Tess of the d’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy, review

I. Theme

Style of life in Great Britain and its consequences mixed with personal tragedies of a woman who is a descendant of a famous family and whose passionate love was refused due to strong social and personal beliefs of her lover. There is shown how old social conventions can damage love and lead to irreversible situation.

II. Subject

Money, happiness, love, family, hypocrisy

III. Plot and structure

  1. Tess Durbeyfield leaves home to find help for her family as a descent of famous family of D’Urbervilles, because she killed the bread-winner Prince
  2. She is offered job but is raped by Alec D’Urberville, son of her master and has a baby that is born out of wedlock and nobody wants to Christian it and when it dies nobody wants to bury it – her tragedy begins.
  3. She finds another job at dairy farm and falls in love with Angel Clare who wants to marry her, she after several refusals accepts but when reveals her real past Angel Clare leaves her alone and departs to Brazil.
  4. Tess returns home, then works at Flintcomb Ash farm, meets Alec to whom she cannot resist, Angel doesn’t come back and when her father dies she is forced to marry Alec
  5. Angel Clare Return from Brazil, she kill Alec and escapes with Angel to survive several last moments of her life
  6. Finally she is executed, only Angel Clare and Liza Lu, her sister remain as copy of the previous lovers

Structure of the novel is set in chronological order – letters – flashbacks. Novel is divided into 7 phases

The maiden – virgin - Marlott

Maiden no more – raped by Alec – Trantringe poultry Farm

The rally – dating with Angel, preparation for wedding – Talbothays

The consequence – revealed her secret – D’Urbervilles mansion

The woman pays – Angel left her - Flintcomb Ash Farm

The convert – Angel changed – Sandbourne – She killed Alec, Angel is back

Fulfilment – Tess was executed – Stonehenge / Winchester

These seven parts symbolize cycle of life from birth to death (Tess) or her geographical movements

Conflict: Between two people Angel Clare cannot overcome his doctrines and forgive Tess her past and thus opens space for endless troubles at first especially for Tess but later as he realizes his wrong judgement his own because he still loves her. There is also conflict between women and society. Woman without man means nothing in society, she must be married and accompanied by man, and there is no other possibility.

  1. Exposition – John Durbeyfield is told that he is a descent of famous family of the D’Urbervilles who owned endless fields. He believes to Parson Tringsham. Announces the news at home but everyone thinks he is mad. He should go with load to the market and is strengthening at public house but is drunk and unable to go. So instead of him Tess travels with Abraham, her brother. She kills, by mistake their horse Prince and family remains without money. Meanwhile they discover real Mrs D’Urberville and Tess is sent, by mother, to ask for kin to find help for the death horse. Instead of old lady she finds her son Alec D’Urberville with whom she falls in love but is raped. Tess is offered job as a manager of fowl farm. She wants to be a teacher in local school but accepts the offer (letter seems to be written by man). From this love unwanted baby is born but nobody wants to Christian it (chapter 14). One night before it dies, she wakes up all her siblings and christen it herself (name Sorrow), but no one wants to bury such child, so she does it secretly. Since now she feels she cannot stay at one place – she must move (chapter 15). Moves to Talbothays, dairy, where is need of milkmaid. She arrives at Talbothays meets Clare, become friends, talk about different subjects, sun, stars, old families, she finds out that Angel doesn’t like old extinct families so she is quiet who she is. Until chapter 24 when Tess likes him and Angel wants to kiss her but she permanently refuses.
  2. Complication – chapter 25, 26 Angel thinks of Tess, leaves home to announce parents his intention to marry a dairy girl not Miss Mercy Chant who was prepared for him from childhood. In Chapter 27 he asks Tess question of being his wife. She answered no, is not prepared. However Angel wants to know the reason why he was refused, she promised to reveal him the truth but is surprised that he hadn’t heard of her. As the day of revealing her story comes she is prepared to accept his proposal. On the way to station she reveals him that she is descent of an old family. He says that doesn’t matter and she accepts his proposal. Meanwhile her mother advises her not to reveal her past in order to be happy. When the date of wedding is set and her dress is bought, she reminds words of songs that she will never become a wife. In the town, while Tess was waiting for the Clare a man recognized Tess, Clare knocks him down
  3. Crises – Chapter 33, now Tess wants to reveal what happened in Trantringe 3, 4 years ago, but Angel didn’t read her letter. On wedding day she hears bells – symbol of the D’Urberfield legend, although she never heard of it. They move to old mansion of D’Urberfield family, where Tess is given jewellery of Clare’s father. Jonathan brings news of Retty – drawned, Marian drunk. Chapter 35 they both reveal their secrets. Clare tells her that he cannot enter church and Tess tells of Alec D’Urberville. Then suddenly Clare changed, ha cannot believe her, she tries to persuade him of her love, but he thinks of her as someone else. Tess wants to commit suicide but Clare refuses it. One night in dream Clare wants to kill her, Tess feels he would leave her. They decided on separation Tess can contact him only in emergency, gave her some money and left. She went home and he too. Tess can’t stay at home – not enough place, so she leaves North. Clare decided to go to Brazil, on hearing words from bible of King Lemuel he realizes his limited mind and that he was wrong of Tess. Chapter 42 – Marian reveals to Tess that mistake is somewhere else not in her or in Clare. Master of Tess at Flintcomb a man whom Clare knocked down.

