|Tess of the d'Urbervilles:
A Pure Woman Faithfully
The front cover of an 1892 edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, published by Harper & Bros, NY.
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Woodlanders|
|Followed by||Jude the Obscure|
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented also known as Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman or just Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a novel by Thomas Hardy, first published in 1891. It initially appeared in a censored and serialised version, published by the British illustrated newspaper, The Graphic. It is Hardy's penultimate novel, followed by Jude the Obscure. Though now considered a great classic of English literature, the book received mixed reviews when it first appeared, in part because it challenged the sexual mores of Hardy's day. The original manuscript is on display at the British Library  showing the title had originally been "Daughter of the d'Urbervilles" .
The novel is set in impoverished rural Wessex during the Long Depression. Tess is the eldest child of John and Joan Durbeyfield, uneducated rural peasants. One day, Parson Tringham informs John that he has noble blood. Tringham, an amateur genealogist, has discovered that "Durbeyfield" is a corruption of "D'Urberville", the surname of a noble Norman family, now extinct. Although the parson means no harm, the news immediately goes to John's head.
That same day, Tess participates in the village May Dance, where she briefly meets Angel Clare, the youngest son of Reverend James Clare, who is on a walking tour with his two brothers. He stops to join the dance, and finds partners in several other girls. Though Angel takes note of Tess's beauty, he does not dance with her, leaving her feeling slighted.
Tess's father, overjoyed with learning of his noble lineage, gets too drunk to drive to market that night, so Tess undertakes the journey herself. However, she falls asleep at the reins, and the family's only horse wanders into the path of another vehicle and is killed. Tess feels so guilty over the horse's death that she agrees to visit Mrs. d'Urberville, a wealthy widow who lives in the nearby town of Trantridge, and "claim kin." She is unaware that in reality, Mrs. d'Urberville is not related to the Durbeyfields or to the ancient d'Urberville family. Instead, her husband, Simon Stoke, purchased the baronial title and adopted the new surname.
Tess does not succeed in meeting Mrs. d'Urberville, but her libertine son Alec takes a fancy to Tess and secures her a position as poultry keeper on the d'Urberville estate. He immediately begins making advances, but Tess, though somewhat flattered by the attention, resists. Late one night while walking home from town with some other Trantridge villagers, Tess inadvertently antagonises Car Darch, Alec's most recently discarded favourite, and finds herself about to come to blows. When Alec rides up and offers to "rescue" her from the situation, she accepts. He does not take her home, however, but rides at random through the fog until they reach an ancient grove called "The Chase". Here, Alec informs her that he is lost and leaves on foot to look for help as Tess falls asleep beneath the coat he lent her. After Alec returns, alone, it is left to the reader to decide whether he rapes or seduces her. This deliberate ambiguity makes Tess more than just a "poster girl for simple victimhood."
After a few weeks of confused dalliance with Alec, Tess begins to despise him. Against his wishes, she goes home to her father's cottage, where she keeps almost entirely to her room. The next summer, she gives birth to a sickly boy who lives only a week. On his last night alive, Tess baptises him herself, after her father locked the doors to keep the parson away. The child is given the name 'Sorrow'. Tess buries Sorrow in unconsecrated ground, makes a homemade cross and lays flowers on his grave in an empty marmalade jar.
More than two years after the Trantridge debacle, Tess, now twenty, is ready to make a new start. She seeks employment outside the village, where her past is not known, and secures a job as a milkmaid at Talbothays Dairy, working for Mr. and Mrs. Crick. There, she befriends three of her fellow milkmaids, Izz, Retty, and Marian, and re-encounters Angel Clare, who is now an apprentice farmer and has come to Talbothays to learn dairy management. Although the other milkmaids are sick with love for him, Angel soon singles out Tess, and the two gradually fall in love.
Angel spends a few days away from the dairy visiting his family at Emminster. His brothers Felix and Cuthbert, who are both ordained ministers, note Angel's coarsened manners, while Angel considers his brothers staid and narrow-minded. Following evening prayers, Angel discusses his marriage prospects with his father. The Clares have long hoped that Angel will marry Mercy Chant, a pious schoolmistress, but Angel argues that a wife who understands farm life would be a more practical choice. He tells his parents about Tess, and they agree to meet her. His father, the Reverend James Clare, tells Angel about his efforts to convert the local populace, and mentions his failure to tame a young miscreant named Alec d'Urberville.
