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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Why is Tess considered a pure woman?

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Tess is considered a pure woman because Thomas Hardy challenges Victorian values by portraying her purity as stemming from her character and personality, rather than her sexual history. Despite being judged and abused by society, Tess remains morally superior to her oppressors. The subtitle "A Pure Woman" is ironic, criticizing the hypocrisy of societal norms that equate purity with chastity.

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As you know, Thomas Hardy considered Tess in Tess of the D'Urbervilles a pure woman since the subtitle of the work is "A Pure Woman."  I have not taught or researched the novel, so you may get a far more detailed answer from another editor, but I can give you...

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the obvious meaning of Hardy's subtitle.

Tess suffers throughout her life for, in the eyes of society, being impure.  She is used and abused by society in general and men in particular.  With his subtitle, along with the text of the novel, of course, Hardy is suggesting that there is far more to being pure, to being a decent human being, to being a loving person, than just whether or not someone has had sex out of wedlock.  Hardy is commenting on prudish, hypocritical Victorian values.  Tess is pure, Hardy seems to be suggesting, because of her personality and her character, etc., regardless of what society thinks of her.

She is certainly a better human being than any of the men who abuse her and judge her.

There is, therefore, of course, as you've probably concluded, an element of irony in Hardy's subtitle.

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Is Tess a pure woman?

What makes most sense to me is the "new woman" criticism (which I refer to in a q and a as to why Hardy wrote the novel--something impossible to answer, really). This criticism sees the text engaging the "purity" that is part of the Victorian ideology in such a way that those who lose it, still lose their lives as well. Victimizing her--having her die--was about the only option Hardy and other writers of this genre had, for where in Victorian society could a woman go once she lost this? Yes she is good, yes she suffers, but in the long run there is no way out, so ladies, the book seems to warn, you better watch your step:  it becomes a cautionary tale. George Gissing in The Odd Women is one author who managed to find a place for women in society even if they transgress boundaries of Victorian womanhood.

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Is Tess a pure woman?

A pure woman

Is tess a pure woman? of course she is, she was rob of her innocence , but the fact still remains that she was pure at heart.

My first question is, what do you mean by "pure"?  Virginal?  Without worldly guile?  If so, does a woman become "unpure" if she loses her virginity or naivite? 

Why do you think Hardy subtitles the novel, "A Pure Woman"?  After all, Tess is hardly the example of model behavior...seduction and murder generally rule out that award.  

Perhaps Hardy means that despite her earthly flaws, Tess is a model of work ethic who tries to do what is right, morally right, that is, despite the traps the world sets for women. 

What do others of you out there think?  Is Tess a model of feminine strength, is the subtitle ironic? 

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Is Tess a pure woman? If yes, how?  If not, why not?

Clearly, Hardy believes that Tess is a pure woman.  He says so in the subtitle to the work and he often refers to her as pure or innocent.  So the author clearly sees Tess's purity.

Scholars argue over whether Tess truly is pure.  Those who think she is not pure point to the fact that she sleeps with more than one man in the book, not always while married.  In addition, she kills a man.  Both of these are, arguably, signs of someone who is not pure.

On the other hand, some scholars point to the idea that she does not act out of any motives that are impure.  Her worst actions come when she lets Alec have her body and when she kills him.  But in both cases, she is only doing it because of her desperate situation.

So an argument can be made both ways and you should decide which argument is more compelling to you.

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