The title of the second phase deals with the significance of Tess's sexual experience in her view, in society's view, and in nature. With which of these does Hardy side? Is her sexual experience the turning point in her life, as the title suggests? Though it is clearly a crucial event, what actually happened is unclear. Was she raped or seduced? Once you decide that question, another question must be decided, how responsible is she for what happened?


From his first appearance Alec seems to be a melodramatic villain, a "dastardly" womanizer, with his crude, full lips, his bold eye, and his dark moustache. His addressing Tess as "my beauty" suggests his sexual nature. His subsequent behavior confirms this impression.

After the dance at Chaseborough, Tess refuses Alec's offers to take her home and goes with him only to escape from the confrontation with Car Darch and the others. Hardy comments, "At almost any other moment of her life she would have refused such proffered aid and company...But coming as the invitation did at the particular juncture when fear and indignation at these adversaries could be transformed by a spring of the foot into a triumph over them, she abandoned herself to her impulse" (pages 66-67); she accepts his offer. Is Tess's action determined entirely by the situation, which is so upsetting that she feels faint? Is it chance that Alec is eavesdropping at this particular moment? So do circumstances combine against Tess? Or does she bear any responsibility? Does the prospect of triumphing over her persecutors suggest pride may be a factor in her impulsive decision?  As Hardy later points out, she inherits her impulsiveness, which may take the form of recklessness, from her d'Urberville ancestors. If her impulsiveness and recklessness are inherited, is Tess responsible for her impulsive or her reckless actions or is she a victim of heredity? Tess's d'Urberville traits develop the theme of the continuing effect of the past. Are those effects unavoidable?


Though she is dependent economically on Alec and is socially inferior, Tess has resisted his advances. She tells him she disliked and was angered by his kissing her, that she does not love him, and that she was sometimes offended by his love-making. Why only "sometimes"? (The phrase making love in the nineteenth century meant courtship, not the modern meaning of sexual intercourse.) When she thinks he is making a physical advance, she gives him a little push which almost knocks him off the horse. This push is "one of those sudden impulses of reprisal to which she was liable" (page 60), which is inherited from her d'Urberville ancestors and which she displays later.

In view of this resistence, why is she indecisive in answering his request to treat her as a lover, "I don't know–I wish–how can I say yes or no when–" (page 69)? Is she flirting, and is her hesitation deliberately or even unconsciously encouraging? Or is she inhibited by his social status, by his economic power over her and her family, his gifts to her family?

The fog causes Alec to lose his way, and the moonlight comes out when he returns to Tess sleeping. Have circumstances worked against Tess? As in the Prince disaster, Tess falls into a reverie when she is alone and then sleeps. Is this trait a factor in Alec's taking sexual advantage of her?

Rather than describe the sexual encounter, Hardy discusses its inevitability, cruelty, and arbitrariness:

           Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissues, sensitive as gossamer and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousands years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. (page 73)
Does this sentence say that, whether Tess is raped or seduced, the event is fated because of the way the universe functions? Hardy then quotes a fatalistic saying of Tess's people, "It was to be" (page 73).

Readers who believe Tess is raped cite the reference to her d'Urberville ancestors, who "had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly toward peasant-girls" (page 73). Hardy rejects the idea of retribution, of children being punished for the sins of their ancestors, which "is scorned by average human nature" (page 73). Again, the d'Urberville reference connects the past and Tess's present.


In deciding whether Tess was raped or seduced, you may want to consider later references.
  • Does the conversation when Alec catches up with Tess on her way home indicate she willingly had sex with him at some time? She says, "...if I had ever sincerely loved you, if I loved you still, I should not so loathe and hate myself for my weakness as I do now!... My eyes were dazed by you for a little, and that was all" (page 76). If Tess willingly had sex with Alec afterward, does that necessarily mean that she agreed or submitted in The Chase? Could she have been raped and then become his mistress?
  • She asks the sign-painter, "suppose your sin was not of your own seeking?" (page 79). The narrow mindedness and failure of religion are indicated by his unconcern with her question.
  • Tess is offended at her mother's suggestion about getting Alec to marry her. Hardy explains,
    She had dreaded him, winced before him, succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile, had suddenly despised and disliked him, and had run away. That was all. (page 81)
  • One of the Marlott harvest workers, who are gossiping about Tess and her baby, says,
          "Well, a little more than persuading had to do wi' the coming o't, I reckon. There were they that heard a sobbing one night last year in The Chase; and it mid ha' gone hard wi' a certain party if folks had come along." (page 90)
    This indicates force and rape, but how reliable is this hearsay? In a novel, does the information have to be reliable? Is the hint of rape enough to sway the reader's decision?
  • The question of reliability also applies to Joan's advising her not to tell Angel Clare, "specially as it is so long ago, and not your Fault at all" (page 192). 


The immediate result of her sexual experience is the "immeasurable social chasm" which separated Tess the Maiden from Tess the Maiden No More. And only society and Tess's acceptance of society's judgment make it a sin and her an immoral woman. In nature, she has done nothing wrong. As she wanders along in the deepening twilight, she is an integral part of nature. It is her guilt at breaking society's conventions and religion's prohibitions that isolates her. Hardy comments of them:
It was they that were out of harmony with the actual world, not she. Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while, she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in accord. She had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly. (page 85)
The opposition between natural law and social/religious law operates throughout the book. Does it contribute to Tess's misfortunes? Does the phrase "made to break" suggest that Tess was raped, or does it only mean that the natural act of sex was a transgression in society, so that by doing something natural Tess "had been made to break a social law"?

Besides isolating her from the community, her sexual experience changed her

from simple girl to complex woman. Symbols of reflectiveness passed into her face and a note of tragedy at times into her voice. Her eyes grew larger and more eloquent. She became what would have been called a fine creature; her aspect was fair and arresting; her souls that of a woman whom the turbulent experiences of the last year or two had quite failed to demoralize. But for the world's opinion those experiences would have been simply a liberal education. (page 99)
By transforming Tess, her loss of virginity has individualized her and thereby cut her off from the folk or community to which she belonged in the beginning. Initially, she was indistinguishable from the others, which is why Angel Clare did not choose her as a dancing partner. Hardy's calling her experiences "a liberal education," just a learning experience, shocks many readers. Is her liberal education a fortunate fall? The Fall of Adam and Eve, which introduced sin and suffering into the world, is traditionally regarded as an unmitigated disaster. However, a heterodox view arose that the Fall was fortunate; as a result of the Fall, Christ took human form to redeem humanity from sin.


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