Tess Of The D’Urbervilles By Thomas Hardy

Stonehenge the site where Tess is sacrified in the novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

The Victorian Tragedy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Tale of Love, Fate, and Society


Thomas Hardy’s classic Victorian novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, is a poignant portrayal of a young woman’s tragic journey through Victorian society. Set in rural England during the late 19th century, the novel delves into themes of love, fate, and the oppressive societal norms that dictate the lives of its characters. Tess’s story is a modern novel as it exposes the harsh realities faced by women in a patriarchal society. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy blends fiction with poetry and employs many literary references. The book is a Victorian tragedy with a vivid and beautiful spirit, highlighting the profound impact of societal rules and expectations on every character.

Hardy’s Inspiration for The Novel

Thomas Hardy drew inspiration for his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles from various sources. One of the main influences was his upbringing in the rural county of Dorset, England, where he witnessed the struggles of working-class people and the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Additionally, Hardy was inspired by the real-life case of a woman named Martha Brown, who was executed for murder in 1856. This event served as a starting point for the tragic storyline of Tess. Furthermore, Hardy’s interest in ancient history and his fascination with the decline of the aristocracy influenced the d’Urberville family, who played a significant role in the novel.

The Story of Martha Brown

Martha Brown was a woman who lived in Dorset, England, during the 19th century. Her story served as one of the inspirations for Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. In 1856, a domestic servant, Martha Brown, was indicted and subsequently convicted of murdering her abusive husband, John Brown, by striking him with a hammer while he slept. The case gained significant public attention due to its sensational nature, and Martha was one of the last women to be publicly hanged in Dorset. Martha Brown’s story captured Hardy’s interest. It became a starting point for the tragic tale of Tess, where the protagonist, Tess Durbeyfield, also faces a series of unfortunate events and struggles against societal expectations. At the same time, Hardy adapted and fictionalised the details of Martha Brown’s story for his novel, her case and the themes involved, such as class injustice, societal expectations, and the harsh realities endured by women in Victorian society with consequent gender inequality.

Tess Durbeyfield: The Tragic Heroine

Tess Durbeyfield, the novel’s protagonist, embodies the quintessential tragic heroine. Innocent and pure-hearted, Tess is thrust into a world that is cruel, unforgiving and relentless in its judgment. Born into a low-income family, she discovers her noble lineage as a descendant of the once-great d’Urbervilles. However, this newfound connection only serves to deepen her tragedy, as she becomes a victim of her family’s misguided ambitions and the expectations of Victorian society. Indeed, her downfall and suffering are related to a social sense. The pains and humiliation Tess has to endure also derive from her interactions with Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare. 

Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare

Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare are two main characters from Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Alec is portrayed as a wealthy and manipulative young man who seduces Tess, causing ruinous and tragic consequences in her life. On the other hand, Angel Clare is a more idealistic and morally driven character who falls in love with Tess. Their complex relationships with Tess form the core of the novel, as long as other subjects such as love, desire, social rules of the Victorian Era, and the consequences of the characters’ choices.

The Role of Victorian Society

Hardy masterfully portrays the oppressive essence of Victorian society, which becomes a significant antagonist in Tess’s life. The rigid class system, moral hypocrisy, and double standards prevalent during this era create an environment where Tess is constantly judged and condemned. Society’s expectations of female purity and virtue become a suffocating force that ultimately seals Tess’s tragic fate. The novel portrays the challenges faced by Tess, a young woman from a working-class background, within the rigid and judgmental Victorian society. 

In the Victorian Era, social class played a significant role, and individuals were often judged based on their ancestry and family background, besides their financial situation. Tess, as a descendant of the noble d’Urberville family, faces both admiration and prejudice due to her lineage. However, her lower social status limits her opportunities and subjects her to exploitation. The novel also highlights the strict moral standards imposed on women during that time. Tess’s actions and choices are scrutinised by society, particularly in relation to her sexuality. Her experiences reflect Victorian society’s double standards and hypocrisy, where women were often blamed and stigmatised for their perceived transgressions while men did not face so many consequences.

Furthermore, Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy portrays the mutable landscape of rural England as it grapples with industrialisation and modernisation. The novel’s recurring theme is the clash between traditional rural values and the encroaching urban influence. Overall, Tess of the d’Urbervilles provides a critique of Victorian society, shedding light on its class divisions, gender norms and expectations, and moral rigidity. It invites readers to question the societal rules and conventions of the time and empathise with Tess’s struggles to survive in an unforgiving society.

