What role does Tess’s noble lineage play in the depiction of her character in Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is interesting that both noble and the more humble lineage Tess receives from her mother play a very important part of helping to develop the character of Tess, and it is important not to overlook the more rural, rustic lineage Tess receives from her mother. In particular, this links to the pagan history of Britain, which Tess feels very strongly connected to. Note the connection Tess feels with the stone circle:

One of my mother's people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home.

This is a connection that is stressed from the beginning of the novel. It is interesting that examining the relationship Tess has with her mother further, she receives her beauty from her mother. However, this is viewed as an "unknightly, unhistorical" gift as her mother was a commoner. However, Hardy seems to stress that just because her mother wasn't of noble lineage, this doesn't mean she didn't have a history. In fact, Hardy seems to go out of his way to stress the way that Tess's beauty is something that is timeless. Note the way that her mother collects ancient ballads that symbolise the ancient culture of Britain. A perfect example of this is the May Dance, which is actually an ancient pagan fertility ceremony. In some ways, therefore, the connection that Tess has with her mother's family and lineage is more important to her than her connection with her father's lineage. It certainly seems to have more impact in terms of developing her character.

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