Tess of the D’Urbervilles

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!




    • Good question!

      I think Tess is different to all the other characters in the novel as Hardy particularly fantasizes over her. In my reading of it, she is basically an idealisation of Hardy’s perfect woman. Her ‘bouncing handsome womanliness’, her ‘rosy lips’ and her ‘fullness of growth’ show this. The fact that she is always presented in white promotes her innocence and purity. There are several sexual undertones that surround Tess too, particularly the scene with the strawberries!

      For the other girls, none of them live up to the beauty of Tess … they are all just average and the novel reflects this. When they don’t get what they want: Marian turns to drink, Retty attempts suicide, and Izz nearly runs off to Brazil.

      Hope this helps?

    • I Feel Sympathetic To these ladies because forexample like Tess, she is a victim of circumstances beyond her own making. that is, her mother fails to educate her and Elec rapes her, something that caused ha a bad reputation in the society and leads to her hectic ending when she is jailed and late killed

      • Yes I agree Tess was a victim of circumstances. It’s a pity she ever met Angel or Alec. If she’d been left alone to get on with her own life, she would have been happier. I can understand how she killed Alec and maybe some people would do it in circumstances where they are being treated terrible. I suppose though it’s not right for any woman or man to kill their partner or anybody else and not expect to get jail or some punishment. I know everybody has a breaking point but I suppose society doesn’t want to give out the message that “Look you were driven to it it’s okay to kill, you won’t get jail” Poor Tess got the death sentence.

  1. good review, and I definitely agree with your view on how greatly society influences the actions of the characters and therefore the outcome of the novel! Can I ask where you went to university to study english?

  2. Hi!great review.what are the streaks of feminism in this novel.do you think there is?what’s hardys perception of the female characters.

    • thank you for the question. Me too am thinking of this novel from a feminist point of view especially the theme of motherhood in this novel since Tess is wronged by her mother and father first

  3. Good Review I enjoyed reading it. When I read this book years ago and later again I thought Angel had no real depth. I still kind of do think that but I suppose when he found out after just being married that his wife had had a baby already he must have been shocked. I know Tess slipped the note under the door trying to telll him and it wasn’t her fault. Even today a man or woman woufd get a shock it they only heard about their spouse having a baby already. I like the character Tess. I felt she was her own person and didn’t really care what people thought and especially what her friends thought. People will always worry about what others think of them.

  4. I agree that Tess is a pure woman who is victimized by Alec and society. I think that Hardy is also commenting on the sexual double standard. Alec goes through the novel unpunished by society. Angel confesses and expects forgiveness from Tess, but is not able to reciprocate when she confesses her past. That Angel engaged voluntarily in 48 hours of debauchery and that Tess was raped is another irony. Hardy’s criticism of a double sexual standard is legitimate. Society’s answer to it, especially since the sexual revolution, is not. Instead of exalting men to a higher moral standard, today’s society has only debased women and at a substantial cost.

  5. Good review. I came here to,read about Tess after the book was mentioned in Fifty Shades of Grey. Who says fiction isn’t enlightening? Thanks for your review.

  6. Really brilliant review. I’m studying Tess now in my final year of high school. I love the comment about the red, hopefully I can work that into my exam essay somewhere! Upon further inspection, red is mentioned even more than I thought! When Tess first sees the D’Urberville manor, the thing she first notices about it is it’s “rich red colour”! However, where is the red mentioned during the raping? I don’t know if I’m being blind but I can’t see one. I hope there is one as it would be perfect for really confirming the importance of the colour.

    • Thanks! As you mention the more you read it, the more red appears – especially surrounding the notions of death and sex (Alec gives her red roses/strawberries and she also dies in a red-brick building…). On the evening of the rape, the red is in the ‘red coal of a cigar’ in Alec’s mouth – sexual? I think so. Good luck with the essay, I hope it goes well!

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