Tess of the DUrbervilles
Thomas Hardy
Contributed by Harvey Landy

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 in a small village in Dorset, an area of southern England steeped in history. One of the local landmarks, Corfe Castle, was once home for the kings of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Hardy chose the name Wessex for the setting of his most important novels, including Tess of the dUrbervilles. Like the Durbeyfields in Tess the Hardys fancied themselves descendants of a noble and ancient family line. The Dorset Hardys were presumably a branch of the Le Hardys who claimed descent from Clement Le Hardy, a fifteenth-century lieutenant governor of the British Channel island of Jersey. Remote ties to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, who served with the British naval hero Nelson during the decisive battle of Trafalgar in 1805, were also possible.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles was published in 1891 and is one of Thomas Hardy’s most famous novels. It is a staunch criticism of the sexual and social hypocrisy found in English society in Hardy’s time, owing to the main character’s unjust suffering from a past which she cannot escape. Hardy’s critique stems from his deep moral sympathy for the lower classes, especially women. This novel was highly controversial in its time, due to its portrayal of how the rigidity of the English moral code spins Tess into an endless and tragic spiral. The novel’s successor, Jude the Obscure, published in 1894, also caused a sensation due to its honest look at how the self-righteousness of the upper classes had unfortunate results.

Above all, the novel criticizes the strict Victorian moral code, with its bias against women and the lower classes. Alec d’Urberville and Angel Clare are both characters, representative of their social classes in their relations with Tess. Angel’s family initially shuns his marriage to a country girl, though they might be more favorable to learn that Tess is a d’Urberville. The greatest irony of the novel, however, is that Alec is not even a true d’Urberville, meaning that Tess’ attempts to claim kin are fruitless from the very beginning. Hardy unravels this tragic novel as a commentary on how the pursuit of a noble blood line can have disastrous and painful outcomes.

Have study documents to share about Tess of the DUrbervilles? Upload them to earn free Studypool credits!