Tess of the d'Urbervilles
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Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented is a novel by Thomas Hardy. It initially appeared in a censored and serialised version, published by the British illustrated newspaper The Graphic in 1891, then in book form in three volumes in 1891, and as a single volume in 1892. Though now considered a major 19th-century English novel, even Hardy's fictional masterpiece, Tess of the d'Urbervilles received mixed reviews when it first appeared, in part because it challenged the sexual morals of late Victorian England. Tess was portrayed as a fighter not only for her rights, but also for the rights of others.
Phase the First: The Maiden (1–11)
The novel is set in an impoverished rural England, Thomas Hardy's fictional Wessex, during the Long Depression of the 1870s. Tess is the oldest child of John and Joan Durbeyfield, uneducated peasants. However, John is given the impression by Parson Tringham that he may have noble blood, as "Durbeyfield" is a corruption of "D'Urberville", the surname of an extinct noble Norman family. Knowledge of this immediately goes to John's head.
That same day, Tess participates in the village May Dance, where she first sees Angel Clare, youngest son of Reverend James Clare. Angel is on a walking tour with his two brothers, but stops to join the dance and partners several other girls. He notices Tess too late to dance with her, as he is already late in returning to his brothers. Tess feels slighted.
Tess's father gets too drunk to drive a load of beehives to a neighbouring town that night and so Tess undertakes the journey herself with a younger brother. However, she falls asleep at the reins and the family's only horse, Prince, encounters a speeding wagon and is fatally injured. Tess feels so guilty at Prince's death and the economic consequences for the family that she agrees, against her better judgement, to visit Mrs. d'Urberville, a rich widow in a rural mansion near the town of Trantridge and "claim kin". She is unaware that in fact Mrs. d'Urberville's husband Simon Stoke adopted the surname and was unrelated to the real d'Urbervilles.
Tess fails to meet Mrs. d'Urberville, but chances on her libertine son, Alec, who takes a fancy to Tess and finds her a job as a poultry keeper on the estate. Although Tess tells her parents that she fears he may try to seduce her, they encourage her to take the job, secretly hoping Alec may marry her. Tess dislikes Alec, but endures his persistent unwanted attentions while earning enough to replace her family's horse. Despite his often cruel and manipulative behaviour, the threat from Alec to Tess's virtue is sometimes obscured for Tess by her inexperience and almost daily, commonplace interactions with him.
Late one night, walking home from town with some other Trantridge villagers, Tess inadvertently antagonizes Car Darch, Alec's most recently discarded favourite and finds herself in physical danger. When Alec rides up and offers to "rescue" her from the situation, she accepts. Instead of taking her home, however, he rides through the fog until they reach an ancient grove in a forest called "The Chase", where he informs her that he is lost and leaves on foot to get his bearings. Alec returns to find Tess asleep, and it is implied that he rapes her.
Phase the Second: Maiden No More (12–15)
Tess goes home to her father's cottage, where she keeps almost entirely to her room, apparently feeling traumatized and ashamed to have lost her virginity. The following summer she gives birth to a sickly boy, who lives only a few weeks. On his last night alive, Tess baptises him herself, as her father will not allow the parson to visit, stating that he does not want the parson to "pry into their affairs."
The boy is given the name Sorrow, but despite the baptism Tess can only arrange his burial in a "shabby corner" of the churchyard reserved for unbaptised infants. Tess adds a home-made cross to the grave with flowers in an empty marmalade jar.
Phase the Third: The Rally (16–24)
More than two years after the Trantridge debacle, Tess, now nearly twenty, has found employment outside the village, where her past is unknown. She works as a milkmaid for Mr. and Mrs. Crick at Talbothays Dairy. There she befriends three fellow milkmaids, Izz, Retty, and Marian, and meets again Angel Clare, now an apprentice farmer who has come to Talbothays to learn dairy management. Although the other milkmaids are in love with him, Angel singles out Tess and the two fall in love.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence (25–34)
Angel spends a few days away from the dairy, visiting his family at Emminster. His brothers Felix and Cuthbert, both ordained Church of England clergy, note Angel's coarsened manners, while Angel considers them staid and narrow-minded. The Clares have long hoped that Angel will marry Mercy Chant, a pious schoolmistress, but Angel argues that a wife who knows farm life would be a more practical choice. He tells his parents about Tess and they agree to meet her. His father, Rev. James Clare, tells Angel of his efforts to convert the local populace, mentioning his failure to tame a young miscreant named Alec d'Urberville.
