Ilustration of Tess on hilly pink terrain with trees and clouds in the background

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

by Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Summary

Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a novel about a poor young woman named Tess Durbeyfield whose father sends her to work for the rich Stoke-d'Urberville family, to whom he mistakenly believes they are related.

  • Alec Stoke-d'Urberville rapes Tess. She returns home, where she gives birth to a child who soon dies.
  • Tess becomes a milkmaid at the Talbothays Dairy, where she falls in love with Angel Clare, a young intellectual she met years before. On their wedding night, Angel learns about Tess's past and abandons her.
  • Angel leaves for Brazil, then returns to find that Tess has killed Alec. Tess is arrested and hanged.

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Last Updated July 12, 2023.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a novel written by Thomas Hardy and published in 1891. Hardy, an influential English novelist and poet, wrote the novel during the Victorian period in England. Tess of the d'Urbervilles explores themes of social class, gender, fate, and the power of societal conventions. The novel is a critique of Victorian morality and the double standards imposed on women.

Plot Summary

Upon discovering that he is a descendant of an aristocratic lineage, rural commoner John Durbeyfield indulges in a few drinks at a nearby tavern. The following morning, his devoted daughter Tess embarks on a journey to the market but dozes off en route, resulting in the tragic demise of their family horse.

Consequently, Tess is dispatched to solicit employment from Mrs. D'Urberville, a wealthy woman whom the Durbeyfields presume to be connected to the same distinguished ancestry they believe themselves to be descended from.

The Durbeyfields are unaware that the D'Urberville name has been assumed by a wealthy family, originally known as the Stokes, from northern England for the sake of prestige. Tess catches the eye of Alec Stoke-D'Urberville, who provides her with a job opportunity. Over the course of a few months, Alec relentlessly courts Tess, ultimately forcing himself upon her in a shadowy woodland. After spending a few weeks with him, Tess ultimately decides to go back home.

Tess delivers a baby, but the child quickly passes away, leaving her to bury it alone. After a year at home, she takes up a job as a milkmaid at the welcoming Talbothays Dairy. There, she encounters a refined and intelligent young man, Angel Clare, who is pursuing a career in farming. Angel, who had caught Tess's eye earlier in her life, falls for her due to her beauty and innocence. Despite her hesitation, Tess agrees to marry him but fails to disclose her past before they wed.

On the evening following their nuptials, Angel reveals a previous romantic encounter to Tess. She forgives him, but when Tess discloses her own history, Angel is too upset and dismayed to offer his forgiveness. He abandons Tess, though he permits her to seek financial assistance from his parents if necessary.

Angel departs for Brazil with the purpose of purchasing a farm, while Tess is compelled to take on a winter job at a farm where both she and her colleagues are subjected to harsh treatment. Tess chooses to pay a visit to Angel's parents; however, she overhears his brothers ridiculing his imprudent decision to marry her. While returning, Tess encounters a wandering preacher who is eventually revealed to be Alec D'Urberville.

Upon seeing Tess, Alec's desire is reignited, and his spiritual transformation unravels. He once more pursues her, providing essential financial support to her and her family while pointing out her husband's failure to protect her. Following her father's death and her family's displacement, Tess eventually gives in to Alec.

Angel, who has been recuperating from a fever in Brazil, resolves to go back to England and reunite with his betrothed. Upon their encounter in Sandbourne, it becomes apparent that Tess has traded herself to D'Urberville. Distraught, Angel roams the streets, while concurrently, Tess's landlord discovers a foreboding bloodstain, indicating that Alec has been slain by Tess.

In no time, news spreads, and Tess finds herself being chased once more, now by the authorities. Tess and Angel enjoy a blissful few days in a deserted manor.

In an attempt to avoid arrest, they spend the night at Stonehenge, but the police encircle the historic site the next morning and apprehend Tess. Only Angel and Tess's younger sibling bear witness to her execution.

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Chapter Summaries