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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Summary of the Novel
After John Durbeyfield, a country peasant, learns he is descended from a noble family, he gets tipsy at a local alehouse. Early the next morning, Tess, his dutiful daughter, sets out to market, but she falls asleep and the family’s horse dies in an accident. Tess is sent to seek work from Mrs. D’Urberville, a rich lady whom the Durbeyfields believe to be of a junior branch of the ancient family from whom they are descended. The Durbeyfields do not know that the D’Urberville name has been adopted for status purposes by a newly rich family, originally the Stokes, from the north of England. Tess’s looks impress Alec Stoke-D’Urberville, who offers her a job. For several months, Alec romantically pursues Tess, finally taking her against her will in a darkened forest. She stays with him a few weeks before returning home.

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Tess gives birth, but the infant soon dies, and Tess is forced to bury it herself. After a year at home, Tess becomes a milkmaid at the hospitable Talbothays Dairy, where she meets a young man who had briefly impressed her in her youth. This cultured and intellectual young man, Angel Clare, studying to be a farmer, falls in love with Tess because of her beauty and purity. Tess is reluctant, but eventually accepts the marriage and tries unsuccessfully to reveal her past before the ceremony.

The night after their wedding, Angel confesses to Tess a past liaison. Tess forgives him, but when Tess details her past, Angel is too shocked to forgive. He deserts Tess, but allows her to appeal to his parents if she has any financial troubles.

Angel sets off for Brazil to buy a farm. Tess must accept a winter job at a farm where she and her co-workers are treated brutally. Tess decides to visit Angel’s parents. Before seeing them, she overhears Angel’s brothers scorning his unwise marriage. On her way back, Tess hears an itinerant preacher who turns out to be Alec D’Urberville.

When he sees Tess, Alec’s lust is reawakened and his religious conversion is undone. Alec again pursues Tess, offering her and her family much-needed financial help and reminding her that her husband is not acting as her protector. After her father dies and her family is rendered homeless, Tess succumbs to Alec.

Angel has been recovering from fever in Brazil, and he decides to return to England to reclaim his bride. However, when he meets her at Sandbourne, it is obvious Tess has bartered herself to D’Urberville and that Angel has arrived too late. Angel walks the streets in despair, at the same time Tess’s landlord notices an ominous bloodstain, revealing that Tess has murdered Alec. Within moments the word is out and Tess is being pursued again, this time by the law. Tess and Angel spend an idyllic few days in an abandoned mansion. Trying to evade capture, they stop for the night at Stonehenge, but in the morning police surround the ancient monument and take Tess away. Her execution is witnessed only by Angel and Tess’s younger sister.

The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy was born June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England, not far from the principal settings of Tess of the D’Urbervilles . He was the eldest of four children. His father started a successful...

(The entire section contains 3826 words.)

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