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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Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4 1. One of Hardy’s concerns in the novel is to describe the customs and manners of England’s rural life, which he felt were being lost to industrialization and modernization. What descriptions and incidents in the first four chapters build a picture of rural life in the late nineteenth century?

2. What parts do Fate, Chance, and sheer accident play in the beginning of Tess’s life story?

3. How is Tess contrasted to her parents?

4. How does Hardy make Tess appear as a representative example of her native environment and her gender?

Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11 1. Research the historical phenomenon of newly rich families buying titles or adopting aristocratic names in Victorian England. How common were such practices? How closely in accordance with these historical facts is Hardy’s fictional presentation of Simon Stoke?

2. Thomas Hardy frequently indicates which of his characters he morally approves of by describing their attitude to hard work. Pick three characters from Phase the First and analyze how Hardy judges them by portraying their differing attitudes to work and labor. Devote one paragraph to each character and include several quotes from the novel in each paragraph. Write an introductory paragraph with an appropriately worded thesis statement and end the essay with a conclusion restating your findings and assessing their importance.

3. At two important moments in Chapters Five and 11, Hardy departs from describing events and shifts into an omniscient narrative voice which makes philosophical pronouncements. How do these shifts of narrative voice add to our experience of the novel?

4. Literary critics frequently describe characters as being either round or flat. Round characters are constantly changing, evolving, maturing, presenting new, unpredictable aspects to readers. Flat characters are defined more in terms of several focused and unchanging characteristics, making them easily memorable but not, perhaps, so interesting for the reader to spend time with. (The English novelist E. M. Forster formulated this distinction in his book Aspects of the Novel, published in 1927, a number of years after Hardy wrote Tess.) Assess whether Tess, Alec D’Urberville, Angel Clare, or Joan Durbeyfield are round or flat characters. Can a flat character compel our interest?

5. How many times does the thought of Prince’s death affect Tess’s behavior? Describe how Tess constantly shows responsibility for the well-being and reputation of her family.

Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15 1. Hardy presents two characters associated with organized religion. What criticisms does he make of these characters and of their religion?

2. Trace and analyze the references to death in this Phase. What does Hardy mean to suggest through these references?

3. How do the landscapes presented in the end of Chapter 13 and throughout Chapter 14 reflect Tess’s state of mind? Discuss the details through which Hardy builds informative, and psychologically appropriate portraits of these natural and agricultural environments.

Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 16–19 1. Research the Victorian reaction against organized religion, especially as embodied in the Articles of Faith of the Church of England. How typical were Angel Clare’s misgivings about religion and religious faith?

2. Hardy writes of Angel, “[H]e made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known but darkly—the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees, waters, and mists, shades and silence, and the voices of inanimate things.” Citing and analyzing several passages descriptive of nature, argue that this quotation names those things Hardy most wants us to perceive and appreciate as we read the novel.

3. How...

(This entire section contains 1883 words.)

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does Angel misjudge and misperceive Tess even as he first begins to be attracted to her?

Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24 1. Trace the connections Hardy suggests between the natural environment at Talbothays, the summer season, and the growing love of Angel and Tess.

2. Analyze Hardy’s language in this passage: “The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them by cruel Nature’s law—an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired….The differences which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this passion, and each was but portion of one organism called sex.” What connections is Hardy assuming between women and emotionality, and between women and Nature? How could you use this passage to argue that Hardy’s view of Nature is not straightforwardly positive but rather complex and ambiguous?

Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29 1. Compare Angel Clare to his brothers. How do their achievements and limitations underline both what is questionable and what is admirable about Angel’s character?

2. Does Hardy want us to think well of Angel Clare’s parents? (That is, do their good qualities outweigh their bad ones?) Provide evidence on both sides and reach an appropriate conclusion.

3. Secure a copy of Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (first published, 1869). Read Chapter IV for Arnold’s account of Hellenism (right-thinking, free play of the mind) versus Hebraism (rightness of conduct, severity of conscience). By the time Hardy wrote Tess, these labels were well established in England. Now explain Angel’s remark that it might have been better if Greece and not Palestine had served as “the source of the religion of modern civilization.” How well does Reverend Clare embody Hebraism and Angel Hellenism?

Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 30–34 1. Readers have criticized Hardy for inserting too many unlikely coincidences in the plots of his novels. Is the episode of Tess’s letter being mistakenly placed under the rug excessively arbitrary or unlikely? If Hardy does depart from the limits of a strict realism here, is it for a valid artistic purpose? Would Tess’s tragedy have been prevented if Angel had read the letter?

