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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
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.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
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.
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.
The son of Simon Stoke and Mrs. D'Urberville. He seduces Tess and causes her many sorrows. In the end, Tess kills him.
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.
Tess' hardworking and modest mother who has a practical outlook on life.
A charitable and moral clergyman who is Angel Clare's father.
The kind mother of Angel Clare who insists on a pure, virtuous, and true Christian wife for Angel.
Angel's brother who is a priest's assistant.
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.
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.
An elderly parson from whom John learns about his own ancestors.
Landlady of the Herons where Alec is murdered by Tess.
The child of Tess and Alec who dies in infancy.