A Pure Woman.

Tess Durbeyfield

"Never in her life- had she ever intended to do wrong; yet
these hard judgements had come".
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“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?”

Initially condemned for being ‘immoral’ and pessimistic when it was first published in 1891, Tess of the D’urbervilles is a moving novel about the hypocrisy of social convention. But most importantly, this poetic Thomas Hardy novel is best known for its harrowing depiction of the wronged Tess.

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The Maiden.

Presented by Hardy as a mythic heroine, whereby she is often referred to in mythical terms, such as being called the ‘Daughter of Nature’, Tess Durberyfield is a loyal young woman, committed to doing the best she can for her family. However, it is her inexperience, beauty and lack of wise parenting that leave her extremely vulnerable. Being the eldest daughter of an impoverished family from Marlott, Tess’s misfortune begins when her father discovers a link between their name and the noble line of D’urbevilles. As a result of this, Tess is encouraged by her ambitious and greedy parents to go “claim kin” by working at the D’urberville mansion. Unfortunately, it is here, while working for the amoral Alec D’urberville, that Tess meets her downfall.

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Maiden No More: Alec D’urberville with Tess Durberyfield.

Manipulative, sinister and impulsive, Alec does everything in his power to seduce the inexperienced Tess; raping her out in the woods one night. When Tess inevitably becomes pregnant with Alec’s child, she is established as a religious symbol, representing the idea of ‘fallen humanity’. Moreover, in depicting the injustice Tess suffers as a result of tyrannical Alec D’urberville, Hardy suggests Tess represents Christinaity’s ‘original sin’, where although she suffers crimes that are not her own, she will will a life more degraded than she deserves.

This allusion to ‘original sin’ is explored further in the next chapter (‘Maiden No More’), after Tess returns home a ‘fallen woman’. For instance, Tess is left grief-stricken and miserable when her young baby, Sorrow, dies. A year later, to the much needed relief of the reader, Tess enjoys a period of contentment and friendship whilst working as a milkmaid at the Talbothays dairy farm. There she meets a Parson’s son, named Angel Clare, who she slowly falls in love with. Despite this happiness, Tess’s past troubles continue to haunt her when the noble Mr Clare asks for her hand in marriage. Torn by her conscience, Tess believes the moral thing to do would be to reveal everything to her prospective husband, and not remain silent, under her mothers strict orders. However, once she writes a confessional note and slips it under Angel Clare’s door, it slides under the carpet, causing him never to see it.

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The Woman Pays: Tess with Angel Clare.

After the wedding, consumed with guilt, Tess decides to confess all. But Angel cannot forgive Tess and leaves for Brazil alone. Although left with some money to support herself, Tess is too scared to inquire after her husband’s welfare and consequently succumbs to poverty. Along with Talbothays’ Marion and Izz, she is forced to work on an unpleasant farm. It is here that again Tess involuntary succumbs to the cruel Alec D’urberville.

When Angel returns to England and is ready to forgive his wife, it is too late. Upon discovering Tess in the fashionable city of Sandborne, he soon learns that Tess was unable to resist Alec after she had been abandoned. Tess then tells Angel that he must never try and find her again, going upstairs heartbroken to the point of madness. It is then that she stabs Alec D’urbeville to death in his sleep. Hiding out in an empty mansion, the travelling to Stone Henge to rest, Tess awakes to find that a search party has discovered them. As a result of this, Tess is arrested and says she is ‘ready’ to die because she always knew that “too much happiness couldn’t last”.

In conclusion to this, although a major theme of Tess of the D’urbervilles includes men dominating women, Hardy is shown to sympathize with England’s lower class, particularly rural women. As well as this, the novel can be seen as a compassionate (and sometimes controversial) depiction of a wronged woman who has been victimized by the self-righteous rigidity of English social morality that leaves you with the single sorrowful utterance that is – ‘poor Tess’!

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About Feminism Through Cinema and Literature

Hi, its Tia. From Cambridge, England. Avid reader, film watcher and feminist. Studying for an undergraduate degree in English Literature at York St John University. The tone of my blog has hopefully developed into a more literary and critical analysis of female roles in cinema and literature. This is a development that I hope to continue as I progress with my studies. Hope you enjoy my blog and do feel free to leave a comment.
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7 Responses to A Pure Woman.

  1. I love Tess of the D’Urbervilles and consider it to be probably Hardy’s best novel. Tess is one of the wronged women of literature that is a heroine simply for being so strong despite everything that she goes through. I find it interesting that Hardy includes so many religious references, even Angel Clare, supposedly Tess’s saviour until he deserts her, I love Hardy’s use of language more than anything else in the book though. It’s so poetical, his descriptions of the country and of Tess, likening her to essentially some ethereal angel of sunlight. It’s a gorgeous book and one that I think every person should read. I love your overview, and especially the images from the Gemma Arterton adaptation. She was the perfect Tess Durbeyfield and Eddie Redmayne the perfect Angel Clare. I also love the 1979 adaptation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank-you so much for this wonderful comment. I too agree with you. The story of Tess of the D’urbervilles is so tragic and so sad. For me the most poignant moment in the novel is when Tess meets Alec D’urberville on her way back from Angel’s parents and she has to explain to him all her ‘troubles’, which is so emotional. Also, the moment when she has to cut off her eyebrows so as not to be molested is so sad, especially considering she no longer cares for her beauty because she knows Angel Clare will never see her again. Thanks for your comment on the images. I too loved Gemma Arteton and Eddie Redmayne. They were so moving and so good. That adaptation was the first way I heard of Tess of the D’urbervilles and I was obsessed by it. I think I even remember feeling extremely melancholic for an entire week after I had watched it. It wasn’t until recently that I actually got round to reading the novel, and wow I loved it so much.
      Thanks again for the great comment, I totally agree with you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’d already read the book by the time the TV drama was shown, I can’t remember, but we studied the book in my English class around that time and I know I rewatched it after that because I hadn’t seen all the episodes the first time through. I often rewatch it though because it’s just absolutely gorgeous. The book is a beautiful one too. It’s very melancholic and I’m not surprised you felt that way! After I read the last Harry Potter book I spent the whole Summer, about two months, just locked in my room feeling like the world had ended! Books are very powerful.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. lynnedavis2 says:

    I just finished Alice Munro’s wonderful book of short stories, Too Much Happiness. I keep wondering if her title story is an intentional reference to Hardy’s phrase.

    Like

  3. Nice summary! I was assigned this book to analyze for my English Senior Seminar, and I was shocked by how sad it really was. I was reading along, thinking it was a pleasant Victorian novel, and suddenly I stopped and asked myself, “Did he just rape her?” But what struck me the most was the fact that Angel was so in love with his idea of Tess (naming her after mythological goddesses and seeing only her perfection and innocence) that he couldn’t accept the real, “damaged” Tess or cope with her past. Leaving her after learning the truth was such a jerk move.

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