Tess is at the center of this novel, as almost every reader feels and as the evolution of the title suggests. Hardy originally called it Too Late, Beloved!. So an understanding of Tess's character and her personal traits is essential to understanding the novel.


Tess has the strong sense of responsibility which the children of alcoholics often develop; has she, like some of them, developed an excessive sense of responsibility?

Tess leaves the dance early because she is worried about her father's behavior; she  feels guilty about the grass stains on the white dress her mother washed and ironed. An incompetent housekeeper and mother, Mrs. Durbeyfield is "flinging the baby from side to side like a weaver's shuttle" as she rocks the cradle (page 14). Having irresponsible parents, Tess assumes responsibility for and worries about her younger siblings. This concern is obviously the basis of her volunteering to drive Prince, but it does not explain why she chooses to drive herself with her younger brother as a companion rather than ask some young man. "'Oh no–I wouldn't have it for the world!' declared Tess proudly. 'And letting everybody know the reason–such a thing to be ashamed of!'" (page 24). Tess also has a strongly developed sense of pride, and it will determine, at least in part, future actions.

Tess assumes responsibility for Prince's death, to the extent of feeling like a murderess. This feeling causes her to acquiesce in her mother's scheme to go to the d'Urbervilles for help.


The accident which kills Prince results from Tess's tendency to fall into a dream-like state or reverie. From it, she falls into sleep. Similarly, she submits to Alec's showering her with strawberries and roses "like one in a dream" (page 37). And the pattern of a reverie becoming sleep repeats itself disastrously in the Chase with Alec.


Tess's dreaminess is sometimes connected to another trait, her passivity. She is passive in her dream-like state, as when Alec loads her with roses and strawberries. It is guilt that causes her to submit passively to her mother's scheme for going to the d'Urbervilles and to her mother's dressing her up, even though her own good judgment sees the folly of both efforts. At key times in her life, Tess passively submits, when a determined effort would have produced a more favorable outcome; the most obvious examples occur in her relationship with Angel in Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays.


Not surprisingly, Tess's exceptional good looks bring her unwanted attention from men. But what proves unfortunate for her is her mature sexual appearance, "a luxuriance of aspect, a fullness of growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was" (page 37). Her mother's efforts to enhance Tess's good looks emphasize this quality and "imparted to her developing figure an amplitude which belied her age and might cause her to be estimated as a woman when she was not much more than a child" (page 44). And it is as a woman that Alec sees her.


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