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Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy




She (Tess) can flirt, she can listen, she can sympathize, she can work with her hands. Except when it is mocked or thwarted, she is superbly at ease with her sexuality. In no way an intellectual, she has a clear sense of how to reject whatever fanatic or pious nonsense comes her way.... Her womanly softness does not keep her from clear judgments, even toward her beloved Angel she can sometimes be blunt.... At least twice in the book Tess seems to Hardy and the surrounding characters larger than life, but in all such instances it is not to make her a goddess or a metaphor, it is to understand her embattled womanliness.

Irving Howe, Thomas Hardy, 1967


The female in her was indomitable, unchangeable, she was utterly constant to herself. But she was, by long breeding, intact from mankind. Though Alec d'Urberville was of no kin to her, yet, in the book, he has always a quality of kinship. It was as if only a kinsman, an aristocrat, could approach her. And this to her undoing. Angel Clare would never have reached her... It needed a physical aristocrat.... Alec d'Urberville forced her to realize him, and to realize herself.

D.H. Lawrence, "A Study of Thomas Hardy," 1936


Angel and Alec appear as figures of Victorian society hovering around Tess, but misunderstanding her, unworthy of her, unable to match her natural strength and spontaneity.... Both are statements about the principal character types of the Victorian middle class- the cruel bourgeois and the disinherited intellectual: both are without roots, both show a split between thought and feeling, both lack an adequate image of selfhood.

Albert J. LaValley, Twentieth Century Interpretations of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, 1969.


By constructing the Tess-universe on the solid ground... of the earth as Final Cause, mysterious cause of causes, Hardy does not allow us to forget that what is most concrete in experience is also what is most inscrutable, that an overturned clod in a field or the posture of herons standing in a water mead or the shadow of cows thrown against a wall by evening sunlight are as essentially fathomless as the procreative yearning, and this in turn as fathomless as the sheerest accident in event. The accidentalism and coincidentalism in the narrative pattern of the book stand, thus, in perfectly orderly correlation with the grounding mystery of the physically concrete and the natural.

Dorothy Van Ghent, "On Tess of the d'Urbervilles" in The English Novel: Form and Function, 1953.


Hardy sets the culminating family tragedy against the ominous background of the Lady Day migration of so many village folk. The erasure of long local life by these contemporary migrations, Hardy perceived, was a grave social and spiritual loss. It is no accident of art that the story of Tess should end amid scenes of uprooting.... Only a place in the family vault, a home there, remains to the derelict inheritors [the Durbeyfields]. It is this homeless despair of a family which has lost its rights and independence in the village community, that gives Tess finally into the invader's power.

Douglas Brown: Social and Individual Fate in Tess from Thomas Hardy, 1961.


For an artist as visually sensitive as Hardy, colour is of the first importance and significance, and there is one colour which literary catches the eye, and is meant to catch it, throughout the book. This colour is red, the colour of blood, which is associated with Tess from first to last. It dogs her, disturbs her, destroys her. She is full of it, she spills it, she loses it. Watching Tess' life we begin to see that her destiny is nothing more or less than the colour red.

Tony Tanner, "Colour and Movement in Tess of the d'Urbervilles" in R. P. Draper's Hardy- The Tragic Novels, 1975.


Not only the "modern" novelist is prey to tensions and ambivalences, and to radical divergences of feeling and belief, sympathy and judgment. The most important tension for Hardy- the very heart of his aesthetic in fact- was the simple desire to juxtapose plausible human beings and strange uncommon events, the real and the fantastic.... Hardy was a conscious anti-realist, opposed to the documentary and the drab, in spite of his minute fidelity to the physical world. He knew that all great art is a disproportioning....

Albert J. Guerard, Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1963.

[Tess of the D'Urbervilles Contents]


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State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

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National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
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Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[Tess of the D'Urbervilles Contents]



Brown, Douglas. Thomas Hardy. New York: Longmans, Green, 1954.

Draper, R. P. Hardy: The Tragic Novels. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

Guerard, Albert J. Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949.

Guerard, Albert J., ed. Thomas Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

Halliday, F. E. Thomas Hardy: His Life and Work. Bath, Great Britain: Adams and Dart, 1972.

Howe, Irving. Thomas Hardy. New York: Macmillan, 1967

Laird, J. T. The Shaping of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

LaValley, Albert J., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Lawrence, D. H. "A Study of Thomas Hardy" in Phoenix. London: William Heinemann, 1936.

Van Ghent, Dorothy. "On Tess of the d'Urbervilles" in The English Novel. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1953.



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