'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' Analysis

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' - Thomas Hardy Genre: Victorian Fiction Pages: 398

Good evening everyone, after spending the past week split between 13 hour shifts at work and reading, I’ve finally finished Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of The D’Urbervilles’. While not the longest novel at 398 pages, this one has a little bit of a back story to me…

I first began reading this novel as a piece of homework for my A Level English Literature studies a few years ago now, we were given the one week half-term holidays to read and produce a presentation on a given novel (mine being Tess). I admit, when given this task, I had too much school work to complete over the holidays so I may have cheated and turned to research online to look up the ending!

However, now with more time on my hands (although juggling blogging and a full-time job!) I decided to pick up my dusty forgotten copy and read it – for real this time! I’m glad to say that after all the fuss, I did enjoy this novel! Those of you whom are regular readers of my blog (*cough* If you exist… *cough* :D ), would notice that I’ve titled this post as an ‘Analysis’ rather than the previous ‘Review’. This being because my writings on the classics are intended as more analytical pieces, useful for I hope people who study English Literature. Whereas, my ‘Reviews’ are reserved for modern texts and are usually spoiler-free*. Hence, I will include spoilers in my new-found ‘Analysis’ but only towards the end of the post – and I’ll let you know so you’re welcome to continue reading for now!

*Note: Shortly after I publish this post, I will rename my ‘Reviews’ and ‘Analysis’ correctly as mentioned above, to make it easier for those new to the blog as hopefully the new system will make more sense.

Moving on, to the “analysis”:

‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ written by Thomas Hardy, was published in 1891. Following the journey of protagonist Tess Durbeyfield, the reader is taken through her life exploring poverty, love, loss and her experiences with domineering men. This begins with Tess being ordered by her poor parents to visit supposed rich ‘cousin’ Alec D’Urberville in the hopes of resulting in a wealthy and successful marriage. At his mansion, Alec takes advantage of her (1* quoted below) so she quickly leaves and returns home. (Note: This isn’t too directly mentioned, yet feel free to message me any questions if you’re unsure whether you’ll find this a triggering read). Tess soon leaves her home to work at a dairy where she meets Angel Clare…

I won’t go any further than that in case you’d like to give it a read yourself *wink face*. I enjoyed this novel, a lot more than I thought I would. Tess herself is rather defiant, bold and determined – an ideal character to write about if you’re writing an essay on strong women. Hardy’s writing and description on her on the other hand… If you’re looking for text where the male gaze is apparent, Hardy is your man! He sexualises Tess. A lot. He analysis every part of her body to the tiniest detail ‘her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape’ and becomes metaphorical in other areas of the female body, if you know what I mean. This is reflected and yet also differentiated in both of the main male character's descriptions of Tess, Alec analyses Tess’s physicality while Angel mostly analyses her from a more spiritual perspective. Alec’s character is ideal to use for male power as he is very domineering and controlling of Tess, particularly in one scene where he almost force-feeds her strawberries (2* below) and manipulates her into submission using the speed of his carriage ‘let me put one little kiss on those holmberry lips… and I’ll stop – on my honour, I will!’. Another idea relating to this, is how the men have power over women – even in thoughts (3* below). Also, you see women’s lack of power in ownership in property (4*also below).

But it’s not all men. Okay, well mostly it is. But there is quite a bit on the the industrial revolution. I mean, it is a Victorian novel after all! Tess has to adjust from her old manual techniques on the farm to suddenly being thrust into working on the ‘threshing machine’. It has been argued that through this, Hardy is voicing the popular Victorian view: fear of machinery. This is reinforced through his description of contrasting nature ‘Rabbits, hares, snakes, rats, mice, retreated inwards’ as machinery begins to overpower nature, and suggests that animals are being threatened. Hardy also refers to this as the ‘doom that awaited’ adding quite an apocalyptic feel to it, demonstrating the Victorian fear of machinery taking over their idyllic landscape.

There are quite a few themes within Hardy’s novel, mentioned below. I would definitely recommend this text if you’re writing anything about men and women’s roles with Victorian society, men controlling women, oppressive relationships, love at first sight, poverty, rape, the industrial revolution and religion as the main themes. For the lesser themes, there is unrequited love, owning land/property and class. There’s probably more, yet those are the few that first come to mind – you’re more than welcome to add your own in the comments below!

Themes for Students (Contains Spoilers!) Without further ado, here are a bunch of useful quotes (And yes, they contain spoilers!):

Men’s power over women: - 1* (Warning: Rape, through metaphors) ‘Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of the Chase…’

- 2* (Strawberries used to demonstrate power and submission) [Alec] ‘began gathering specimens of the fruit for her… and held it by the stem to her mouth.’ To which Tess responds ‘I would rather take it in my own hand’. Alec replies ‘Nonsense!’‘and in a slight distress she parted her lip and took it in.’

- 3* ‘whatever your dear husband believed you accept, and whatever he rejected you reject, without the least enquiry or reasoning on your own part. That’s just like you women. Your mind is enslaved to his.’ (Said by Alec to Tess, about Angel)

Property: - 4* ‘Father’s was the last life on the property, and when that dropped we had no further right to bide.’ (Tess talking about her loss of the family home, after her father’s death)

For even more themes to add, (as these include spoilers to the plot) involve disappointment in love, love and death, destructive love and the ‘whether to marry for love or money debate’ (through potential wealth gained in marrying Alec). I hope this analysis was useful to you. If you have any questions, would like further details on the quotes above or have anything further to add – please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Take care, Sophie x

'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', Thomas Hardy

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