Angel returns to Talbothays Dairy and asks Tess to marry him. This puts Tess in a painful dilemma. Angel obviously thinks she is a virgin and, although she does not want to deceive him, she shrinks from confessing lest she lose his love and admiration. Such is her passion for him that she finally agrees to the marriage, explaining that she hesitated because she had heard he hated old families and thought he would not approve of her d'Urberville ancestry. However, he is pleased by this news, because he thinks it will make their match more suitable in the eyes of his family.
As the marriage approaches, Tess grows increasingly troubled. She writes to her mother for advice; Joan tells her to keep silent about her past. Her anxiety increases when a man from Trantridge, named Groby, recognises her while she is out shopping with Angel and crudely alludes to her sexual history. Angel overhears and flies into an uncharacteristic rage. Tess resolves to deceive Angel no more, and writes a letter describing her dealings with d'Urberville and slips it under his door. After Angel greets her with the usual affection the next morning, she discovers the letter under his carpet and realises that he has not seen it. She destroys it.
The wedding goes smoothly although a bad omen of a cock crowing in the afternoon is noticed by Tess. Tess and Angel spend their wedding night at an old d'Urberville family mansion, where Angel presents his bride with some beautiful diamonds that belonged to his godmother and confesses that he once had a brief affair with an older woman in London. When she hears this story, Tess feels sure that Angel will forgive her own indiscretion, and finally tells him about her relationship with Alec.
Angel, however, is appalled by Tess's confession, and he spends the wedding night sleeping on a sofa. Tess, although devastated, accepts the sudden estrangement as something she deserves. After a few awkward, awful days, she suggests that they separate, telling her husband that she will return to her parents. Angel gives her some money and promises to try to reconcile himself to her past, but warns her not to try to join him until he sends for her. After a quick visit to his parents, Angel takes ship for Brazil to start a new life. Before he leaves, he encounters Izz Huett on the road and impulsively asks her to come to Brazil with him, as his mistress. She accepts, but when he asks her how much she loves him, she admits "Nobody could love 'ee more than Tess did! She would have laid down her life for 'ee. I could do no more!" Hearing this, he abandons the whim, and Izz goes home weeping bitterly.
A very bleak period in Tess's life begins. She returns home for a time but, finding this unbearable, decides to join Marian and Izz at a starve-acre farm called Flintcombe-Ash. On the road, she is recognised and insulted by a farmer named Groby (the same man who slighted her in front of Angel); this man proves to be her new employer. At the farm, the three former milkmaids perform very hard physical labour.
One day, Tess attempts to visit Angel's family at the parsonage in Emminster. As she nears her destination, she encounters Angel's priggish older brothers and the woman his parents once hoped he would marry, Mercy Chant. They do not recognise her, but she overhears them discussing Angel's unwise marriage. Shamed, she turns back. On the way, she overhears a wandering preacher and is shocked to discover that he is Alec d'Urberville, who has been converted to Christianity under the Reverend James Clare's influence.
Alec and Tess are each shaken by their encounter, and Alec begs Tess never to tempt him again as they stand beside an ill-omened stone monument called the Cross-in-Hand. However, Alec soon comes to Flintcomb-Ash to ask Tess to marry him. She tells him she is already married. He returns at Candlemas and again in early spring, when Tess is hard at work feeding a threshing machine. He tells her he is no longer a preacher and wants her to be with him. She slaps him when he insults Angel, drawing blood. Tess then learns from her sister, Liza-Lu, that her father, John, is ill and her mother dying. Tess rushes home to look after them. Her mother soon recovers, but her father unexpectedly dies.
The family is now evicted from their home, as Durbeyfield held only a life lease on their cottage. Alec tells Tess that her husband is never coming back and offers to house the Durbeyfields on his estate. Tess refuses his assistance. She had earlier written Angel a psalm-like letter, full of love, self-abasement, and pleas for mercy; now, however, she finally admits to herself that Angel has wronged her and scribbles a hasty note saying that she will do all she can to forget him, since he has treated her so unjustly.
