What are the negative impacts on Tess and in general in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One other negative impact placed upon Tess is the changing world of her Victorian society, which saw innovations in technology as well as new scientific ideas.  With the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and a complementary theory known as "social Darwinism" gone was the security of a society that could offer unchangeable answers to questions of existence.  The effect of this new condition is evidenced in Angel who places his faith in "intellectual liberty" rather than the religion of his father.  In addition, Angel perceives in Tess "the ache of modernism," as the God of her childhood can no longer answer all her questions.

The technology of the Industrial Age greatly altered the agrarian life of Tess and others like her.  With the railroad reaching the countryside of southwest England, people who had hitherto lived an almost medieval existence now could travel to London and work in factories.  Large dairies such as that of the Talbothays could exist since the trains were able to transport the milk to heavily populated areas.  The trains altered life for people who knew those with whom they traded in a close-knit society to one of anonymity. Also, as a result of the new technology, an agricultural depression occurred in which workers were less in demand because machinery could do their jobs.  No longer did the landowners feel any connection to those living on their land since machinery did the work; consequently, they did not renew the people's leases and they were left homeless.  In Hardy's novel, such is the condition for the Durbeyfields as Tess's family is forced out of the home they have held for generations.  ( This practice was criticized by Hardy in an essay published in a  magazine in 1883). 

Clearly in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles much of Tess's misfortune is attributable, not only to the Victorian attitudes about women, but the changes wrought upon her agricutural environment and her society's attitudes about life itself.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Of the negative influences are upon Tess, the most significant one is actually fate.  In Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Hardy promotes the idea of Fatalism--that no matter what one does in life, he or she has a predetermined destiny that is useless to fight against.  In Hardy's novels, that fate is almost always negative and increasingly difficult; this is certainly true in Tess's case.  She is an innocent, kind character at the book's beginning, and she does nothing to bring on most of the circumstances that end up ruining her life.

In addition to an all-powerful fate, Tess is influenced significantly by Alec.  He takes advantage of her naivety and desire to please.  Even after Tess initially leaves Alec, she is not able to escape him, and his treatment of her, of course, plays an important part in her execution.

Similarly, while many would argue that Tess finds love with Angel, it is also logical to stress that Tess might have been able to live a better life it she had not met Angel in the first place.  He does not love Tess in the way that she loves him and demonstrates on several occasions that he is not willing to sacrifice his own desires and goals to help Tess.  This turns her to hopelessness, and like Alec's treatment of Tess, is part of what drives her to her final act.

In general, the negative influences of the novel are common ones for most Hardy novels--a harsh physical environment (where Tess grows up), poverty (which causes characters to act in desperate ways), and class warfare (which causes some to feel superior and to treat others inhumanely and which results in some--such as Tess and her family--being willing to endure such treatment because they have been conditioned to do so).

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