Chapter 45 she finds Alec D’urberville preaching in a barn, then from now he tries to get her at first he asks her not to tempt him but later he leaves preaching and follows Tess at Flintcomb sees her how hard she works – wants to take her to Africa as his wife, then at home. When her father dies he asks her to marry and persuades her that her husband will never return. Offers money to her mother and siblings. They move from Marlott to Kingsbery to look for their kins D’Urbervilles

  1. Climax – Tess had written several hearty letters to Angel how cruel he was to her and that she is in huge danger, then Izz and Marian wrote similar letter. Meanwhile Angel Clare returns from Brazil reads the letters, recognizes his mistakes and searches Tess. Goes through Marlott, Flintcomb Ash and finds out how much she had suffered. Finally, he finds, her mother, Joan, and learns that Tess is going to Marry at Sandbourne Alec, so he searches her and wants to know what happened. As the result of this meeting Clare is sent back that their love is over, but Tess during the breakfast kills Alec and runs after Clare whom she still loves
  2. Resolution – they are escaping together and surviving several beautiful days, however at Stonehenge, Tess is arrested and consequently in city of Winchester executed. Before this Tess offered or asked to take care of her sister Liza Lu who is similar to her but without sin.

IV. Setting

Blackmoor, Marlott, Rollivers Inn, Hiltown, Shaston, Trantringe poultry farm, Talbothays, Port Bredy, Flintcomb Ash farm, Kingsbery, Sandbourne

V. Characters

Main characters:

  1. Tess Durbeyfield – beautiful young girl, she has three brothers, in Marlott father announces her the news they have famous ancestor. When she works at Trantringe poultry farm she has pessimistic outlook on life – I wish I had never been born – then Alec leaves to London. At that time she probably knows she is pregnant. When she refuses Angel Clare to marry he calls he Miss Flirt. Generally Tess is indecisive and has problems with making up her mind. As soon as she accepted Angel’s proposal, she couldn’t decided on the date of the wedding, she would rather not to marry at all than she didn’t accepted her mother’s advice not to reveal her past and thus she opened endless space for her suffering. Finally in the end, when she was again with Alec she could easily escape with Angel but no she must have killed Alec and have another problems. In my opinion Tess is trapped by the old myth of family of D’Urberville and indecision in her behaviour that leads to endless tragedies.
  2. Alec D’Urberville – son of Mrs D’Urberville, He likes Tess, calls her cousin, teaches her how to whistle etc. He wants to know why Tess doesn’t like his kisses – she doesn’t love him. When Alec leaves to London he invites Tess to go with him but she refuses. Generally Alec can be described as wicked man, tempter, or better say “twister of faith”.
  3. Mr. Angle Clare –she meets him at Talbothays, he is learning how to become farmer, at first, he doesn’t look at girls but later he likes Tess. He is the youngest son, 26 of parson from the other end of country. When he was young he didn’t want to be vicar so his father didn’t send him to Cambridge. He was living at attic of dairy house. He thought that he saw Tess somewhere before. Although he is passionate and loving, his behaviour describes typical English style of life, he is captured inside conventions of his beliefs and cannot forgive past of his beloved person. Unfortunately it is too late when he made up his mind.

