This page consists of brief, somewhat random notes; this is as much as I could manage because of the lack of time.



Thomas Hardy had a difficult time finding a publisher for Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which was first serialized in a magazine and then published in book form. A number of magazines rejected the novel. The editor of Murray's Magazine refused to publish "stories where the plot involves frequent and detailed reference to immoral situations" even though he knew "well enough that these tragedies are being played out every day in our midst, but I believe the less publicity they have the better, and that it is quite possible and very desirable for women to grow up and pass through life without the knowledge of them." The editor of Macmillan's Magazine objected on similar grounds: "You use the word succulent more than once to describe the general appearance and condition of the Frome Valley. Perhaps I might say that the general impression left on me by reading your story... is one of rather too much succulence."

Hardy resented having to make changes in order for Tess to be published. Hardy accused magazine editors and publishers of failing to "foster the growth of the novel which reflects and reveals life." For Hardy, "Art consists in so depicting the common events of life as to bring out the features which illustrate the author's idiosyncratic mode of regard." The true artist paid for writing in English by having his personal vision squelched and by "the complete extinction, in the mind of every mature and penetrating reader, of sympathetic belief in his personages" (New Review, 1890).

The novel sold well and was a success financially. This is not to say that it was not attacked by some as depressing or shocking. One reviewer felt the novel "except during a few hours spent with cows, has not a gleam of sunshine anywhere." The Quarterly Review agreed that "Mr. Hardy has told an extremely disagreeable story in an extremely disagreeable manner." Of this review, Hardy commented in his diary, "Well, if this sort of thing continues no more novel-writing for me. A man must be a fool to deliberately stand up to be shot at." After the public outcry against Jude the Obscure in 1896, Hardy wrote no more novels.


Is Tess of the D'Urbervilles a tragedy, and is Tess a tragic figure? The answer to these questions may depend on the way you define tragedy. Or you may apply Hardy's concept of tragedy to the novel and decide whether it fits his definition. Over the years, he made a number of references to tragedy.

  • "A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions" (1878).

  • "Tragedy: It may be put thus in brief: a tragedy exhibits a state of things in the life of an individual which unavoidably causes some natural aim or desire of his to end in a catastrophe when carried out" (1885).

  • "The best tragedy–highest tragedy in short–is that of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE. The tragedies of immoral and worthless people are not of the best" (1892).

Do you agree with Hardy's definition(s) of tragedy? Is he really describing tragedy?

Walter Allen bases his argument of Tess as a tragedy on the image of Tess as a trapped animal, an image which "goes to the heart of Tess's situation. She is caught in tragedy because she is animal, but if she had been merely animal, or if she had been Retty Priddle or Izz Huett, there would have been no tragedy."


Hardy added the subtitle, A Pure Woman, at the last moment. It has created problems for readers and critics ever since the novel's appearance. The title offends many on moral grounds, for whom Tess is a "ruined," immoral woman. Others are puzzled intellectually; what is Hardy's basis for calling her pure? Hardy defended the subtitle in an 1892 interview with Raymond Blathwayt:
... I still maintain that her innate purity remained intact to the very last; though I frankly own that a certain outward purity left her on her last fall. I regarded her then as being in the hands of circumstances, not morally responsible, a mere corpse drifting with the current to her end.
The subtitle has been defended in various ways. For example, Hardy is showing that the traditional Christian view equating virtue and purity with virginity is wrong. Or Hardy is distinguishing between the act and the intention, a distinction Angel Clare finally makes in the novel. Irving Howe offers a more subtle explanation:
in her incomparable vibrancy and lovingness, she comes to represent a spiritualized transcendence of chastity. She dies three times, to live again:--first with Alec D'Urberville, then with Angel Clare, and lastly with Alec again. Absolute victim of her wretched circumstances, she is ultimately beyond their stain. She embodies a feeling for the inviolability of the person, as it brings the absolute of charity nearer to the warming Christian virtue of charity. Through a dialectic of negation, Tess reaches purity of spirit even as she fails to satisfy the standards of the world.
For F.B. Pinton, her purity derives from her victimization:
... she is the victim of chance--of heredity, physical and temperamental; of the position she was born into, and all the other factors that impinge on her life. She could not be held responsible for them; she was, in Hardy's words, "a pure woman."


The novel is organized around a natural cycle; Tess progresses through the stages of the cycle. which are indicated by the headings for each of the seven sections. John Holloway describes the events and stages in Darwinian terms: organism, environment, struggle, adaptation, fertility, survival, resistance; Hardy envisaged the individual as subject to the same ultimates as a species-- establishment and extinction. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) theorized that animals compete for survival and that those species which develop traits that improve the chance of survival, through mutation, for instance, are most likely to survive. This concept is best known as "survival of the fittest," a phrase developed by Herbert Spencer.


Phase the First: The Maiden
  Chapters 1-11, pages 1-73
Overview of Hardy
The Opening
Tess's Personal Traits
Tess and Alec
Phase the Second: Maiden No More
  Chapters 12-15, pages 74-100
Rape or Seduction?
Phase the Third: The Rally
  Chapters 16-24, pages 101-152
Nature and the Froom Valley
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
  Chapters 25-34, pages 153-227
Tess and Angel
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
  Chapters 35-44, pages 228-307
Tess and Angel Part
Phase the Sixth: The Convert
  Chapters 45-52, pages 308-372
Alec Again
A Pure Woman
Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment
  Chapters 53-59, pages 373-405
The Ending
December 14, 2005