bring
thee thither soon."
"Lead then," said Eve.
Milton's: Reference to John
Milton (1608-1674), author of the great epic poem Paradise Lost.
climax of the novel takes place on the wedding night of Tess and Angel
after Tess reveals to her new husband the details of her relationship with
Alec d'Urberville. The key moment occurs when Angel rejects Tess, saying
that her disclosure makes him realize that she is not the woman he believed
her to be. His inability to accept Tess as she is precipitates the tragic
events that follow. There is a kind of secondary climax that occurs when
police catch up with and arrest Tess at Stonehenge.
Hardy presents a world in
which circumstances beyond the control of Tess determine her destiny. Luck,
chance, coincidence, and environmental forces continually work against
Tess to entangle her in one predicament after another. Her social status,
her accident with the horse, her row with Car Darch, the forest encounter
with Alec and the resulting pregnancy, the death of her father, the eviction
of her family, and so on all weave her into a web from which there is no
escape. The narrator calls attention to this theme in Chapter 11 after
Alec rapes–or seduces–Tess:
As Tess's own people
down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their
fatalistic way: "It was to be." There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable
social chasm was to divide our heroine's personality thereafter from that
previous self of hers who stepped from her mother's door to try her fortune
at Trantridge poultry-farm.
Male Predominance and Sexual
In the 19th Century, males
dominated society and expected females to do their bidding. Tess’s resistance
to the advances of Alec succeed for a time, but he eventually entraps her
after continually harassing her. Although Angel loves Tess and marries
her, he abandons her shortly after their wedding when he discovers what
happened between her and Alec. It does not matter to him that he himself
had an affair before he was married. Men may stray with impunity, he believes.
Women may not. After Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield dies, his wife and
children are evicted. It was he who was privileged to hold the lease to
their property, not his wife.
This theme manifests itself
in Chapter 2 when Angel Clare asks his brothers to attend the country May
dance with him. Felix replies, “Dancing in public with a troop of country
hoydens–suppose we should be seen!" In Chapter 40, Mercy Chant exhibits
an anti-Catholic bias after she hears that Angel is going abroad. Here
is the passage:
had learnt that he was about to leave England, and observed what an excellent
and promising scheme it seemed to be.
it is a likely scheme enough in a commercial sense, no doubt," he replied.
"But, my dear Mercy, it snaps the continuity of existence. Perhaps a cloister
would be preferable."
cloister! O, Angel Clare!"
you wicked man, a cloister implies a monk, and a monk Roman Catholicism."
Roman Catholicism sin, and sin damnation. Thou art in a parlous state,
Angel Clare" [third person reference to himself].
glory in my Protestantism!" she said severely.
Angel Clare's brothers, Felix
and Cuthbert, are conformists who adopt current fashions and adjust their
literary and artistic tastes to whatever is popular at the time. They seem
to represent the conformists in the general population who exhibit little
original thinking and lack the courage to consider news ideas or challenge
established ideas. In the following passage from Chapter 25, the narrator
discusses their conformacy:
he walked with his two brothers, non-evangelical, well-educated, hall-marked
young men, correct to their remotest fibre, such unimpeachable models as
are turned out yearly by the lathe of a systematic tuition. They were both
somewhat short-sighted, and when it was the custom to wear a single eyeglass
and string they wore a single eyeglass and string; when it was the custom
to wear a double glass they wore a double glass; when it was the custom
to wear spectacles they wore spectacles straightway, all without reference
to the particular variety of defect in their own vision. When Wordsworth
was enthroned they carried pocket copies; and when Shelley was belittled
they allowed him to grow dusty on their shelves. When Correggio's Holy
Families were admired, they admired Correggio's Holy Families; when he
was decried in favour of Velasquez, they sedulously followed suit without
any personal objection.
The Lure of Money
After John Durbeyfield learns
that he has noble ancestors, he and his wife hatch a "projick," as Joan
Durbeyfield calls it, to send Tess on a mission to claim a relationship
with a wealthy family, the Stoke-d'Urbervilles, that the Durbeyfields mistakenly
believe has descended from the same ancestors. Their goal is straightforward
and crass: to establish kinship with the Stoke-d'Urbervilles and thereby
qualify for financial assistance from them. The Durbeyfields entertain
the hope that Tess may even marry into the family and become a source of
benefactions. When Tess first resists the idea, the Durbeyfield children
join their voices with those of their parents in urging Tess to seek out
the Stoke-d'Urbervilles, saying that if Tess does not accede to the plan,
"we shan't have a nice new horse, and lots o' golden money to buy fairlings!"
Later in the novel, Alec d'Urberville uses money to attempt to win Tess.