Angel returns to Talbothays Dairy and asks Tess to marry him. This puts Tess in a painful dilemma: Angel thinks her a virgin and she shrinks from revealing her past, but such is her love for him that she finally agrees to the marriage, pretending she had only hesitated because she had heard he hated old families and thought he would not approve of her d'Urberville ancestry. In fact he is pleased by the news, as he thinks it will make their match seem more suitable to his family.
As the marriage approaches, Tess grows increasingly troubled. She writes to her mother for advice; Joan tells her to keep silent about her past. Her anxiety increases when a man from Trantridge named Groby recognises her and crudely alludes to her history. Angel overhears and flies into an uncharacteristic rage. Tess, deciding to tell Angel the truth, writes a letter describing her dealings with d'Urberville and slips it under his door. When Angel greets her with the usual affection the next morning, she thinks he has forgiven her; later she discovers the letter under his carpet and realises that he has not seen it. She destroys it.
The wedding ceremony goes smoothly, apart from the bad omen of a cock crowing in the afternoon. Tess and Angel spend their wedding night at an old d'Urberville family mansion, where Angel presents his bride with diamonds that belonged to his godmother. When he confesses that he once had a brief affair with an older woman in London, Tess finally feels able to tell Angel about Alec, thinking he will understand and forgive.
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays (35–44)
Angel is appalled by the revelation and makes it clear that Tess has shrunk in his esteem. He concedes that Tess was "more sinned against" than sinning, but feels that her "want of firmness" against Alec may point to a flaw in her character and that she is no longer the woman he thought she was. He spends the wedding night on a sofa. After a few awkward days, a devastated Tess suggests they separate, saying that she will return to her parents. Angel gives her some money and promises to try to reconcile himself to her past, but warns her not to try to join him until he sends for her.
After a brief visit to his parents, Angel takes a ship to Brazil to see if he can start a new life there. Before he leaves, he encounters Tess's milkmaid friend Izz and impulsively asks her to come with him as his mistress. She accepts, but when he asks her how much she loves him, she admits, "Nobody could love 'ee more than Tess did! She would have laid down her life for 'ee. I could do no more!" Hearing this, he abandons the whim and Izz goes home weeping bitterly.
Tess returns home for a time, but soon runs out of money, having to help out her parents more than once. Finding her life with them unbearable, she decides to join Marian at a starve-acre farm called Flintcomb-Ash; they are later joined by Izz. On the road, she is again recognised and insulted by Groby, who later turns out to be her new employer. At the farm, the three former milkmaids perform hard physical labour.
One winter day, Tess attempts to visit Angel's family at the parsonage in Emminster, hoping for practical assistance. As she nears her destination, she encounters Angel's older brothers, with Mercy Chant. They do not recognise her, but she overhears them discussing Angel's unwise marriage and dares not approach them. On the way home, she overhears a wandering preacher and is shocked to find he is Alec d'Urberville, who has been converted to Methodism through the Rev. James Clare.
Phase the Sixth: The Convert (45–52)
Alec and Tess are each shaken by their encounter. Alec claims she has put a spell on him and makes Tess swear never to tempt him again as they stand beside an ill-omened stone monument called the Cross-in-Hand. However, Alec continues to pursue her and soon comes to Flintcomb-Ash to ask Tess to marry him, although she tells him she is already married. He begins stalking her, despite repeated rebuffs, returning at Candlemas and again in early spring, when Tess is hard at work feeding a threshing machine. He tells her he is no longer a preacher and wants her to be with him. When he insults Angel, she slaps him, drawing blood. Tess then learns from her sister, Liza-Lu, that her father, John, is ill and that her mother is dying. Tess rushes home to look after them. Her mother soon recovers, but her father unexpectedly dies of a heart condition.
The impoverished family is now evicted from their home, as Durbeyfield held only a life lease on their cottage. Alec, having followed her to her home village, tries to persuade Tess that her husband is never coming back and offers to house the Durbeyfields on his estate. Tess refuses his assistance several times. She has earlier written Angel a psalm-like letter full of love, self-abasement and pleas for mercy, in which she begs him to help her fight the temptation she faces. Now, however, she finally begins to realize that Angel has wronged her and scribbles a hasty note saying she will do all she can to forget him, since he has treated her so unjustly.
