Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d'Urbervilles book cover
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What happens in Tess of the d'Urbervilles?

John Durbeyfield, an uneducated peasant, learns that he may be a descendent of the D'Urbervilles, a noble Norman family. He sends his daughter Tess to work for the Stokes, who have assumed the name D'Urberville since leaving England.

  • Alec Stoke-D'Urberville takes an interest in Tess and pursues her relentlessly. After months of rejection, Alec takes Tess against her will in a forest. Several weeks after the rape, Tess returns home, where she later gives birth to Alec's child. Unfortunately, the infant dies, and Tess is forced to bury it alone.
  • Tess becomes a milkmaid at the Talbothays Dairy, where she reconnects with Angel Clare, a young intellectual she met years before. He falls in love with her, believing her to be innocent, but abandons her on the night of their wedding after learning about Tess's past with Alec.
  • Angel travels to Brazil to buy a farm, leaving Tess alone again. After a chance meeting with Alec, Tess accepts his offer of financial help in exchange for her services. Shortly after Angel returns from Brazil, Tess kills Alec. She and Angel spend three days in hiding in an abandoned mansion, but the police eventually capture Tess at Stonehenge. Angel witnesses her hanging.

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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.

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...

(The entire section is 3,826 words.)