Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman?

Tess of the D’Urbervilles paints her as being of a high aristocratic position that allows her title to define her. This may be a criticism from Hardy that in the late 1800’s (Victorian era) a person’s family name and social power defined them.


Hardy intended the title to be, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman’, however the subtitle was not used for publishing due to criticisms that it was immoral to describe Tess as pure after, as one publisher stated, the ‘frequent and detailed reference to immoral situations’ (ie her mature attractiveness and sexual experience). This is due to the fact that when it came to traditional Victorian values, a woman who had sex out of wedlock was seen as damaged goods and impure.


An important detail to notice is that Hardy deliberately leaves the details of Tess’ misfortunes vague. For example, the audience is unable to see the true details of her sexual encounter with Alec, was it rape or seduction? Hardy also leaves Tess’ confession to Angel a secret leaving the reader to question what she says her circumstances were with Alec. Hardy’s use of ambiguity leads the reader to make a decision on what has happened and whether or not Tess’ treatment is seen as fair.


The fact that Hardy refers to Tess as ‘A Pure Woman’, even after having had sex outside of marriage implies that he is arguing that there is more to a woman than her virginity. Hardy paints Tess as a pure and gentle woman through the innocence he instils in her character. This innocence is highlighted through the comparisons made between animals and Tess (‘making a sort of nest’, ‘she suddenly took to her heels’). Tess is seen as a blameless hunted animal.

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