The Durbeyfields plan to rent some rooms in the town of Kingsbere, ancestral home of the d'Urbervilles, but they arrive there to find that the rooms have already been rented to another family. All but destitute, they are forced to take shelter in the churchyard, under the D'Urberville window. Tess enters the church and in the d'Urberville Aisle, Alec reappears and importunes Tess again. In despair, she looks at the entrance to the d'Urberville vault and wonders aloud "Why am I on the wrong side of this door?"
In the meantime, Angel has been very ill in Brazil and, his farming venture having failed, he heads home to England. On the way, he confides his troubles to a stranger, who tells him that he was wrong to leave his wife; what she was in the past should matter less than what she might become. Angel begins to repent his treatment of Tess.
Upon his return to his family home, Angel has two letters waiting for him: Tess's angry note and a few cryptic lines from "two well-wishers" (Izz and Marian), warning him to protect his wife from "an enemy in the shape of a friend." He sets out to find Tess and eventually locates Joan, now well-dressed and living in a pleasant cottage. After responding evasively to his inquiries, she finally tells him her daughter has gone to live in Sandbourne, a fashionable seaside resort. There, he finds Tess living in an expensive boarding house under the name "Mrs. d'Urberville." When he asks for her, she appears in startlingly elegant attire and stands aloof. He tenderly asks her forgiveness, but Tess, in anguish, tells him he has come too late: thinking he would never return, she yielded at last to Alec d'Urberville's persuasion and has become his mistress. She gently asks Angel to leave and never come back. He departs, and Tess returns to her bedroom, where she falls to her knees and begins a lamentation. She blames Alec for causing her to lose Angel's love a second time, accusing Alec of having lied when he said that Angel would never return to her.
The landlady, Mrs. Brooks, tries to listen in at the keyhole, but withdraws hastily when the argument becomes heated. She later sees Tess leave the house, then notices a spreading red spot—a bloodstain—on the ceiling. She summons help, and Alec is found stabbed to death in his bed.
Angel, totally disheartened, has left Sandbourne; Tess hurries after him and tells him that she has killed Alec, saying that she hopes she has won his forgiveness by murdering the man who spoiled both their lives. Angel doesn't believe her at first but grants his forgiveness—as she is in such a fevered state—and tells her that he loves her. Rather than head for the coast, they walk inland, vaguely planning to hide somewhere until the search for Tess is ended and they can escape abroad from a port. They find an empty mansion and stay there for five days in blissful happiness, until their presence is discovered one day by the cleaning woman.
They continue walking and, in the middle of the night, stumble upon Stonehenge giving the illusion of Tess as a sacrificial victim to a society that shunned her. Tess lies down to rest on an ancient altar. Before she falls asleep, she asks Angel to look after her younger sister, Liza-Lu, saying that she hopes Angel will marry her after she is dead although this, at the time, would have been illegal and seen as a form of incest. At dawn, Angel sees that they are surrounded by policemen. He finally realises that Tess really has committed murder and asks the men in a whisper to let her awaken naturally before they arrest her. When she opens her eyes and sees the police, she tells Angel she is "almost glad" because "now I shall not live for you to despise me". She is allowed a dignified death through the fact that Angel listens to her (he hasn't throughout the rest of the novel) and through her parting words of "I am ready".
Tess is escorted to Wintoncester (Winchester) prison. The novel closes with Angel and Liza-Lu watching from a nearby hill as the black flag signalling Tess's execution is raised over the prison. Angel and Liza-Lu then join hands and go on their way.
Hardy's writing often illustrates the "ache of modernism", and this theme is notable in Tess, which, as one critic noted, portrays "the energy of traditional ways and the strength of the forces that are destroying them". Hardy describes modern farm machinery with infernal imagery; also, at the dairy, he notes that the milk sent to the city must be watered down because the townspeople can not stomach whole milk. Angel's middle-class fastidiousness makes him reject Tess, a woman whom Hardy often portrays as a sort of Wessex Eve, in harmony with the natural world and so lovely and desirable that Hardy himself seems to be in love with her. When he parts from her and goes to Brazil, the handsome young man gets so sick that he is reduced to a "mere yellow skeleton." All these instances are typically interpreted as indications of the negative consequences of man's separation from nature, both in the creation of destructive machinery and in the inability to rejoice in pure nature.
