Tess of the D'Urbervilles Detailed Notes

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles is probably the best known of all of Hardy's novels. Hardy had a lot of trouble with
it, partly because of its sub-title A Pure Woman . Victorian ideas of purity were very different from Hardy's,
but despite much controversy, he refused to change it, even though he admitted it had been added at the
very last moment. Tess was certainly his favourite heroine. He has even been accused of being in love with
These days, the novel is not controversial in that way. But it is still a challenging novel to read as it
· The pathos of pure love in the face of human betrayal
· How much control anyone has over their destiny.
These questions have always been universal to the human condition. This is what makes
Hardy's novel what is often called a `classic'.
Social Change in the 19th
During the nineteenth century, Britain changed from being a largely rural country to being a predominantly
urban one. Great cities sprung up, such as Birmingham and Manchester, and older cities grew enormously,
such as London, Liverpool and Bristol. People from the countryside were drawn to the cities in hundreds of
Hardy's Dorset seemed mostly untouched by this change. It had no cities, and the population of its few
towns could be numbered in thousands of inhabitants rather than hundreds of thousands. Most were
small market towns, largely unchanged for centuries; with its courthouse and army regiment, Dorchester
was the county town where business was conducted. Only Weymouth was a little different, a resort town
made popular in George III's time at the end of the eighteenth century.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the prospects for those working in the agricultural sector remained
difficult, as they sought to compete with the rise of urban industrialization. As a result, the wages of
agricultural labourers were often very low. In an attempt to standardise wages and relief for poorer
workers, the old Speenhamland system was abolished. This had allowed for the supplementation of
workers' wages by the parish in times of hardship. In its place, the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834)
instigated the relief of the poor through workhouses; it was vastly unpopular, and resulted in protestations
such as that at Tolpuddle, near Hardy's home. This had been severely suppressed, and its leaders, known
as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, were tried and deported as convicts to Australia.
The dairy business did well, particularly, when the railways arrived, which were able to get dairy produce
to the cities quickly - vital when there was no such thing as refrigeration. We can see this in Dairyman
Crick's relative prosperity in Tess.
Life for Tess:
At the beginning of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, nothing in this rural way of life seems affected by Britain's
urbanization and the problems of modernity. Yet as the novel progresses, Hardy makes us aware that there
are changes:
· Increasingly there is greater movement of people in search of employment
· The dispossession of country people becomes a common occurrence. For example, after Tess's
father dies, the rest of the family are forced out of their cottage and have to find temporary
· The growing use of farm mechanisation is depicted: Tess has to work on a primitive combined

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Hardy is aware he is writing for city people, so he explains a lot of this but not everything.
Social Divisions:
Tess's life is dominated by economic factors, many of them determined by social class. Late Victorian
society was very class-structured. In the novel, there are clear distinctions between:
· Professional middle-class people (for example, Angel's family)
· Farmers and liviers, like Dairyman Crick
· Copyholders or freeholders (for example, Tess's father)
· Skilled farm labourers
· Unskilled labourers.…read more

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The narrator often limits himself to the perceptions of other characters, especially Alec
d'Urberville and Angel Clare. These male perspectives are only partial, in fact. Angel's is
idealised (as Ch 20), and the painterly descriptions of the landscape bring this out. Hardy uses
landscape and perspective to help create constructs of character. It is these constructs of her
that determine how Tess is treated.…read more

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Tess as a `pure woman' ;Tess as a victim). The
author's own agenda can sometimes get in the way of the narrative. This is a fault common to
many Victorian writers, who often wish to moralise and convey their own views on a number of
topics (George Eliot is an example).
· Viewpoints can also be expressed in dialogue and exchanges between characters, both major and
minor.…read more

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Then come some questions:
· 'He loved her; ought he to marry her? Dared he to marry her? What would his mother....' The voice
has now clipped into Angel's own voice, being phrased in free indirect speech, so the narrative still
uses 'he' rather than 'I', but otherwise the words are exactly what Angel's inner dialogue is asking.
A little further on, the narrative describes Mr Clare:
· 'Old Mr Clare was a clergyman...'. The voice is now clearly the narrator's, speaking informatively.…read more

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Descriptions of landscapes or people and events happen as fast as the ground can be covered on
· It is the journeys that determine the novel's pace, the distance between places and events, which
may be considerable when walking
· Alec and Angel speed things up by travelling quickly by coach, carriage or even train
· The sequence of events also quickens when the modern takes over.The pace of the last phase of
Tess is very much quicker than any of the others.…read more

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Drama and dialogue
Novelists understand that, as much as readers want to hear the narrator telling the story, they want to
hear their characters speak. When this happens freely, the novel approaches drama. Dialogue allows:
· Variety and tension
· Confrontation and argument
· Sympathy and the deepening of relationships.
It gives solidity to major and minor characters. Hardy was particularly defensive of his country characters,
attacking those who saw them stereotypically as 'Hodge' (Ch 18).…read more

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At some points, he appears to be merely telling a story to a reasonably well-read audience. At
other times, he appears to be advocating a view of the world that lies in direct contradiction to cultural
Hardy treats his readers as equals; he expects them to make sense of the story with him. He does not
lecture or patronise (though occasionally shows off in his allusions) but draws alongside.…read more

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Letters in the first half of Tess
The earlier section of Tess consists mainly of characters being present with each other. Opportunities for
letters are small, apart from arranging business affairs, such as Tess's appointments to 'The Slopes' or
Talbothays. Hardy does not bother to write these out.
More surprisingly, perhaps, Hardy does not write out the first important letter Tess writes: her confession
to Angel. This is paralleled later, when her oral confession is not given verbatim either.…read more

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Elsewhere, Hardy's authorial comments engage with biblical theology, in an adversarial way (e.g.…read more



This is absolutely amazing thank you so much!! 


Thank you! These notes are brilliant!


So good thank you so much! Honestly a life saver as all other Tess resources i find are always very vague

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