Tess of thed’Urbervilles A Pure Woman By Thomas Hardy
Cast of CharactersTess (Teresa) Durbeyfield The main character and heroine of the novel.She is beautiful and irresistible to men. She is also young, innocent, anduneducated — unaware that the world is rife with lust, cruelty, and vanity.Alec dUrberville Heir to the dUrberville fortune who has Tess brought toThe Slopes with the hope of seducing her. He is the consummate playboy,who knows no bounds to debauch women. He ruins Tess and does not knowthat she has had his child until much later. He convinces Tess that Angel, herhusband, will not return from Brazil, and he finally pays for his deceit withhis life.Angel Clare Youngest son of Parson Clare of Emminster, who becomesTess’s husband. After the wedding, when he finally learns of Tess’s past withAlec and her son Sorrow, he leaves her and spends the next year in Brazil.Angel eventually returns to England to reclaim Tess but finds her with Alec.After Alecs murder, Angel remains with Tess until her arrest and agrees totake Liza Lu as his wife after Tess meets her fate on the gallows.John Durbeyfield Tess’ss father. He is a haggler/higgler, a middleman whobuys vegetables and poultry from wholesalers to sell to retailers.Uneducated and poor, he is shiftless, drinks to excess, and is not a goodprovider for his family, leaving them destitute when he dies.Joan Durbeyfield Tess’s mother who does her best to raise her sevenchildren. It is Joans plan to sent Tess to "claim kin" with the dUrbervilles.Joan fails to warn Tess of the desires of men and the meaning of love.Eliza-Louise (Liza Lu) Liza Lu is the second Durbeyfield child; she istwelve years old when the novel begins and appears in only a few chapters.In the end, Liza Lu and Angel are united, as Tess had asked, when Tess dies.Abraham, Hope, and Modesty Durbeyfield The other Durbeyfieldchildren; Tess’s younger siblings.Sorrow Durbeyfield/dUrberville Tess’s child with Alec dUrberville, whodies in infancy.Parson and Mrs. Clare Angels parents.Cuthbert and Felix Clare Angels brothers.Parson Tringham The minister who tells John Durbeyfield of his lineage.Mrs. dUrberville Alecs mother, a sixty-year-old widow who owns TheSlopes.Mercy Chant The woman Angels family wanted him to marry; sheeventually marries Cuthbert Clare.
Mr. Richard Crick Dairy farmer who owns Talbothays Dairy. He is kind toTess and Angel.Izz Huett, Marian, and Retty Priddle Tess’s friends at Talbothays andFlintcomb-Ash. All are also in love with Angel.Farmer Groby Farmer in charge of Flintcomb-Ash, the second farm whereTess works. He is very hard and demanding.Mrs. Brooks Innkeeper at Sandbourne for The Herons, where Alec ismurdered.
Phase 1 – The Maiden1. a. To what does the title of the first section refer? b. What expectations does such a title set up for us?2. What are some of the major themes introduced in the opening two chapters?3. a. What are Tess’s parents like? b. What are their expectations of her? c. What are her expectations about herself? d. Why does Tess feel so responsible for her family? e. Do you think her feeling of responsibility is excessive?4. a. What are we to make of Tess’ss dreaminess? b. What does it reveal about her character? c. Identify some key moments in the text where Tess passively submits? d. What are the consequences of her passivity?
Phase 2 – Maiden No More1. Some critics point to Tess’s life as a succession of journeys. Identify some of these journeys and explain a. what she learns from them and b. how is she affected by her experience.2. Tess resists Alecs advances by jumping out of the gig for her hat, which she deliberately let fly away. Tess thinks of returning home but decides to stay; at this point, Tess still feels she has choice. a. Is she really free at this point so that she is responsible for her decision? b. Does this decision to stay make her responsible for Alecs sexually violating her later?3. The title of the second phase deals with the significance of Tess’s sexual experience in her view, in societys view, and in nature. a. With which of these does Hardy side? b. Is her sexual experience the turning point in her life, as the title suggests? c. Though it is clearly a crucial event, what actually happened is unclear. d. Was she raped or seduced? e. Once you decide that question, another question must be decided; how responsible is she for what happened?4. a. When Tess hesitates in answering Alec’s request to become his mistress, is she flirting, and is her hesitation deliberately or even unconsciously encouraging? b. Is she inhibited by his social status, by his economic power over her and her family, or his gifts to her family? c. Hardys calling her sexual experiences "a liberal education," just a learning experience, shocks many readers. Is her liberal education a fortunate fall?
