Tess of the d'Urbervilles Questions and Answers
by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d'Urbervilles book cover
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At the start of Tess of the D'Ubervilles, what attitudes do Mr and Mrs Durbeyfield portray towards material wealth and social class and the roles of women and men in the home and society? How does Tess seem to accept or differ from this position?

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When we meet Tess's family, it is clear that their lives are very simple. The father is a "hagler," or someone who buys and sells small articles for a profit, and the mother is consumed with raising her children. Their amusement comes from going to the pub. While the mother seems to have more sense, the father is nevertheless the one who makes decisions, even though he is not very responsible. Nevertheless, their appetite for the grand life is keen, and the first thing Tess's father does when he learns of his connection to the d'Urbervilles is to order a carriage to carry him home in style. The eagerness of Tess's parents to be raised up to their "proper station" is what sets the novel in motion.

Tess, whom Hardy describes as "a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience," has an instinctive distrust of her family's new "fortune," but she lacks the judgement or fortitude to question her parent's decisionmaking. Of course, Tess is the one who must suffer for her father's fantasy. The decision to send her to visit distant d'Urberville "relations" ends up throwing her in the path of Alec d'Urberville, and leads to her eventual ruin.

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