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.
PHASE THE FIRST: THE MAIDEN
TESS'S PERSONAL TRAITS
SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND PRIDE
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.
TENDENCY TO REVERIE
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.
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
DISCUSSION OF TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES