Tess of the DUrbervilles
Thomas Hardy
Contributed by Harvey Landy
Character Analysis
Tess Durbeyfield

She is a young beautiful girl who cannot escape her past. Her trusting nature causes her to fall victim to the conniving Alec d’Urberville, when she is convinced that she alone must shoulder her family’s burden after their horse is killed. This sexual encounter is the beginning of Tess’ undoing, and the great sorrow and scandal it brings leaves her greatly wounded. She is earnest in her self-guilt, refusing to let her illegitimate child, who dies in infancy, suffer the same fate as she. She is also principled, refusing to marry her lover Angel Clare although she finally succumbs to his romantic overtures. Her guilt turns out to be her Achilles’ heel, and she spends the rest of her life trying to make amends for actions for which she is not fully responsible. She is extremely loyal, showing her undying love for Angel throughout all his harshness to her. Yet she is too trusting, believing Alec when he tells her that Angel will not return for her.

Angel Clare

He is Tess’ true love, though he is the reason for her greatest sorrow when he scorns her after learning the truth about her past. He is well-liked by many, especially the young women at the Talbothays dairy, but he only has eyes for Tess. He is the youngest son of a respected clergyman, but he has many religious doubts, which he spreads to the gullible Tess. He cannot forgive Tess her indiscretions, even though she forgives him his, and runs off to Brazil to escape his troubles. However, he soon realizes how wrong he has been, but he is too late. In the end, he is also loyal to Tess, promising to protect her from the authorities after she murders Alec. He is too consumed by his convictions, sometimes blinded by them. He seeks advice readily from his parents though he does not often heed their counsel.

Alec d’Urberville

He is the ultimate cause of Tess’ fall from grace. He is a descendant of Simon Stokes, not the d’Urbervilles, which is the greatest irony in the novel. He is cocky, arrogant, handsome, and manipulative. He rapes Tess as she sleeps, causing her great scandal. He has a momentary lapse into Christianity but he returns to his scheming ways, obsessed with Tess and needing to possess her. He takes advantage of Tess’ hardships and naiveté to convince her to give up on Angel’s return. When Angel does finally return, Tess is overwhelmed by grief and kills Alec for all the wrong he has done her. Alec is considered the villain in the novel, pursuing Tess unrelentingly and taking advantage of her in her weakest moments.

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