Love and Betrayal in Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Love, or the illusion of it, plays a central role in Tess’s tragedy. Her ill-fated relationships with Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare highlight the complexities of Victorian courtship and the consequences of societal prejudices and social outlooks. Tess’s encounter with Alec, a wealthy and manipulative man, leads to her seduction and subsequent downfall. Angel Clare, her true love, embodies the idealistic Victorian gentleman, but his inability to accept Tess’s past presumed mistakes ultimately drives her to despair.

Fate and Symbolism

Hardy weaves a tapestry of fate and symbolism throughout the novel, further deepening the tragedy of Tess’s life. The recurring motif of nature as a nurturing and destructive force reflects fate’s unpredictability and indifferent cruelty. The symbolism of the d’Urberville family’s ancient and crumbling mansion serves as a metaphor for the decay of the old aristocratic order and the inevitable decline of Tess’s destiny.

The Realism and Modernism of Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a literary masterpiece ahead of its time that seamlessly combines elements of both realism and modernism. Published in 1891 in The Graphic, the novel challenges the conventions of its time and presents a socially critical and psychologically introspective narrative. One of the features of Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the remarkable fusion of realism and modernism, shedding light on how Hardy’s work anticipated and influenced literary movements that would emerge in the 20th century.

Realism in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is firmly rooted in the realist tradition, capturing the social realities and hardships people in Victorian England faced. Hardy’s portrayal of rural life, class struggles, and the harsh realities of poverty is characterised by detailed descriptions and an unflinching examination of societal complications and issues. The novel’s focus on the working class and the plight of women reflects the realist tradition’s commitment to depicting the lives of ordinary people and shedding light on societal injustices.

Hardy’s realistic depiction of Tess as a complex and flawed character also adds depth to the narrative. Tess’s experiences, emotions, and internal conflicts are explored with a psychological depth that was uncommon in literature at the time. By delving into the inner mechanisms of Tess’s mind, Hardy humanises his characters and invites readers to empathise with their struggles.

Modernism in Tess of the d’Urbervilles 

While Tess of the d’Urbervilles is primarily considered a realist novel, it also contains elements that foreshadow the emerging modernist movement. Hardy’s exploration of subjective experiences, fragmented narrative structure, and questioning traditional values and beliefs all indicate modernist tendencies.

The fragmented narrative structure, with its non-linear timeline and shifting perspectives, challenges the traditional linear storytelling of the era. Hardy employs flashbacks, dream sequences, and stream-of-consciousness techniques to depict the fragmented nature of Tess’s experiences and her psychological turmoil. This experimentation with narrative form aligns with the modernist desire to break away from traditional storytelling conventions.

Furthermore, Hardy’s critique of Victorian morality and the oppressive social norms of the time demonstrates a modernist sensibility. He questions the rigid Victorian ideals of purity, sexuality, and gender roles, offering a nuanced exploration of human desires and the consequences of societal expectations. Through Tess’s tragic journey, Hardy challenges the notion of an ordered and predictable world, reflecting the modernist scepticism towards established systems of belief.

Literary References in Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy contains several literary references. Here are a few notable ones:

1. Shakespeare: Hardy references Shakespeare’s works multiple times throughout the novel. For example, Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield, compares himself to a king when he discovers his noble lineage, drawing parallels to King Henry IV from Shakespeare’s history plays.

2. Paradise Lost by John Milton: The character Alec d’Urberville compares himself to the fallen angel Satan from “Paradise Lost,” suggesting his own morally corrupt nature.

3. The Bible: Hardy incorporates biblical allusions in the novel. The title itself, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, evokes the sense of a fallen aristocratic family, reminiscent of the biblical tale of Adam and Eve.

4. Greek mythology: The character Angel Clare’s name alludes to the angelic figures found in Greek mythology. This reference suggests his idealistic and somewhat naïve nature.

These are just a few examples, but many more literary references throughout the novel enrich the story and provide deeper layers of meaning.

