Literature: Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess of the d'Urbervilles (or its full title Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented) is an 1891 novel written by Thomas Hardy. It was his second-to-last book.

The book tells the story of Tess Durbeyfield, a poor but beautiful peasant girl. When the book begins, her father, John, finds out from a genealogist that his surname is really d'Urberville, which makes him and his family of noble lineage. Meanwhile, Tess participates in the local village May Dance. There she meets a young man named Angel Clare. Before they can dance with each other, however, Angel leaves; Tess believes she has been snubbed.

After the dance, Tess must ride to market because her father is too drunk from celebrating his new heritage. On the way there, she falls asleep on her horse, causing it to run into a carriage and die.

Feeling guilty, Tess' parents have her leave home to live with one of her apparent relatives, Mrs. d'Urberville, and her son, Alec. Tess begins working for Mrs. d'Urberville as poultry keeper. Alec takes a romantic interest in Tess; she remains, for the most part, uninterested. However, one night, on their way home, Alec intentionally gets them lost and rapes Tess. The rest of the novel recounts what happens to Tess' life after this incident and how her reputation is ultimately wrecked.

Because of the themes presented in the book, such as religious themes and — God forbid, an unmarried woman who's not a virgin being presented as ultimately moral and good — it was controversial in its time. Today, it is hailed as classic literature.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles has been made into a theatrical film at least three times; there are also four made-for-television movies and miniseries. There have also been several plays and even an opera made of it.

Provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Tess' parents, so much.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Alec's lust for Tess, technically speaking. Her love for Angel is unrequited when he learns her past, and Angel himself has three peasant girls who are flinging themselves at his feet, but whom he doesn't notice at all. One of the peasant girls also has an admirer who's loved her for two years, but she's hardly answered him.
  • Arcadian Interlude: Tess's time working for Dairyman Crick after her horrible experience with Alec and the death of her baby.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Alec is a phony aristocrat, but close enough.
    • Inverted with Angel, whose well known dislike of old aristocratic families comes to seem more and more like absurd reverse discrimation—especially when he claims Tess's tainted aristocratic blood is why she fell to Alec.
  • The Atoner: Angel becomes this by the end of the book after a horrid journey in Brazil, giving him time to rethink his treatment of Tess.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Only when you push Tess way past the limit.
  • Break the Cutie: Tess.
  • The Bride With A Past: Subverted or deconstructed with Tess.
  • Bumbling Dad: Played mostly straight rather than humorously with Tess's father.
  • Butt Monkey: Tess, because nothing, absolutely nothing goes well for her in the end. It is also combined with her being belittled and treated poorly by people.
  • Calling the Old Woman Out: Tess's mother chides her for coming home from the d'Urberville estate not only unmarried, but deflowered. Tess counters that she never taught her about sex, let alone how to recognize or protect herself against unwanted sexual advances. Her mother is quickly subdued.
  • Celibate Hero: Angel in an unpleasant take on the trope.
  • City Mouse: Angel. He takes a fancy to living among country folk, but doesn't fit in.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Alec.
  • Death by Sex: First, Alec rapes her which dooms her to society and her marriage with Angel. Then the text implies (and its depicted in TV miniseries and the 1979 film adaptation) that Angel and Tess consummated their marriage during their hideout at a mansion before Tess is taken to be executed.
  • Defiled Forever: Tess. This trope is deconstructed.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The rape, as well as other things.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Oh my, where to begin? First, Tess accidentally kills her horse; she gets raped; her child dies and will not be buried by the local church. Then everyone in the village seems to have turned their back on her, and so she leaves. She meets Angel again, falls deeply in love with him, and they get married, but Angel freaks out at realizing she's not a virgin, and leaves her and goes to Brazil for a while. In the meantime, Tess works on a farm, employed by a man who knows about her past and constantly holds it above her. Her father dies. Her family has no money, and they lose their property. The only person who will help them is Alec, and only if she becomes his mistress. After Tess is forced into this contract, Angel comes back; she kills Alec. She is arrested and finally hanged.
  • Double Standard: Big time, mostly reflective of Victorian ethical standards, and the most egregious being Angel's past with another woman being readily forgiven by Tess, while Tess's rape is crime enough for Angel to leave for Brazil, abandoning Tess.
  • Downer Ending: You could consider it a Bittersweet Ending because Tess' sister and Angel go off with each other in the end. But, Tess still gets executed in the end after all the horrible things that have happened to her, so it fits best here.
    • Even Angel and Tess' sister going off together is a downer, since under the laws of the time they can't marry: a man could not marry his deceased wife's sister in England. Given Angel's opinions on female chastity and the sister's purity, this basically dooms the relationship (unless the reader believes that Angel does change for the better). There is an attempted Hand Wave by Hardy.
  • Environmental Symbolism: Hardy hated industrialization's effects on agriculture and the countryside.
  • Extreme Doormat: Tess to Angel, especially after he finds out about her past and then mistreats and leaves her.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Angel.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: This work shows the meaning of the trope — the rape destroys Tess's life in a way that's worse than if she'd been murdered outright.
  • Faith Heel Turn: Alec. And it's very brief.
  • Farmer's Daughter: Tess is a tragic Deconstruction of this trope, set in rural England in the late Victorian era. She's nubile, innocent, and sweet — but fate, with the help of her deadbeat father, flings her in the path of a man who takes advantage of her and leaves her a traumatized shell.
  • Fragile Flower: In some of the movie versions, particularly the 1979 adaptation, Tess is often played as one of these.
  • From Bad to Worse: As can be expected from something by Thomas Hardy, Tess' entire life is one long series of things getting worse and worse. It never gets better for the poor girl.
  • Godzilla Threshold: How Alec gets Tess into his clutches. She avoids him as much as possible because of his aggressive flirting, but while walking home from a festival after dark, Tess gets into a row with the peasant women she's walking with, who all gang up on her. It's at that precise moment of desperation that Alec arrives on his horse and offers her a ride home, and the narrative makes it clear that if he had offered at any other time, she would have refused. He then takes her into the woods and rapes her. Also how he gets her again near the end, when her father dies and her family is in abject poverty, and accepting becoming his mistress is the only way she can help them.
    Peasant Woman: Ee-hee-hee! Out of the frying pan and into the fire!
  • Heel-Face Turn: Alec, but it doesn't last long and probably wasn't sincere.
  • Holier Than Thou: Several of the characters, especially Mercy Chant.
  • Hope Spot: Tess’ life is actually looking up when she marries Angel…only for him to abandon her on their wedding night after finding out she’s not a virgin.
  • Hypocrite: Angel. He admires "purity" (read: chastity) in others (especially women), yet casually (and consensually) gave away his when he was younger. He admits as much to Tess on their wedding night. However, after he admits he's not a virgin and asks for her forgiveness, when she does so and confesses to and asks for the same, he refuses to grant it. He also attempts to take up a mistress, Tess' friend, for Brazil, thus compromising that girl's "purity."
  • Inherent in the System: The way Tess is treated.
  • I Want You Because I Can't Control You: Alec's feelings toward Tess, especially after the rape. Before, it's clear that he just sees her as another conquest. However, after he's "mastered" her, Tess constantly shows no interest in anything further to do with him, and handily resists his efforts to keep her under his thumb; particularly by repeatedly choosing poverty and independence over accepting his strings-attached financial aid. At least until the very end.
    Alec: Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife, you are mine!
  • Jerkass: Alec, and Angel, to an extent.
  • Kissing Cousins: Tess and her family think that Alec is their cousin, but that doesn't stop the children (at least) from thinking that Tess is going to "be made a lady of," i.e. marry their cousin (which was okay, but growing out of favor at the time) and become gentility. What none of them know is that he actually just bought the name D'Urberville, so they aren't related at all.
  • Love Martyr: Tess's devotion to Angel reaches unhealthy levels, especially after he leaves her.
