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What makes most sense to me is the "new woman" criticism (which I refer to in a q and a as to why Hardy wrote the novel--something impossible to answer, really). This criticism sees the text engaging the "purity" that is part of the Victorian ideology in such a way that those who lose it, still lose their lives as well. Victimizing her--having her die--was about the only option Hardy and other writers of this genre had, for where in Victorian society could a woman go once she lost this? Yes she is good, yes she suffers, but in the long run there is no way out, so ladies, the book seems to warn, you better watch your step:  it becomes a cautionary tale. George Gissing in The Odd Women is one author who managed to find a place for women in society even if they transgress boundaries of Victorian womanhood.

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A pure woman

Is tess a pure woman? of course she is, she was rob of her innocence , but the fact still remains that she was pure at heart.

My first question is, what do you mean by "pure"?  Virginal?  Without worldly guile?  If so, does a woman become "unpure" if she loses her virginity or naivite? 

Why do you think Hardy subtitles the novel, "A Pure Woman"?  After all, Tess is hardly the example of model behavior...seduction and murder generally rule out that award.  

Perhaps Hardy means that despite her earthly flaws, Tess is a model of work ethic who tries to do what is right, morally right, that is, despite the traps the world sets for women. 

What do others of you out there think?  Is Tess a model of feminine strength, is the subtitle ironic? 

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