He succeeds. Here is the scenario: After John Durbeyfield dies and his
family is evicted, Alec offers to house the Durbeyfields if Tess will yield
to him. Tess–ever concerned about the welfare of her family–accepts his
Tess Durbeyfield and her
family are commoners descended from nobility. Alec d'Urberville and his
mother are wealthy landowners who, though perceived as nobility, are really
members of the bourgeois class. It seems that Hardy intends this situational
irony as a rebuke of society's excessive emphasis on lineage and material
possessions–or, in short, name recognition and appearances. True nobility,
he says, lies in the heart, not in a genealogical table or a wallet. It
is also ironic that Tess, a young woman of modest education, intuitively
knows more about what really matters in life than either Angel Clare or
Alec d'Urberville, both exhibiting a knowledge of literature, art, philosophy,
and religion but lacking in the knowledge to make the right moral decisions.
Hardy uses dramatic
irony to create suspense or to reveal a truth, a situation, an attitude,
or a trait of which at least one character is unaware. In the climax of
the story, for example, dramatic irony reveals a bias in Angel of which
he is ignorant. The moment occurs when he has a change of heart after Tess
tells him about her past. Previously, he had declared himself more tolerant
and less judgmental than his brothers, as well as Victorian society in
general. But this moment reveals him as just as biased as his brothers
in regard to what they deem acceptable or unacceptable conduct for a woman.
However, he is blind to this shortcoming; to him, it is Tess who is blameworthy.
The narrator stresses his self-blindness later, when Angel visits his parents.
At supper, they have a Bible reading from Chapter 31 of the Book of Proverbs,
Verses 10-31, in which King Lemuel reports a vision of his mother. In it,
his mother instructs him in the ways and qualities of a of a wise and virtuous
wife. Afterward, the narrator writes,
With all his attempted
independence of judgement this advanced and well-meaning young man, a sample
product of the last five-and-twenty years, was yet the slave to custom
and conventionality when surprised back into his early teachings.
No prophet had told him, and he was not prophet enough to tell himself,
that essentially this young wife of his was as deserving of the praise
of King Lemuel as any other woman endowed with the same dislike of evil,
her moral value having to be reckoned not by achievement but by tendency.
Another example of dramatic
irony occurs when Angel's mother decides to accept Tess as a suitable wife
for him at the very time when he and Tess are separating, a development
of which Mrs. Clare is unaware. She says, "There are worse wives than these
simple, rosy-mouthed, robust girls of the farm. Certainly I could have
wished–well, since my son is to be an agriculturist, it is perhaps but
proper that his wife should have been accustomed to an outdoor life."
One of Hardy's main theses
in Tess is that heredity, environment, and pure chance shape the
lives of people. They have little or no free will. Ironically, however,
Hardy rebukes Victorian society for its moral and social attitudes. In
other words, Hardy is condemning society for actions over which (he theorizes)
it has no control.
Questions and Essay Topics
1. Write an essay analyzing
the significance of passages that present white or black (or light or dark)
images. Following are several passages to get you started:
The district is
of historic, no less than of topographical interest. The Vale was known
in former times as the Forest of White Hart, from a curious legend of King
Henry III's reign, in which the killing by a certain Thomas de la Lynd
of a beautiful white hart which the king had run down and spared, was made
the occasion of a heavy fine. (Chapter 2)
In addition to the distinction
of a white frock, every woman and girl carried in her right hand a peeled
willow wand, and in her left a bunch of white flowers. The peeling of the
former, and the selection of the latter, had been an operation of personal
care. (Chapter 2)
The wind blew through Tess's
white muslin to her very skin, and her washed hair flew out behind. She
was determined to show no open fear, but she clutched d'Urberville's rein-arm.
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. (Chapter
Her [Tess's] figure looked
singularly tall and imposing as she stood in her long white nightgown,
a thick cable of twisted dark hair hanging straight down her back to her
waist. (Chapter 14)
2. John d'Urberville rejoices
when he discovers that he has descended from nobility. How important was
aristocratic lineage to Englishmen ....of
the Nineteenth Century? 3. In an informative essay,
write a psychological profile of Tess, Angel, or Alec. 4. How commonplace was sexual
harassment of young women in England in the 1900s? 5. Tess was executed for
the murder of Alec d'Urberville. Was she guilty of first-degree murder
or a lesser crime, such as manslaughter? ....Or,
considering her state of mind and the wrongs done to her, was she innocent?
Form a jury with your classmates to consider these ....questions,
then deliver a verdict. 6. Author Thomas Hardy maintains
that chance, coincidence, and environmental forces shape a person's destiny?
Do you agree with ....him? Explain your answer. 7. Write an essay explaining
the extent to which Thomas Hardy was influenced by events in his own life
when he wrote Tess. 8. In an informative essay,
discuss how Hardy uses symbolism in Tess to develop the story and
its themes. An essay on this topic might ....suggest,
for example, that Blackmoor Valley represents the bleak life of Tess Durbeyfield
and other common folk like her. Her life is ....like
a black moor, a dreary wasteland. It might also suggest that the white
clothing Tess frequently wears symbolizes innocence and ....that
Marlott, the village, in which the Durbeyfields live represents the marred
lot (lot here meaning fate, destiny) of Tess. Other symbols ....to
look for may include animals, the weather, plants, the sky and its orbs,
religious objects, historical sites, and people. ..
Films Based on Hardy Novels Click on the Image to See