2. Tess’s desire, Hardy states, is not so much to be a wife as it is to live in a state of “perpetual betrothal,” eternally promised, but never married to Angel Clare. Is there a feminist insight here about the unworkability of marriage and its basic unfairness to women? To a woman, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a “perpetual betrothal” as compared to a traditional marriage? What other moments in Phase the Fourth show that Hardy is aware of how women suffer in society?

3. Hardy intimates throughout these chapters that the love Angel has for Tess may be insufficient, limited, flawed. How does Hardy suggest the limits to Angel’s love, and to his character as a whole, without losing his readers’ basic sympathy for and approval of Clare?

4. “Phase the Fourth is the most tragic segment of this novel because it is here that the distance between Tess and happiness seems the shortest.” Justify this statement.

5. Trace the influence of the D’Urberville family over the events of these chapters. How does Tess’s ancestry recur as a determining factor in her life?

Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44 1. Examine how the sexual double standard (the idea that men but not women are allowed sexual freedom) influences the characters and their actions in Phase the Fifth. Explain Hardy’s title for this Phase: “The Woman Pays.”

2. Analyze the metaphors which compare Tess to a trapped animal. How do these metaphors increase our sympathy for Tess? How do they further reinforce the connection between Tess and Nature?

3. Determine where this Phase fits on the pyramid of dramatic structure: antecedent action (what has taken place before the story proper starts), inciting moment (the catalyst which creates conflict and thus interest in the events to follow), rising action (the development of suspense and interest), climax (the most intense moment defining the protagonist’s future), reversal (falling action, the playing out of previously established conflicts), or denouement (the tying up of loose ends). Defend your decision.

4. Analyze Angel’s relationship with his parents. How do they both help and hinder Angel? What determines their behavior toward him? Why does Angel feel he must lie to them about the extent of his separation from Tess? Hardy indicts Angel for being a “slave to custom and conventionality”: is this merely another way of stating the inevitable fact that he is the product of his particular upbringing?

5. In Chapter 40, Angel cries out, “O Tess! If you had only told me sooner, I would have forgiven you!” Is this the truth (making Tess again a victim of circumstances and bad timing), or is Hardy ironically showing us Angel attempting to deceive himself?

Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52 1. Alec D’Urberville shows new aspects to his character in Phase the Sixth. Analyze how we judge Alec less harshly after this Phase—how does he show himself to be a better, more considerate, less purely villainous person than we might have believed him to be earlier? Are his actions toward Tess ever motivated by love?

2. “And yet these harshnesses [of individual men to individual women and vice versa] are tenderness itself when compared with the universal harshness out of which they grow; the harshness of the position towards the temperament, of the means towards the aims, of to-day towards yesterday, of hereafter towards to-day.” Define these “harshnesses” in your own words, and then try to account for the presence of this sentence in the novel. Does Hardy detract from his novel by inserting such philosophical generalities? Or do they make profound sense against the background of the novel’s plot?

3. How do larger economic and demographic forces affect the social class occupied by the Durbeyfield family?

4. A protagonist is defined as “the leading character or principal figure in a narrative.” The form and sequence of a novel arise from the delineation of the growth and complexity of a protagonist. Demonstrate that this Phase has two protagonists, Tess and Angel.

Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59 1. Phase the Seventh acquires an aura of inevitability because its events are so heavily influenced by the past. The past is a recurrent force which determines what happens in the present. Write about the connections between past events and the incidents of Phase the Seventh. Analyze the many parallels and repetitions Hardy inserts in the conclusion of his book. For example: Angel meets Tess at a lodging house called The Heron, while their courting went on in early morning surrounded by herons (Phase the Third); Angel asks Tess, unsuccessfully, for forgiveness, just as Tess did of Angel; Angel’s casual remark in Phase the Fifth about Alec being still alive has apparently stayed in Tess’s mind and compelled her to kill Alec. Does Hardy persuade us of the idea that the past cannot be escaped? How do these connections lend unity to the novel?

2. Analyze the levels of symbolism and patterns of reference that culminate in the Stonehenge scene.

3. Explain the significance of the final lines: “ ‘Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the D’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing.” Points to explain would include the meaning of the quotation marks around “Justice,” the interpretation of the phrase “President of the Immortals,” and the significance of the book’s final reference to the extinct and useless D’Urberville nobility. You may also compare this line to Hardy’s 1891 version, which substitutes “Time, the Arch-satirist” for “President of the Immortals.”


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