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Tess of the d'Urbervilles

by Thomas Hardy

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Hardy's portrayal of women's strength, perseverance, and feminist themes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles


In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hardy portrays women’s strength and perseverance through Tess’s character, who endures immense hardships and societal injustices. Tess’s resilience and dignity highlight feminist themes, challenging the rigid gender norms and the double standards of Victorian society. Hardy’s depiction underscores the need for greater empathy and equality for women.

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What is Hardy's feminist approach in Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

Hardy's feminist perspective can be seen on the very cover of the novel. The book's full title is Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. His description of Tess as pure goes against how she is treated in the book. Because she has had a child out of wedlock she is shunned and mistreated. Hardy does not place the blame on Tess, though; he believes her to still be pure regardless of what has happened to her. This subtitle often goes unnoticed and leads people to believe that Hardy thinks that Tess's treatment in the novel is appropriate. Hardy is not participating in victim blaming or furthering rape culture. His portrayal of poor unhappy Tess is his way of showing real and horrible gender inequality. Feminism is built upon removing this sort of gender inequality.

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How does Hardy present women's strength and perseverance in Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

Hardy conveys this idea through the use of his central character, Tess. While there are instances strewn throughout the text, one of the most illustrative examples of strength and perseverance in the face of suffering is Tess’ experiences during her honeymoon period with Angel Clare.  In Chapters 35 – 36, the newlyweds are giddy with emotion and decide to share their innermost secrets with one another. Angel begins by telling her of a youthful indiscretion. He confesses that his experimentation with city life led to “eight-and-forty hours' dissipation with a stranger.” Tess immediately and generously forgives his error. Then, she shares her own secret.

Tess confesses to Angel that Alec Stokes (D’Urbervilles) took advantage of her after her family sent her to “claim kin” with him. She tells him of the misery that followed and of her personal and silent sufferings. Angel is stunned by her confession and, rather than offer loving forgiveness, he informs her that she is no longer the woman that he married. In fact, he says that this discovery of her past life has irrevocably damaged their recent marriage. Tess submits as Angel, in his even tones, delivers devastating words that signal the end of their marriage:

"Now, let us understand each other," he said gently. "There is no anger between us, though there is that which I cannot endure at present. I will try to bring myself to endure it. I will let you know where I go to as soon as I know myself. And if I can bring myself to bear it--if it is desirable, possible--I will come to you. But until I come to you it will be better that you should not try to come to me."

The severity of the decree seemed deadly to Tess; she saw his view of her clearly enough; he could regard her in no other light than that of one who had practised gross deceit upon him. Yet could a woman who had done even what she had done deserve all this? But she could contest the point with him no further. She simply repeated after him his own words.

As Angel abandons her, Tess continues to love him and to endure the sufferings of her life. Twice now, she has been wronged by men. Still, she bears it with as much dignity and courage as she can muster.

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