Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

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What was Thomas Hardy's purpose in writing Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hardy's subtitle, A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, gets to the heart of his intentions. First, even though Tess would be considered a fallen, impure woman by most of her society, Hardy wants to redefine purity. Innocent Tess is raped and impregnated at 15 and gives birth to an illegitimate child who dies. In the eyes of Victorian England she is, therefore, spoiled, impure goods, even though it was not her fault she was raped.

Hardy, however, wants his readers to judge Tess by the purity of her heart, not the purity of her body. He shows throughout the novel how good and kind she is, with a desire to live honestly. All of this harms her because her society judges her by a different standard.

Second, Hardy was a naturalist. He thought of nature as indifferent to humans, buffeting them around carelessly. In presenting her "faithfully," he shows Tess as at the mercy of a universe that doesn't care about her goodness and is not about to reward her virtue with a happy ending. Innocent women...

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