Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Tess Durbeyfield, a naïve country girl. When her father learns that his family is descended from an ancient landed house, the mother, hoping to better her struggling family financially, sends Tess to work for the Stoke-d’Urbervilles, who have recently moved to the locality. In this household, the innocent girl, attractive and mature beyond her years, meets Alec d’Urberville, a dissolute young man. From this time on, she is the rather stoical victim of personal disasters. Seduced by Alec, she gives birth to his child. Later, she works on a dairy farm, where she meets Angel Clare and reluctantly agrees to marry him, even though she is afraid of his reaction if he learns about her past. As she fears, he is disillusioned by her loss of innocence and virtue. Although she is deserted by her husband, she never loses her unselfish love for him. Eventually, pursued by the relentless Alec, she capitulates to his blandishments and goes to live with him at a prosperous resort. When Angel Clare returns to her, she stabs Alec. She spends a few happy days with Clare before she is captured and hanged for her crime.
Angel Clare, Tess’s husband. Professing a dislike for effete, worn-out families and outdated traditions, he is determined not to follow family tradition and become a clergyman or a scholar. Instead, he wishes to learn what he can about farming, in the hope of having a farm of his own....
(The entire section is 1080 words.)
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Angel is the youngest son of Rev. James Clare and his wife. He appears in the opening chapters of the book as a young man with upper-class bearings that dances with Tess's friends as they celebrate their May festival. He demonstrates immediately the differences between him and his brothers; while they hurry home to their studies, he pauses to dance and admire Tess's beauty. The two meet again at Talbothays Dairy where Angel is in apprenticeship for being a gentleman farmer. Although his father and his two older brothers are members of the clergy, Angel wants no part of their orthodox Christianity. To Tess, he is "educated, reserved, subtle, sad, [and] differing." He idealizes Tess as a "fresh, virginal daughter of nature," and asks her to marry him. When she hesitates, he asks again and again, and when she puts off a wedding date, he insists. At Talbothays he and Tess are portrayed as Adam and Eve where in the early mornings they notice "a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve," and Angel plays his secondhand harp in a garden complete with an apple tree. Three of the other milkmaids at the farm worship Angel from afar and despair at the thought that Angel will never be theirs. Although he defends his choice of her for a wife before his parents, he seems not really to accept her as she is, and is secretly elated when she tells him she is of the d'Urberville family. His true feelings are revealed when, after their marriage, he confesses to "eight-and-forty...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
Hardy's heroine is the daughter of John and Joan Durbeyfield of Marlott in Wessex; the eldest of seven children. The subtitle to the novel, "A Pure Woman" emphasizes her purity, but critics debate whether a woman who is seduced by one man, marries another one who abandons her, and then kills the first, could be considered "pure." But, purity aside, she is, with rare exception, praised by critics who admire her steadfast hope under adversity. To some, like Donald Davidson in the Southern Review, she is like a figure from a folk ballad "the deserted maiden who murders her seducer with a knife," while to others, including Irving Howe in Thomas Hardy, she is "a girl who is at once a simple milkmaid and an archetype of feminine strength." To Angel she is "a regular churchgoer of simple faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent, graceful to a degree, chaste as a vestal, and, in personal appearance, exceptionally beautiful." She has "passed the Sixth Standard in the National School," and thinks about becoming a teacher. While she is unimpressed with the news that she has noble ancestors, she feels so much guilt when she unwittingly causes the death of the family horse, that she follows her parents' wish that she "claim kin" at the nearby d'Urberville estate. She is shown as a hard worker, working in the fields after her baby is born, working at the dairy, and, later, working in the rutabaga fields at Flintcomb-Ash. But for all her strength, she is like a...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
In his early twenties when he first appears in the novel, Alec is the son of the late Mr. Simon Stoke, who added "d'Urberville" to his name to conceal his real identity when the family moved from southern England. He seems immediately taken with his pretty "Coz," when she comes to the estate to "claim kin," and after she leaves, he sends a letter purported to be from his invalid mother to Tess's mother asking that Tess come to work for her. Tess tries to avoid him, but one night he follows her when she goes to a fair and market at a neighboring town. He cajoles her into accepting his offer of a ride in his buggy, because she fears to be out so late by herself. Taking advantage of the lateness of the hour and her fatigued condition, Alec seduces her. The next time he appears in the novel, he is a preacher, converted by Angel's father. When he and Tess accidentally meet, Alec's softer side is revealed as he seems to be particularly touched when Tess tells him for the first time of their child. Alec becomes once again obsessed by her and pursues Tess to Flintcomb-Ash where she reveals to him that she is married. She refuses to have anything to do with him, but when she sees him again he no longer wears his parson's frock. Instead he is described as a villain from a melodrama, twirling a "gay walking cane." He belittles Tess for being faithful to her absent husband. Infuriated, she hits him in the face with a leather glove. Although they part, when she returns to...
(The entire section is 402 words.)
The only daughter of a friend and neighbor of the Clares, Mercy Chant, is the girl Angel Clare's parents hope he will marry. She is religious and holds Bible classes, but appears cold and unyielding. She ends up married to Angel's brother, Cuthbert.
A classical scholar, and a fellow and dean of his college at Cambridge, Cuthbert Clare is Angel's eldest brother. He seems to think of nothing but his academic work, and has little patience for those not sharing his interests. He marries Mercy Chant.
Felix is the middle boy in the Clare family, being Angel's older brother, and Cuthbert's younger brother. As curate at a nearby town, he is as much a churchman as his older brother is an academician. When Tess hears Felix and his brother talking in a derogatory fashion about her and Angel's marriage, she decides not to try to contact Angel's parents for help. This, the narrator says, is "the greatest misfortune of her life."
Reverend James Clare
Angel's father, Reverend James Clare, is a respected minister who is known for "his austere and Calvinist tenets." He and his wife live a frugal existence in Emminster. Although he seems cold, "the kindness of his heart was such that he never resented anything for long." His compassion is demonstrated when, although he is disappointed that Angel doesn't want to go into the ministry like the rest of the family,...
(The entire section is 1123 words.)