Phase 3 – The Rally1. How are Hardy’s descriptions of Nature related to the characters in this part?2. a. To what does the title of this phase refer? b. What signs suggest that the novel will not turn out well?3. a. What sort of man is Angel? b. What are his strengths? c. What are his flaws? d. What is the significance of Izzy, Retty and Marion?
Phase 4 – The Consequence1. a. The meaning of the title, "The Consequence," is not as clear cut as previous titles. What is the consequence? b. What is the source of the consequence?2. a. What does Hardy mean when he says that Angels fastidious love could "guard the loved one against his very self"? b. Is he protecting her against his baser nature? is he protecting his own idea of her? c. Or does it mean something else altogether?3. Tess makes two attempts to confess her past to Angel. The first time his indulgent attitude causes her to retreat and tell him about her dUrberville ancestry. Her letter slips under the rug, so that this effort to confess also fails. a. Are circumstances stacked against her, or does she bear responsibility for not telling him about her past? b. Would her telling him before marriage have made any difference?
Phase 5 – The Woman Pays1. a. Why is Angel unable to forgive her when she just bestowed the gift of forgiveness on him? b. Is her sexual experience the cause or his character and misconceptions? c. Does her confession necessitate their separation, or do they part because of particular traits each has? d. Could Tess have averted the parting by behaving differently and thereby changed her destiny? e. Or is her destiny unchangeable? f. Is she victim, self-victimizer, or both?2. Is she a victim of circumstance, of inevitable fate, of Angels character, of her own character, of her heredity, or some combination of these factors? The course of Tess’ss life parallels the seasons. The novel opens in late May, a hopeful time when life renews. She arrives at the dUrberville home in late spring; her parents hoped for financial support from the wealthy dUrbervilles, and Tess hopes to earn enough to replace their horse. A few years later, she has a renewal or rally in the spring. Her courtship with Angel takes place over the summer, a time of ripening and fulfillment in nature and of love and happiness in her life. She spends the winter, a time of death in nature, at Flintcomb-Ash.3. If Tess’ss life follows a natural cycle, does this mean that the course of her life is predetermined or fated?4. a. Is arbitrary coincidence at work in her stopping at just the time and just the place where Alec is speaking? b. Is it coincidence that she stands in the sun so that he notices her movement when she leaves? c. Is their meeting again inevitable because life follows a pattern or occurs in cycles? d. Or is it inevitable because her personal past with Alec cannot be escaped in society?
Phase 6 – The Convert1. a. To whom does the title of this section apply? How? b. What is the effect of Tess on the conversion of these converts?2. a. When Tess falls again to Alec, does she have a choice, or is she overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her familys circumstances, her sense of responsibility for the children, and her loss of faith in Angels return? b. Are other traits, like a tendency to self-sacrifice, operating? c. Has she ever had a choice? d. Are there times when she does have a choice and her decisions and actions are the result of her character? e. In answering these questions, consider the ways Tess is economically, socially, and sexually vulnerable, even powerless; how coincidence and historical movements determine events; and the role which her personal past and family past play in her life.3. A well-travelled, open-minded stranger persuades Angel that he judged Tess too harshly and that his concept of purity was too rigid. a. How convincing is Angels change, which is summarized in a page or so? b. Are other influences than the stranger working to change Angel?
Phase 7 - Fulfilment1. How is the title of this section ironic?2. a. How does Stonehenge figure in Tess’s end? b. What do you think it represents?3. a. Is there a suggestion that another cycle is about to begin with Angel and Liza-Lu? b. Because she is "a spiritualized image of Tess", would such a relationship seem more likely to succeed than his relationship with Tess?4. a. Is it Tess’ss misfortune to be pursued and loved by Alec and by Angel? b. Between them, do they unintentionally doom her? Is she their victim?5. Does her past make her death inevitable?