The Durbeyfields plan to rent rooms in the town of Kingsbere, ancestral home of the d'Urbervilles, but arrive to find they have already been rented to others. All but destitute, they are forced to shelter in the churchyard under the D'Urberville window. Tess enters the church and in the d'Urberville Aisle, Alec reappears and importunes Tess again. The scene ends with her desperately looking at the entrance to the d'Urberville vault and wishing herself dead.
In the meantime, Angel has been very ill in Brazil and his farming venture has failed. He heads home to England. On the way he confides his troubles to a stranger, who tells him he was wrong to leave his wife; what she was in the past should matter less than what she might become. Angel begins to repent of his treatment of Tess.
Phase the Seventh: Fulfilment (53–59)
On his return to his family home, Angel finds two letters waiting: Tess's angry note and a few cryptic lines from "two well-wishers" (Izz and Marian), warning him to protect his wife from "an enemy in the shape of a friend". He sets out to find Tess and eventually locates Joan, now well-dressed and living in a pleasant cottage. After responding evasively to his enquiries, she tells him Tess has gone to live in Sandbourne, a fashionable seaside resort. There he finds Tess living in an expensive boarding house under the name "Mrs. d'Urberville".
When Angel asks for Tess, she appears in startlingly elegant attire and stands aloof. He tenderly asks her forgiveness, but Tess in anguish,tells him he has come too late. Thinking he will never return, she has yielded at last to Alec d'Urberville's persuasion and become his mistress. She gently asks Angel to leave and never return. He departs and Tess goes back to her bedroom, where she falls to her knees and begins to lament. She blames Alec for causing her to lose Angel's love a second time, accusing him of lies in saying that Angel would never return to her.
Subsequent events are narrated from the viewpoint of the landlady, Mrs. Brooks. She tries to listen at the keyhole, but withdraws hastily when the argument between Tess and Alec becomes heated. She later sees Tess leave the house, then notices a spreading red spot – a bloodstain – on the ceiling. She summons help and Alec is found stabbed to death in his bed.
Angel, disheartened, is leaving Sandbourne; Tess hurries after and tells him she has killed Alec, saying she hopes she has won his forgiveness by murdering the man who ruined both their lives. Angel does not believe her at first, but grants her his forgiveness and tells her he loves her. Rather than heading for the coast, they walk inland, vaguely planning to hide somewhere until the search for Tess is ended and they can escape abroad from a port. They find an empty mansion and stay there for five days in blissful happiness, until their presence is discovered one day by a cleaning woman.
They walk on, and in the middle of the night stumble upon Stonehenge, where Tess lies down to rest on an ancient altar. Before she falls asleep, she asks Angel to look after her younger sister, Liza-Lu, saying she hopes Angel will marry her after she is dead. At dawn, Angel sees they are surrounded by police. He finally realises that Tess really has committed murder and asks the men in a whisper to let her awaken naturally before they arrest her. When she opens her eyes and sees the police, she tells Angel she is "almost glad", because "now I shall not live for you to despise me." Her parting words are, "I am ready."
Tess is escorted to Wintoncester (Winchester) prison. The novel closes with Angel and Liza-Lu watching from a nearby hill as the black flag signalling Tess's execution is raised over the prison. Angel and Liza-Lu then join hands and go on their way.
Symbolism and themes
Hardy's writing often explores what he called the "ache of modernism", a theme notable in Tess, which as one critic noted, In depicting this Hardy draws on imagery associated with hell to describe modern farm machinery, and suggests the effete nature of city life, as milk sent there must be watered down before townspeople can stomach it. Angel's middle-class fastidiousness makes him reject Tess, a woman whom Hardy presents as a sort of Wessex Eve, in harmony with the natural world. When he parts from her and goes to Brazil, the handsome young man gets so ill that he becomes a "mere yellow skeleton". All these signs have been interpreted as negative results of humanity's separation from nature, in creating destructive machinery and in failing to rejoice in pure and unadulterated nature.