Shakespeare references in Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is known for its direct references and echoes of the masterworks of William Shakespeare; some allusions and parallels can be drawn between the two literary geniuses. These references, though subtle, offer deeper insights into the characters and themes within Hardy’s novel. Some of the Shakespearean influences in Tess of the d’Urbervilles are the following:

1. The Tragic Heroine: Tess as a Modern-Day Tragic Heroine Shakespearean tragedies often feature a tragic hero or heroine facing a downfall due to flaws or external circumstances. Similarly, Tess Durbeyfield can be seen as a modern-day tragic heroine whose purity and innocence are ultimately tainted by oppressive societal norms and her ill-fated choices. Like Shakespeare’s tragic heroines, Tess undergoes a series of trials and tribulations that lead to her tragic fate.

2. The Concept of Fate and Destiny: In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the theme of fate plays a significant role, akin to the concept of “fate” in Shakespearean plays such as Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. Circumstances beyond her control shape Tess’s life and her tragic journey can be seen as a result of the forces of destiny. Like Shakespeare’s characters, Tess is subject to the whims of fate, which ultimately leads to her undoing.

3. The Blurring of Reality and Illusion: Shakespeare often explores the theme of appearance versus reality, and this motif can also be found in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Tess’s encounters with Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare can be seen as instances where reality is distorted by illusion and deception. This echoes the themes of mistaken identity and hidden truths that Shakespeare often employed in his plays, such as Twelfth Night or Much Ado About Nothing.

4. The Role of Nature as a Symbol: Hardy, like Shakespeare, uses nature as a powerful symbol throughout his works. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, nature often reflects the characters’ emotions and the events of the story. This use of nature as a symbolic backdrop is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s plays, where natural elements often mirror the characters’ inner turmoil. The natural landscape in Tess of the d’Urbervilles reflects Tess’s emotional state and the tragic events that unfold.

5. The epigraph “Poor wounded name! my bosom, as a bed, Shall lodge thee, till thy wound be throughly heal’d” comes from Two Gentlemen of Verona, a comedy by William Shakespeare.

These references to Shakespeare in Tess of the d’Urbervilles demonstrate Hardy’s understanding and appreciation of Shakespearean themes and techniques. By incorporating elements of tragedy, fate, illusion, and nature symbolism, Hardy adds depth and complexity to his tragic narrative, resonating with the enduring themes found in Shakespeare’s plays.

Symbolism and Greek References in Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a literary masterpiece that employs rich symbolism and allusions to Greek mythology to enhance its thematic depth and provide a deeper understanding of the characters and events in the novel. Through the use of symbolism and Greek references, Hardy weaves an array of undisclosed connotations and universal truths.

Symbolism and Deep Meanings in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

1. The Red Color: Throughout the novel, the colour red is used symbolically to represent the themes of passion, sin, and bloodshed. It is associated with Tess’s sexual awakening and her subsequent fall from grace. The red colour appears in various forms, such as the strawberries she picks, the blood on her hands, and the vibrant red of her lips. This symbolism highlights desire’s destructive power and societal expectations’ consequences.

2. The Angel and the Serpent: The contrasting symbolism of the angel and the serpent is evident in the characters of Angel Clare and Alec d’Urberville. Angel is associated with purity, love, and salvation, while Alec embodies temptation, sin, and corruption. This duality represents the moral choices faced by Tess and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

3. The Stonehenge Monument: The ancient Stonehenge monument serves as a powerful symbol in the novel. It represents the weight of history, fate’s inevitability, and life’s cyclical nature. Tess’s encounter with Stonehenge signifies her connection to her ancestral past and foreshadows her tragic destiny.

Greek References in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

1. The Tragic Heroine: Tess’s tragic fate can be seen as a modern-day embodiment of Greek tragic heroines like Medea or Antigone. Like these figures, Tess is a victim of circumstances beyond her control and is subject to the whims of fate. Her story reflects the universal themes of hubris, downfall, and the struggle against fate that are prevalent in Greek tragedies.

2. The Myth of Daphnis and Chloe: Hardy alludes to the Greek myth of Daphnis and Chloe, a story of star-crossed lovers, in his portrayal of Tess and Angel’s relationship. Like Daphnis and Chloe, their love faces numerous obstacles and ends in tragedy. This reference adds depth to their love story and highlights the timeless nature of human emotions and experiences.

3. The Myth of Pandora’s Box: The concept of Pandora’s Box, where the opening of the box releases all the evils into the world, can be seen in Tess’s story. Her innocence and purity, akin to the sealed box, are shattered when she is exposed to the evils of society. This allusion underscores the destructive power of Victorian society’s requirements and the consequences of breaking free from traditional norms.