    My husband that was is gone away, and never will love me any more; but I love him just the same, and hate all other men, and like to make 'em think scornfully of me!
  • Loving a Shadow: Angel loved Tess because he thought she was an untouched virgin. When he finds out otherwise, he sees her as a completely different person. When Tess desperately asks how he could stop caring for her so quickly when he had loved her before, he brusquely tells her that he had loved "another woman wearing [her] face." He realizes this is untrue after his time in Brazil, but by then it's too late.
  • Ludd Was Right
  • Meaningful Name: Tess names her baby Sorrow. Also Angel Clare and Mercy Chant.
    • Arguably ironic, as their actions directly contradict the meanings of their names: the angel betrays his ward, and mercy condemns the innocent victim.
  • Moral Dissonance: Examined with Angel. On their wedding night, after admitting that he had already had consensual sex with someone when he was younger, Angel completely loses it when Tess tell him she was raped and thinks less of her. So much so that he leaves her. Angel actually acknowledges that Tess "was more sinned against than sinning." It's the fact she's not a virgin that freaks him out and he doesn't even blame her for the rape. This sends him straight into the Jerkasszone.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: The poster child of this trope. In fact, the major aspect of Tess which Angel emphasizes when trying to persuade his parents to approve the marriage is her virginity. (This is rather...understandable, considering she has neither money, land, nor connections to recommend her.)
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Angel, when he realizes that his rejection of Tess has forced her to return to Alec.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: Angel Clare, though it’s subverted in that he actually betrays Tess by abandoning her when she needs him most.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: A thorny situation between Alec and Tess. Alec definitely first took advantage of Tess while she was sleeping, but it's suggested (subtly) that she derived some enjoyment from the sexual advances and, in her confusion, permitted them. But then, Tess makes clear that once she came to her senses, she was horrified, ashamed, and traumatized.
  • Nouveau Riche: What Alec's family actually is, and why they adopted the ancient (and unused) name "d'Urberville" to appear old and respectable.
  • One Degree of Separation
  • Rain of Blood: When Alec is killed by Tess, his blood leaks through the ceiling and drips on the landlady.
  • Rape as Drama: Oh boy, the drama it creates.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Tess gives a swift but sweet one to Alec regarding his religious "reawakening."
    Tess: I feel indignant with you for talking to me like this, when you know—when you know what harm you've done me! You and those like you take your fill of pleasure on earth by making the life of such as me bitter and black with sorrow; and then it is a fine thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of securing your pleasure in Heaven by becoming converted!
  • Replacement Goldfish: In a bizarre application of this trope, Tess reassures Angel that he doesn't need to be sad when she dies, because her little sister has hit puberty and is just like a copy of Tess from before she met Alec, so Angel can marry her. The narration appears to agree with her and this is seen as a good thing.
    • This is deeper than it seems. Marrying a deceased wife's sister was considered incest by the more religiously conservative set at the time and because of that was actually illegal under English law. Angel's choice would be either to abandon the sister and keep her as his mistress (and given that she's a symbol of purity, that's unlikely), or emigrate with her to a country where such a marriage would be legal. Of course, Hardy might have tried to Hand Wave the situation by having Tess state that marrying her sister, "is nothing. People marry in-laws continually about Marrott."
  • Saintly Church: Averted by Tess's church, who refuse to bury her innocent baby so that they can keep up appearances. Played more straight for the upper-class, but compassionate Reverend Clare who is raising his church that way, and even the text mentions it was unfortunate Tess encountered the Clares' pompous sons rather than the parents.
  • Serial Rapist: What Alec is implied to be, based on a comment by one of the peasant women when he rides with Tess into the woods.
  • Settle for Sibling
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Alex d'Urberville morphs into this trope after a spiritual "reawakening". He later drops the whole religion thing. After Tess uses Angel's favourite anti-religious arguments on him because she can't stand his self-righteous piety. Oops.
  • The Simple Life Is Simple: Angel quickly learns that it is not. The lifelong pampered son of a preacher gains a real admiration for those who have farmed, and will farm, all of their lives.
    • Doubly so when he leaves for the much harsher climate of Brazil.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: See the listing under Downer Ending above.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Tess's father, after he learns of his noble descent.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Tess's mother exploits her beauty in hopes of connection to her rich "relation" Alec who rapes/seduces her and leaves her to suffer in a society that defines by her impurity and promptly blame her for it.
  • Spell My Name with a "The" : You say Durbeyfield, I say D'Urberville, let's call the whole thing off!
  • Strawberry Shorthand: Alec and Tess go picking strawberries in a field. He insists that she tastes them, to the point of forcing them into her mouth.
  • Together in Death: Subverted. Tess asks Angel whether he thinks they will be together again after death. Angel responds with an awkward pause, and eventually a kiss. Tess then breaks down crying, realizing this means no. She is executed in the next chapter.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The arc of Tess's story.
  • Unstoppable Rage: After finding out that Angel is still alive, and wants to reconcile with her, Tess sends him away before realizing what she has done, stabbing Alec to death so she can finally be with him.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Many readers' reaction to Angel's coldhearted, self-righteous rejection of Tess on their wedding night.
    • A milkmaid, Tess's devoted friend, whom Angel tried to take as his mistress, gives him a subtle one by confessing that she wouldn't ever love him as much as Tess, who would give her life for Angel.
    • Tess finally gives Angel one through a letter which reaches him too late.
  • Women Are Wiser: Tess, who is always in connection with nature because Ludd Was Right. Her mother also has a great deal more common sense than her husband.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Mrs. Durbeyfield, and the rest of the family, is certain that the plot will work out like a Cinderella story, where Alec D'Urberville will fall in love with Tess, and marry her, "making a lady of her" and elevating her family to a genteel position. This was common in other Victorian novels, it even might have happened in a Thomas Hardy poem, but sadly, they live in a Thomas Hardy novel.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: It's one of the overriding themes of all of Hardy's work; this is no exception.
  • Younger Than They Look: Tess is often described as seeming and acting much older than she is when she is a teenager. The early narration attributes her physical appearance to a " fullness of growth" that her mother assures her she'll grow into.

Alternative Title(s):

Tess Of The D Urbervilles