Minor  - stereotype (flat) characters:

Sir John – John Durbeyfield - descent of sir pagan d’Urberville – Tringham reveals him if the title Sir was hereditary he would be Sir as his father was. His branch of D’Urbervilles is extinct. He strengthens himself in the public house.

Parson Tringham – the antiquary of stagfoot line

Joan Durbeyfield – Tess’s mother

Mrs. D’Urberville – mother of Alec, blind, she wants Tess to whistle

Robert Crick – dairy man – master at Talbothays, friend of her mother he offered the place to Tess

Mrs. Crick – his wife

Retty Priddle – milkmaid

Izz Huett – milkmaid, later Clare asked her to come with him to South America

Marian – eldest milkmaid they all admire Angel but know he likes only Tess

Felix – brother of Angel Clare who told him that his behaviour has changed to farmer’s behaviour not of clergy.

Farmer Gotsby – master of Flintcomb Ash a man whom Clare knocked down in the Inn

Liza Lu – Sister of Tess who is pure she is offered to Angel when talking at Stonehenge

VI. Point of view

3rd person omniscient - there are introduced also feelings of characters

VII. Style

Diction: middle / neutral – there is used vocabulary of ordinary people

VIII. Tone

Tone – sadness, spontaneity,

Irony of fate – in several situations, such as decisions of Clare, which were opposite to her feelings or sudden death of her father were outside her power.

IX. Symbolism, allegory

Mud – chapter 23 there is mud on the way to church and Angel carries all girls over it. Tess will need his help in the future to overcome some serious problem (mud).

Story of Angel Clare’s father – chapter 26 – he retells story how he saved family of D’Urberfields from self destruction and doesn’t want his son to do the same as an unknown family. Father as if was feeling what might have happen in the future. There is something bad in the family of D’Urbervilles.

31st December / date of wedding – end of something beautiful – at that time she reminded words of song that she will never be a wife.

Cock is crowing – on their wedding day whether is going to change, also their stage of love

Izz says Clare that she cannot love him more than Tess and Care realizes his mistake – returns Izz and travels to London

X. Genre (type)

In my opinion this novel consists features of naturalistic novel, there are introduced pessimistic opinions, also several reproductions of facts, especially places where Tess spent some time really exist (Stonehenge, Winchester). Then there are some features of novel of the soil because there is described hard life of people on farms and field and finally there are present features of the romantic novel because whole novel is soaked by love and spontaneity. Also several features of novel of the travel could be identified.

XI. Own interpretation

Somebody who read this novel should naturally ask who is guilty for such suffering. The society? Probably no or not completely. Mistakes are created by simple people and thus it is in this case, so where is the source of the Tess’s suffering and unhappiness.

At first she is too sensitive and she blames herself for everything and thinks she can solve all the problems on her own. That is the basic mistake. But we must be aware, she wouldn’t be set upon the journey of unhappiness unless she had drunk father and mother who sent her with carriage into night. So then who is mistaken? Drunk father, careful mother, or young inexperienced girl who kills, by mistake, they bread-winner Prince? Probably nobody. Everyone did the best for the family and nobody intended to do it deliberately. So the beginning was depending on the fate, however, then Tess’s sensitive conscience started to work. She thought that it was her mistake and forgot that there were another two people carrying responsibility. In this case her mother used opportunity of her conscience and father’s discovery and sent her out to enlarge her feeling.

So then who is mistaken, now? Tess thinks she is bad and her mother feeds this sense by sending her out of home to search supply for death Prince. From now on Tess consists of belief that she is guilty and refuses any loving impulses of outer world, Alec, Angel.

But is really guilty her mother and Tess? Not completely. There is guilt of outer world too. Tess is like fertile land for the sense of guilt, she thinks she is guilty although she, in reality is not. On the other hand her mother was the first stirring element who pressed her towards the guilt, the other were Alec who made her a baby and abandoned her by leaving to London, then Angel who left her in the troubles even if she explained him what and why it happened.

To conclude tragedy or unhappiness described in this novel springs from three main points. At first it is Tess who blames herself for everything, wants to commit suicide, then there is her own mother who sends her out of home and thus supports her sense of guilt for the rest of life and there is remaining part, society or culture, especially their lovers, who are not able to help her to solve her personal problems.