Another important theme of the novel is the sexual double standard to which Tess falls victim—despite being, in Hardy's view, a truly good woman, she is despised by society after losing her virginity before marriage. Hardy plays the role of Tess's only true friend and advocate, pointedly subtitling the book "a pure woman faithfully presented" and prefacing it with Shakespeare's words "Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed/ Shall lodge thee." However, although Hardy clearly means to criticise Victorian notions of female purity, the double standard also makes the heroine's tragedy possible, and thus serves as a mechanism of Tess's broader fate. Hardy variously hints that Tess must suffer either to atone for the misdeeds of her ancestors, or to provide temporary amusement for the gods, or because she possesses some small but lethal character flaw inherited from the ancient clan.
From numerous pagan and neo-Biblical references made about her, Tess can be viewed variously as an Earth goddess or as a sacrificial victim. Early in the novel, she participates in a festival for Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, and when she performs a baptism she chooses a passage from Genesis, the book of creation, over more traditional New Testament verses. At the end, when Tess and Angel come to Stonehenge, commonly believed in Hardy's time to be a pagan temple, she willingly lies down on an altar, thus fulfilling her destiny as a human sacrifice.
This symbolism may help explain Tess as a personification of nature—lovely, fecund, and exploitable—while animal imagery throughout the novel strengthens the association. Examples are numerous: Tess's misfortunes begin when she falls asleep while driving Prince to market, thus causing the horse's death; at Trantridge, she becomes a poultry-keeper; she and Angel fall in love amidst cows in the fertile Froom valley; and on the road to Flintcombe-Ashe, she compassionately kills some wounded pheasants to end their suffering. In any event, Tess emerges as such a vibrant, unforgettable character not because of this symbolism but because "Hardy's feelings for Tess were strong, perhaps stronger than for any of his other invented personages."
The actress chosen by Hardy himself to play Tess, was Gertrude Bugler, a Dorchester girl from the original Hardy Players, for whom Hardy wrote the script in 1924 (Woodhall, 2006). The Hardy Players (now re-formed in 2005 by Gertrude's 104 year old younger sister Norrie) was an amateur group from Dorchester who re-enacted hardy’s novels. Gertrude was stunning in the part and her acting was highly was acclaimed (Tomalin, 2006), but she was prevented from taking the London stage part by Hardy's wife, Florence Dougdale. Florence was jealous of Gertrude as Hardy had said that young Gertrude was the true incarnation of the Tess he had imagined. In truth Gertrude was newly married and expecting her first child and although she was fond of Hardy as a true friend, she was young enough to be his granddaughter and devoted to her husband (ibid.). The 'romance' was in Hardy's imagination, but he was in love with the character, not Gertrude. Years before writing the novel, Hardy had been inspired by the beauty of Gertrude's mother Augusta Way, then an eighteen year-old milkmaid, when he visited Augusta's father's farm in Bockhampton. It is suggested by her daughter Norrie, that Augusta was the true inspiration for Tess, and being so taken with Augusta's beauty, Hardy remembered her when writing the novel all those years later. When Hardy saw Gertrude (he rehearsed The Hardy Players at the hotel run by Gertrude's parents), he immediately recognised her as the young image of the now older Augusta (Woodhall, 2006).
The novel was otherwise successfully adapted for the stage twice.
1906: An Italian operatic version written by Frederic d'Erlanger was first performed in Naples, but the run was cut short by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. When the opera came to London three years later, Hardy himself attended the premier, at the age of 69.
The story has also been filmed at least seven times, including three for general release through cinemas and four television productions, many people say that it is the saddest film they have ever seen.
Tomalin, C., (2006), Thomas Hardy, London: Viking
Woodhall, N., (2006), Norrie's Tale: An Autobiography of the Last of the 'Hardy Players', Wareham: Lullworde Publication