Based on the way Tess of the D' Urbervilles deals with social class and lineage, what is Hardy saying about the social stereotypes in the novel and the role Tess’s noble lineage play in the...

 Based on the way Tess of the D' Urbervilles deals with social class and lineage, what is Hardy saying about the social stereotypes in the novel and the role Tess’s noble lineage play in the depiction of her character? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the Victorian Age, an era in which social class directed one's life, the three main characters of Hardy's novel, Angel Clare, Tess Durbeyfield, and Alec D'Uberville are marked by confusion and contradictions with their own social classes. These contradictions are a main concern of the novel.

The introduction of the Industrial Age effects some of this change in social class. While those of wealth, power, and privilege continue to dominate society, the concept of heredity as the origin of cultural authority begins to become dismantled, as demonstrated by the ridiculousness of John Durbeyville's thrill when he learns that his name is aristocratic. Yet, it is this aristocratic name that drives Tess to seek help from her upper-class relatives, who are not true gentry, but only wealthy. Placed in this situation which her parents believe will aid Tess, she is, unfortunately, victimized by lust and hypocrisy.

Later, Angel Clare, who is from a respectable family and a graduate of Cambridge, decides he wants to work at the dairy farm of the Talbothays. There Angel finds Tess enticing because she contradicts the stereotype of the "Hodge," the dull, farm worker.  Moreover, he is enthralled with Tess's apparent innocence, finding her a "fresh, virginal daughter of nature."

Much to his surprise, he took, indeed, a real delight in their companionship.  The conventional farm-folk of his imagination...were obliterated after a few days' residence. At close quarters no Hodge was to be seen.

But, after Angel and Tess are married, when she reveals her loss of innocence taken from her by her cousin, Angel rejects her. Ironically, it is the lowly Tess whose intense desire to survive transcends all social defining. 

This tenacity of Tess is in line with the theories of Charles Darwin's theory of "survival of the fittest." Social Darwinism causes Angel to see the "ache of modernism" in Tess and ends the absolutes of Victorian society as it dismantles the concept of the superiority of the aristocracy.

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