Metaphors and Nature in Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles contains various symbolic elements through vivid metaphors and the power of nature to convey deeper meanings and emotions. Through his skilful use of metaphorical language and the natural landscape, Hardy weaves a tapestry of symbolism that enriches the narrative and enhances our understanding of the characters and themes within the novel. Metaphors and the portrayal of nature in Tess of the d’Urbervilles profoundly impact the story.

Metaphors in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

1. The Fallen Woman: Tess is often referred to metaphorically as a fallen woman, emphasising her loss of innocence and societal condemnation. This metaphorical representation highlights the tragic consequences of her choices and the oppressive nature of Victorian society. The metaphor of the fallen woman also serves as a critique of the double standards and moral hypocrisy prevalent at the time.

2. The Maze: The use of the maze metaphor symbolises the complexities of Tess’s life and the challenges she faces. Like a labyrinth, Tess’s journey is filled with twists and turns, dead ends, and unexpected encounters. This metaphor underscores the confusion and entrapment she experiences and the difficulty of her journey with societal expectations and personal desires.

3. The Butterfly: Tess is often compared to a butterfly, symbolising her delicate beauty, vulnerability, and fleeting nature. The butterfly metaphor captures the ephemeral nature of her happiness and the tragic inevitability of her disgraceful end. It also serves as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of youth and the fragility of human existence.

Nature in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

1. The Egdon Heath: The natural landscape of Egdon Heath serves as a powerful backdrop in the novel, reflecting the characters’ emotions and the events of the story. The desolate and unforgiving nature of the heath mirrors Tess’s inner turmoil and the harsh realities of her life. It symbolises the oppressive forces of society, the indifference of nature to human suffering, and the cruelty against nature.

2. The Seasons: Hardy employs the changing seasons to reflect the emotional and psychological states of the characters. The lushness of spring symbolises hope and new beginnings, while the harshness of winter represents despair and desolation. The cyclical nature of the seasons also mirrors the cyclical nature of Tess’s tragic journey.

3. Animals and Birds: Animals and birds in the novel often serve as metaphors for the characters’ experiences and emotions. For example, the caged bird represents Tess’s entrapment and loss of freedom, while the hunted animals symbolise her vulnerability and prey-like existence.


Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a remarkable novel that seamlessly blends elements of realism and modernism. Thomas Hardy’s masterful storytelling and his exploration of social issues, psychological depth, and narrative experimentation make the novel a masterwork ahead of its time. By merging the conventions of realism with emerging modernist tendencies, Hardy created a literary masterpiece that continues to attract readers and influence subsequent generations of writers.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a unique and extravagant novel showing literature’s enduring power in challenging societal norms. Although it is a classic Victorian fiction book, it offers profound insights into the human condition. It stands as a powerful literary testament to the struggles faced by women in Victorian society. Thomas Hardy’s mastery as poet and narrator is evident in his evocation of a sense of empathy and understanding for Tess’s tragic journey.

Through the exploration of love, fate, and societal beliefs and rules, the novel induces readers to reflect on the injustices and limitations placed upon women during this era. Tess’s story serves as a reminder that, even in the face of tragedy, the indomitable spirit of a woman can endure, leaving a lasting impact on culture, literature, and society as a whole.

Symbolism and Greek references in Tess of the d’Urbervilles elevate the novel beyond a simple narrative, adding layers of meaning and universal truths. Thomas Hardy’s use of symbolism, such as the colour red and the angel-serpent dichotomy, enrich the themes of passion, morality, and fate. Greek ancient myths and archetypes are references which provide a timeless and universal framework for understanding Tess’s tragic journey. By employing these literary devices, Hardy creates a work of profound depth and complexity, resonating with readers and inviting contemplation of the human condition.

Metaphors and the portrayal of nature in Tess of the d’Urbervilles play a crucial role in conveying deeper meanings and emotions. Thomas Hardy’s use of metaphorical language enriches the narrative, highlighting the complexities of Tess’s life and the societal forces that shape her destiny. The portrayal of nature as a powerful backdrop underscores the characters’ emotions and reflects the themes of oppression, despair, and the cyclical nature of life. Through these literary devices, Hardy creates a world that resonates with readers, inviting contemplation of the human condition and the universal struggles faced by individuals in a harsh and unforgiving world.

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