How may the title of Tess of the D'Urbervilles affect the reader's understanding of the novel?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The way in which the title of this novel by Thomas Hardy Tess of d'Ubrevilles may affect the readers is by giving a false impression that the main character is a well-to-do person with a strong, ancient heritage which grants her the right to posses such an elegant and seemingly-powerful name.

In turn, we find that this is only partly, if any, true at all. Our main character,Tess, is the daughter of a peddler named Durbeyfield. Durbeyfield seems to be a modern version of the older name D'Ubrevilles and may very well have been this latter name in the past.

However, instead of taking this information as just a typical possibility, John Durbeyfield goes out of his way in instilling in his family a sense of entitlement for the name. For this reason, he begins to act and do things that are expected of aristocrats. What is worse, he contacts the current D'Ubreville family (a rich family who adopted that name to give themselves status) to find a job for his daughter, Tess. Tess had accidentally led the family horse into a horrid accident, which precludes financial hardship.

Unfortunately, Tess is nowhere related to this new strain of D'Ubrevilles and they have no interest in having any relationship with her, except as a servant. Moreover, Alec, the family bad sheep ends up even raping poor Tess in her sleep. Tess's life went from bad to worse as a result of the association with D'Ubrevilles: A family name both fake and unfortunate.

In other words, the title implies the name of a well-to-do girl. When we read the story we find lies, fake illusions, desperate times, and a very sad ending, all for the sake of carrying a name that may or may have not been really worthy of all this sacrifice.

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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