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Free Study Guide-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy-Free Book Notes
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The scenic background of Hardy's novel is the imaginary Wessex, the ancient kingdom of King Alfred. It includes six counties in Southwest England and stretches from the English Channel in the West and from Oxford in the North. Hardy describes the imaginary setting in detail, telling of valleys, woods, meadows, seasons, inns, and villages in a very realistic manner. He made the setting come to life because Hardy was no stranger to this geographic location. He was born in Dourest in this part of England, and the best of his novels and short stories are set there.

The novel begins in Marlott, which in reality is a village of Dorset named Marnhull. Tess, the protagonist of the story, is born and raised in Marlott, an isolated village that differs greatly from the country beyond. By describing Tess's world as small and confined, Hardy is reinforcing the idea that Tess is a "pure woman," a simple country maiden protected from the world beyond Marlott. When the story unfolds and Tess looses her innocence, she has left the protection of Marlott and is in Trantridge and then in Sanbourne, which is Hardy's name for Bournemouth. As Tess' circumstances grow more tragic, the weather appropriately grows harsh and the scenery grows bleak.


Major Characters

Tess Durbeyfield

The protagonist and principal character of the novel around whom the story revolves. She is an innocent and pretty country girl tossed into dangerous situations brought about by fate.

Angel Clare

The son of a clergyman who marries Tess. He has conventional ideas of morality and works on the Talbothay's farm. He wants to buy a farm of his own.

Alec D'Urberville

The son of Simon Stoke and Mrs. D'Urberville. He seduces Tess and causes her many sorrows. In the end, Tess kills him.

John Durbeyfield

Tess' father and a carter in Marlott who is lazy and given to drinking. When he learns that his family is a descendent of nobility, he gives up his work entirely and starts pretending that he is an aristocrat.

Joan Durbeyfield

Tess' hardworking and modest mother who has a practical outlook on life.

Minor Characters

James Clare

A charitable and moral clergyman who is Angel Clare's father.

Mrs. Clare

The kind mother of Angel Clare who insists on a pure, virtuous, and true Christian wife for Angel.

Felix Clare

Angel's brother who is a priest's assistant.

Cuthbert Clare

Angel's brother who is a classical scholar. Mercy Chant - the young lady that Angel's parents had thought to be the perfect wife for him. She later marries Cuthbert.

Elisa Louisa Durbeyfield

Tess's younger sister who is called Liza Lu. Tess wants Angel to marry Liza Lu after her own execution.

Abraham, Hope, and Modesty

The son and daughters of the Durbeyfields.

Mrs. Stoke D'Urberville

The mother of Alec and a blind widow who is wealthy.

Richard Crick

The owner of the Talbothay Farm for whom Angel and Tess work.

Izz Huett, Retty Priddle, and Marian

Dairy maids at the Talbothay Farm who are all in love with Angel Clare and who fair poorly after he marries Tess.

Mr. Tringham

An elderly parson from whom John learns about his own ancestors.

Mrs. Brooks

Landlady of the Herons where Alec is murdered by Tess.


The child of Tess and Alec who dies in infancy.

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Free Study Guide-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy-Free Summary


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