General Questions1. Is Tess of the DUrbervilles a tragedy, and is Tess a tragic figure? The answer to these questions may depend on the way you define tragedy. Or you may apply Hardys concept of tragedy to the novel and decide whether it fits his definition. Over the years, he made a number of references to tragedy. "A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions" (1878). "Tragedy: It may be put thus in brief: a tragedy exhibits a state of things in the life of an individual which unavoidably causes some natural aim or desire of his to end in a catastrophe when carried out" (1885). "The best tragedy–highest tragedy in short–is that of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE. The tragedies of immoral and worthless people are not of the best" (1892).2. Do you agree with Hardys definition(s) of tragedy? Is he really describing tragedy?3. Hardy’s novel makes frequent use of animal imagery. How is this imagery used? What effect does this imagery have on your experience of the novel?4. Hardy added the subtitle, A Pure Woman, at the last moment. It has created problems for readers and critics ever since the novels appearance. The title offends many on moral grounds, for whom Tess is a "ruined," immoral woman. Others are puzzled intellectually; what is Hardys basis for calling her pure?5. The novel is organized around seemingly natural cycles. Her movement through the phases of one of these cycles is indicated by the headings for each of the seven phases. What is the effect of calling portions of our lives “phases”? To what discourse does such a term belong and how might this mixing of discourses affect our reading of the novel?6. For most readers, the major issue in this novel is whether Tess is victimized, whether she is responsible for her fate, or whether she is partially victimized and partially responsible for her fate. What do you think about these questions?
About the novel IntroductionHardy began Tess of the dUrbervilles in 1888–89 and considered suchnames as Love, Cis/Cissy, and Sue, for the title character. Eventually, hedecided on Tess. Hardy had been working on this manuscript with theintention of submitting it for serial publication, in which only a few chapterswould be released at a time; depending on the materials reception and thepublishers willingness, these chapters would then later be combined inbook form. Hardy contracted with W. F. Tillotson & Son in 1887 for aserialized story to be delivered in four installments between 1887 and June30, 1889. Hardy also negotiated with Harpers Bazaar in America for the storyat about the same time.Tillotson & Son realized that it had a racy novel on its hands when editorsbecame aware of the serials content. The publishers suggested revisions ofcertain scenes and complete deletions of others, but Hardy refused, and thetwo parted ways amicably, leaving the book unpublished. Fortunately,Hardy had an offer to publish the serial in the Graphic (London) IllustratedWeekly Newspaper. After much revision, the novel appeared as a serial onJuly 4, 1891, in England (in the Graphic and the Nottinghamshire Guardianand Midlands Counties Advertiser) and Australia (the Sydney Mail). Itappeared on July 18 in America in Harpers Bazaar.After a successful reception as a serial, Tess of the dUrbervilles waspublished in book form and consisted of three volumes. In late 1892, theentire set was combined into one volume and sold well. By 1900, Hardyauthorized a paperback version of the novel, which sold 300,000 editions inEngland in one year. Hardy continually tinkered with the subsequenteditions, and he worked on revisions up until the time of his death in 1928.
Early ReviewsAlthough the first reviews of the novel were generally good, later criticscharged that the book had some serious defects. The Saturday Review calledthe novel "an unpleasant novel told in a very unpleasant way." Anothercritic, Mowbray Morris, published the letter sent to Hardy rejecting theserial when it was proposed to Macmillans Magazine, a literary magazinewhose contributors included — in addition to Hardy — Tennyson, HerbertColeridge (grandson of S.T. Coleridge), Bret Harte, and Mowbray Morris.Harpers Weekly called Tess "artificial" and "not in the reality of any saneworld we recognize." Novelist Henry James called Tess "chock-full of faultsand falsities and yet [possessed of] a singular beauty and charm." Othersthought the novel "not to their personal tastes in some respects, but justlyappreciated its greatness in others." The Atlantic Monthly called Tess"Hardys best novel yet."It seems, however, that Hardy overlooked the positive reviews, and afterreading Morris review, Hardy wrote, "Well, if this sort of thing continues nomore novel-writing for me." It was the hint of a vow that Hardy would fulfill,only a few years later. He would write only one more novel, Jude theObscure.Still, Tess continued to sell well in Hardys time and has spawned a greatwealth of literary criticism that continues even today. The negative criticshave been silenced, and Tess continues to be read and reread as a classic ofEnglish literature.
