After studying this book for both A-Level and now at University, I have managed to form many opinions of Tess and the events that unfold within the novel.
The main decision that the reader has to make in this novel is whether Tess is a pure woman that is sinned against or a fallen woman who is punished for her sins. Personally, I have always held the opinion that tends to agree with Hardy that Tess is a pure woman who is constantly wronged against in the text. It seems that Tess’ fate is determined on the very first page in the novel where her father is informed of his wealth and heritage and regardless of this, Hardy’s omniscient narration influences you to sympathise with Tess and hope that finally she will be saved and live a happy life with Angel.
Of course this does not happen but by giving the reader a chance it allows them to emotionally connect to the text and form their own opinions. I see Tess as a pure woman as she is wronged by people throughout the book. Firstly, Tess is wronged by her mother as she refuses to educate her as a Lady and inform her of what the world can be like. This ultimately leads her to be wronged by Alec, as he commits the sin of raping Tess which means that she can never properly be with Angel as she is seen in society as ‘damaged.’ Surely, Tess can’t be seen as a fallen woman. How does she sin in this novel? Can you blame her for being raped when she is described as so naive?
Another concept of this novel is the way in which the male characters are perceived. Is Alec represented as the definition of evil? Is Angel perceived as morally good? It seems that this is so because Alec abuses Tess and his wronging of her is the reason, in the eyes of society, that Angel rejects Tess. The question I want to pose however, is that was Angel right to reject Tess? Should he have followed his heart? Or should he have listened to society? It seems that because of Angel’s decision, Tess is again on the path of destiny that she was originally on. It seems significant to point out that Angel is forgiven for his mistakes but Tess is not for hers. This is due to the way that Hardy interprets society and is the reason that Tess cannot alter her destiny within the novel.
Hardy’s use of the colour red is also important when forming opinions on this novel. It appears during every key scene in this novel: Tess at the dance, the eating of the strawberries, the rape of Tess, the lust of Angel, Alec’s death and the eventual death of Tess herself. Surely, this is ironic foreshadowing as at every point where something major happens the reader is reminded of Tess’ destiny which ends with her eventual hanging.
So, it seems when considering whether Tess is a pure woman or a fallen woman it appears that how you view the importance of the role of society is crucial in determining your overall views. Hardy idealises Tess and I do too. She is wronged, betrayed and let down frequently in the text and Hardy has to follow through with the ideas that he begins with on the first page to prove his own interpretations of society.
Tess as a whole is a very good read, with multiple ways of interpreting the text. This means that opinions can be formed very easily and it is really enjoyable to do so. It is a very good read and definitely earns a cemented 9/10. If you have read this and enjoyed it, Hardy’s Jude the Obscure is also a terrific read. So, an enjoyable read with multiple readings for people of most ages…who can refuse? Enjoy!