Tess of the D'Urbervilles Character Quotes

Tess: Physical Appearance

  • "mobile peony mouth"
  • "no longer a milkmaid but a visionary essence of beauty": Angel idealises Tess as the perfect woman; Hardy points out the absurdity of this strive for perfection.
  • "seduces casual intention": Tess is punished for something that she cannot change and that isn't her fault.
  • "simple" "country girl": but recieves more attention than the ordinary girl.
  • "rosy lips": subdued colour, seems delicate compared to Alec's red, more dangerous lips.
  • "fine and picturesque country girl, and no more": she is nothing out of the ordinary save for men's attraction to her. She could be anyone. Unremarkable.
1 of 17

Tess: symbolism of red

Red: connotes blood, danger or love, romance & sexuality.

  • "red ribbon in her hair": makes her stand out from the other white-ribbon-wearing girls, marks her as different, impure.
  • "mobile peony mouth"
  • "blood red ray in the spectrum of her young life"
  • "crimson drops"
  • "life's blood spouting in a stream": novel's first action of violence = death, the event to seal Tess's unfortunate fate.
  • "rose like a red geranium against the subdued colours around": description of Traintridge, foreshadowing the events to take place there that affect Tess's life for the worst. Mythical aesthetic place.
  • "strawberries"
2 of 17

Tess: Purity

Pure: a woman who has committed no sins, is clean and virtuous, honourable.

  • "uncommonly virginal and pure" : purity used as a measure of a woman's worth in Victorian society. Tess deemed as more honourable because she is seen as 'pure'.
  • "I am unworthy" : feels dirty, as less than others because she has been with a man, consensually or not. She internalised society's views of honour and purity.
  • "The Maiden" -> "A maiden no more" : she has become a 'fallen woman' because her purity has been compromised, "tainted".
  • "fresh and virginal daughter of nature" : societal expectations of Tess, not how she's viewed but how she feels she should be.
3 of 17

Tess: Fate

Fate: the developments of predetermined events outside of a person's control.

  • "doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the wrong man": her downfall, Alec's actions, her life was planned out and fated, unchangable regardless of her own actions. She has no real control over her own life. (Hardy's authorial voice)
  • "Where was Tess's guardian angel? Where was Providence?": she has been abandoned by those who were supposed to protect her, those who control her fate.
  • "trees were just as green as before": cyclical pattern of nature. She has had no real impact on the world, it continues as if nothing has changed. Our problems are not as important to the world as they are to ourselves.
  • "a blighted [star]": destiny doesn't work in Tess's favour. She is aware of the peaks and troughs in her life, a pessimistic world view.
  • "out of the frying pan and into the fire": she escaped one threat to fall in to the traps of another, greater one. The Traintridge workers are aware of this and do not help her.
  • "the President of the Immortals has ended their sport with Tess": she is merely a puppet in the grand scheme of fate and the Gods.
4 of 17

Tess: Nature

Nature: the physical world or a person's inherent characteristics.

  • "fresh and virginal daughter of Nature"
  • "trees were just as green as before": she is unremarkable, has no real impact on anything around her, leaves nothing behind, evokes sympathy in reader. Cyclical pattern of time and nature, it continues as if nothing happened.
5 of 17

Tess: Characteristics

  • "help you wring up" : innate sense of maternal responsibility. She is expected to work as a surrogate mother, help look after family members because she's a woman, stereotypical role of the eldest daughter. She takes on some motherly duties to help relieve Joan.
  • "Will it do us any good, mother?" : more realistic, logical thinking than her parents, who inflate with the news that they are noble even though it really changes nothing, they are still poor.
  • "a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience": emphasises her youth, acts on instinct not logic.
  • "tis all my doing - all mine!", "regarded herself in the light of a murderess": foreshadowing. Her innate and strict sense of responsibility and morality (fatal flaw).
  • "somewhat changed - the same but not the same": she is not the same girl as at the beginning of the novel. Unnoticable but her demeanour, attitude, character has changed with the ultimate violation of her body. 'Tainted', 'compromised', 'fallen woman'.
6 of 17

Tess: Class

  • "country girl": one of many, unindividual, not special in any way save for men's reactions to her. She could be/represent anyone.
  • "habitually spoke the dialect": can't escape her class and her status, present in everything she does.
  • "not a man...that's got grander and nobler skellingtons in his family than I" (Jack Durbeyfield): acts as though their lineage changes everything when they are still poor and poverty-stricken. it changes nothing.
  • "mighty sensitive for a farm girl": reduces her to nothing more than her class, her upbringing. Looks down on her.
7 of 17

Alec: Class

8 of 17

Alec: Gender

  • "temptress", "you haunt me": blames Tess for his feelings and lack of control, manipulates her and won't take responsibiltiy for himself (typical of an entitled Victorian man).
  • "Kinsmen be hanged": dominates her life, disrespects her needs and social conventions and gets away with it because he is a man in a higher position of power/social status.
  • "my Big Beauty", "my pretty Coz", "my dear": possessive, controlling over Tess. Sexualises a young girl.
  • "that's what every woman says": won't acknowledge the effects his actions have had on Tess, generalises every woman, suggests he's done it before and will likely do it again. Women as the weaker sex, don't know their own minds.
  • "tempt me by your charms": repeatedly blames Tess for her beauty even though she cannot change it.
  • "blossoms in her dress": exerts control over her body from their first meeting, objectifies her.
  • "young witch", "artful hussy": blames Tess for his own actions.
9 of 17

Alec: Fate

10 of 17

Alec: Physical Appearance

  • "swarthy complexion": mysterious air conveyed even in his appearance.
  • "well-groomed black moustache with curled points": stereotyical villain imagery, humourous.
  • "touches of barbarism": dangerous edge to his appearance, hard to see but visible, foreshadowing his effects on Tess.
11 of 17

Angel: Class

  • "three young men of a superior status": stark class divide, appearance shows status.
  • "country hoydens": derogatory, judgemental tone. looks down on those of a lower social class.
  • "society is hopelesdsly snobbish": hypocrite. ironic, snobby in thinking he is above it all when he himself is very class conscious.
  • "D'Urberville from this very day": claims not to care about social status but constantly works to make Tess more socially acceptable for him to marry.
12 of 17

Angel: Characteristics

  • hypocrite.
13 of 17

Angel: Fate

14 of 17

Angel: Gender

  • "another woman in your shape": she is not worthy, tainted, not herself now that he knows she is 'impure'.
  • "after I have made you the well-read woman I intend to make you": trying to change her, make her more sically acceptable for him to be with. He fell in love for her individuality yet tries to style it to his own desires.
  • "forgiveness doesn't apply to the case": double standards, expects forgiveness for his 48hour bender but refuses to 'forgive' Tess for something that was forced on to her, something that she couldn't control.
15 of 17


  • "shabby corner of God's allotment": forgotten, cast aside, ignored, shameful. The 'sinners' grouped together regardless of their 'crime'. Irredeemable, Sorrow never had a change. Doomed & fated from the start.
  • "******* gift of shameless nature": Tess is being punished by nature, Sorrow's only and ultimate sin is to exist.
  • "intrusive creature": not even human, invasive, alien, not supposed to be there. An object of sin, no humanity.
16 of 17

Durbeyfield Family

  • "passengers in the Durbeyfield ship, entirely dependent": the children are dependent on the actions of their parents. Didn't ask to be born but have to live and suffer and survive with the consequences.
  • "half-dozen little captives": they didn't ask to be there. Can't escape their fate.
17 of 17


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all Tess of the D'Urbervilles resources »