Who is the real villain in Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles is the story of a love triangle, in which two men, Alec Stoke-D’Urberville and Angel Clare are both attracted to Tess because of her beauty. 

Alec Stoke-D’Urberville is the scion of a newly wealthy family living in an ostentatious manor near Tess's village. He ends up employing Tess, who comes from a poor peasant family, to tend fowls, but his real purpose is to have her nearby so that he can seduce her. She dislikes working for the D’Urberville family and is uncomfortable around Alec, but her family needs the money. Eventually Alec rapes Tess and gets her pregnant. Although Tess's mother thinks that Tess should lure him into a marriage, this is really delusional, as a wealthy man such as Alec is not likely to marry a peasant girl who is not even a virgin (even if that lack of virginity is his fault). 

Tess has the baby, but it dies. Tess now has a reputation for sexual misconduct, as it was considered highly improper for an unmarried woman to be sexually active in this period. She leave town and gets a job working in a dairy where she meets and eventually agrees to marry Angel Clare, an upper middle class intellectual who is sophisticated and unorthodox, and engages Tess in intellectual conversations. After they marry, Angel confesses a brief affair of his own to Tess, but when she confesses her pregnancy, he gives her money and leaves to go to Brazil. Alec eventually returns into Tess's life and Tess murders him and is convicted for the murder.

Although technically, according to the laws of the period, Tess, the murderess, is the only one of the three to be arrested and convicted, Hardy portrays her sympathetically, as a victim. While Angel is weak-willed and despite his advanced views, somewhat conventional and timid, he's not really a villain. The title of villain must go to Alec, first because he is a rapist, and second because he exploits the economic tragedies Tess's family has undergone to coerce her into an adulterous relationship after she has married Angel.

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