Historical ContextThe Victorian Era when Hardy lived was a time of great change. QueenVictoria ruled England from1837 until her death in 1901. During her 63-yearreign, England became the most powerful and wealthiest country in theworld through its colonial acquisition and by harnessing the power of theIndustrial Revolution. The population in England doubled during Victoriasreign, and the economy of the country changed from agriculture-based toindustry-based. More people were enfranchised (that is, given the right tovote) and, through this, gained influence in government. The Parliamentpassed labor laws that improved labor conditions, established universalschooling for all children, and reformed the civil service system. Britainended restrictions on foreign trade, opening the way for the island tobecome a source for both raw materials and finished goods to an ever-increasing international market.Victoria, interested in the welfare of her people, worked hard to passmeaningful reforms, and she earned the respect of her subjects. Her primeministers were her greatest assets, and with them, Queen Victoriadecreased the powers of the monarchy to empower the members of theprime ministers cabinet. As a result, the British monarchy has been able toendure, unlike the monarchies in most other countries.The changes that occurred during the Victorian era affected the lives ofevery person living in England in both great and small ways. As Englandquickly moved from an agriculture-based society to one that would producemany of the worlds goods, factories replaced individual workshops, andpeople moved from small towns to large cities in search of work. Mobilityand the transport of goods were increased with the invention of steamshipsand the development of a railway system. The balance of traditional classdistinctions shifted as more people prospered, amassing wealth and powerthat had been unthinkable in the years prior to this era. These tumultuouschanges resulted in an examination of the traditional ways of thinking andacting, and the foundations of English society — family, religion, classdivisions, and so on — came under increasing scrutiny.One area that was particularly affected by the changes in England wasreligion. The Church of England was traditionally conservative and offereda literal interpretation of the Bible. During the Victorian period, however, aspeople began to see the church as an agent for social change as well as anagent for personal salvation, the question became how — and even whether— the church should best fulfill these missions. The result was a schism inthe church that fostered three movements: the High Church movement, theMiddle Church movement, and the Low Church movement.The High Church movement was designed to align the Church of Englandwith the "Catholic" side of Anglicanism. The thinking here was thattraditional practices were the standard by which faith could be expressedand that supreme authority resided in the Church. The Middle Church
movement cared less for tradition and believed that faith could beexpressed in various ways, including through social action. The Low ChurchMovement believed that evangelicals were a force that could reform thechurch from within and without. Individual and biblical bases of faith werehallmarks of this movement. Evangelicals tackled serious issues of the day:housing and welfare of the poor, as well as social reform. They alsobelieved in spreading the gospel around the world by any meansnecessary.The growing reliance on science to explain the nature of man and hisrelationship with his world opened the doors for further examination oftraditionally held beliefs. The publication of Darwins Origin of Species(1859), which suggested that species evolved from common ancestors thatcould be found through scientific research, challenged the belief that Godcreated each species individually and separately from every other species.The agnostic movement, which relied on scientific evidence and reason tofind universal truths and which held that the existence of God could not beempirically proven, took hold and gained momentum.From these ideological splits, religious liberals and conservatives battledover fundamental questions of faith and religious practice. In Hardys work,we can see that this debate was one that he entered into. In Tess of thedUrbervilles, Hardys protagonist finds herself in a world where shequestions religion, questions faith, looks for meaning in life, and searchesfor the truths that mankind has sought for centuries.
Literary ContextThe body of Victorian literature is tremendous and would be difficult tocategorize with only a few authors. Hardys contemporaries included thelikes of Charles Dickens, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold,E.M. Forester, and Joseph Conrad. Each contributed his or her work to thebody of general human knowledge and, to one degree or another,considered the issues that had become a part of the English "discussion."Dickens criticized the treatment of the poor and children, the courts, and theclergy in Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Bleak House. WilliamThackeray challenged Victorian society at all levels in Vanity Fair. TheBrontë sisters — Emily, Charlotte, and Anne — wove romantic elements withtragic heroines and heroes in Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey.Matthew Arnold took the discussion of worldly happiness versus religiousfaith in his poems "The Scholar Gypsy" and "Dover Beach." Tennysons InMemoriam, an epic poem on the loss of dear friends, discusses intellectualand religious issues of the day. Conrad wrote on the psychology of guilt,heroism, and honor in his novels Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness.Tess of the dUrbervilles is one of Hardys Wessex novels, so called becausethe action in each story takes place in the Wessex region. Other of theWessex novels include The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Jude theObscure (1895). In each, the main characters are dealt a cruel fate that theymust overcome or be crushed by. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, MichaelHenchard, a respected man, faces a spiritual and physical deterioration that,in the end, destroys him. The main character in Jude, Jude Fawley, suffersfrom a desperate misery of body and mind and dies, like Tess in Tess of thedUrbervilles, a victim of fate.