On the other hand, the Marxist critic Raymond Williams in The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence questions the identification of Tess with a peasantry destroyed by industrialization. Williams sees Tess not as a peasant, but as an educated member of the rural working class, who suffers a tragedy through being thwarted in her hopes to rise socially and desire for a good life (which includes love and sex), not by industrialism, but by the landed bourgeoisie (Alec), liberal idealism (Angel) and Christian moralism in her family's village (see Chapter LI). Earlier commentators were not always appreciative. Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson in Bournemouth "loved to talk of books and bookmen: Stevenson, unlike James, was an admirer of Thomas Hardy, but agreed that Tess of the D'Urbervilles was 'vile'."
Another role of Tess's only true friend and advocate, pointedly subtitling the book "a pure woman faithfully presented" and prefacing it with Shakespeare's words from The Two Gentlemen of Verona: "Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed/Shall lodge thee." However, though Hardy clearly means to criticize Victorian notions of female purity, the double standard also makes the heroine's tragedy possible and so serves as a mechanism of Tess's broader fate. Hardy variously hints that Tess must suffer either to atone for the misdeeds of her ancestors, or to provide temporary amusement for the gods, or because she possesses some small but lethal character flaw inherited from her ancestors.
Because of the numerous pagan and neo-Biblical references made about her, Tess has been seen variously as an Earth goddess or a sacrificial victim. For example, early in the novel, she takes part in a festival for Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, and when she baptises her dead child she chooses a passage from Genesis, the book of creation, rather than more traditional New Testament verses. Then when Tess and Angel come to Stonehenge, which was commonly believed in Hardy's time to be a pagan temple, she willingly lies on a stone supposedly associated with human sacrifice.
Tess has been seen as a personification of nature, an idea supported by her ties with animals throughout the novel. Tess's misfortunes begin when she falls asleep while driving Prince to market and causes the horse's death; at Trantridge she becomes a poultry-keeper; she and Angel fall in love amid cows in the fertile Froom valley; on the road to Flintcomb-Ash, she kills some wounded pheasants to end their suffering.
Yet Tess emerges as a powerful character not through this symbolism but because "Hardy's feelings for her were strong, perhaps stronger than for any of his other invented personages."
The moral commentary running through the novel insists that Tess is not at fault in imposing mythological, biblical and folk imagery on a story of a young girl seduced and abandoned to create a "challenging contemporaneity". It was controversial and polarizing, setting these elements in a context of 19th-century English society, including disputes in the Church, the National School movement, the overall class structure of English society, and changing circumstances of rural labour. During the era of first-wave feminism, civil divorce was introduced and campaigns were waged against child prostitution, moving gender and sexuality issues to the forefront of public discussion. Hardy's work was criticized as vulgar, though by the late 19th century other experimental fiction works were released such as Florence Dixie's depiction of feminist utopia, The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, and Sarah Grand's work The Heavenly Twins. These raised awareness of syphilis and advocating sensitivity rather than condemnation for young women infected with it.
The novel was first adapted for the stage in 1897. The production by Lorimer Stoddard proved a Broadway triumph for actress Minnie Maddern Fiske, when it opened on 2 March 1897. A copyright performance was given at St James's Theatre in London on the same date. It was revived in America in 1902 and then made into a motion picture by Adolph Zukor in 1913, starring Mrs. Fiske; no copies remain.
Tess, a different stage adaptation by H. A. Kennedy, premièred at the Coronet Theatre in London's Notting Hill Gate on 19 February 1900. Mrs Lewis Waller (Florence West) played the title role, with William Kettridge as Angel Clare and Whitworth Jones as Alec Tantridge. The play transferred to the Comedy Theatre for 17 performances from 14 April 1900 with a slightly different cast, including Fred Terry as Alec and Oswald Yorke as Angel.
In 1924 Hardy himself wrote a British theatrical adaptation and chose Gertrude Bugler, a Dorchester girl from the original Hardy Players to play Tess. The Hardy Players (re-formed in 2005) was an amateur group from Dorchester that re-enacted Hardy's novels. Bugler was acclaimed, but prevented from taking the London stage part by the jealousy of Hardy's wife, Florence; Hardy had said that young Gertrude was the true incarnation of the Tess he had imagined. Years before writing the novel, Hardy had been inspired by the beauty of her mother Augusta Way, then an 18-year-old milkmaid, when he visited Augusta's father's farm in Bockhampton. When Hardy saw Bugler (he rehearsed The Hardy Players at the hotel run by her parents), he immediately recognised her as a young image of the now older Augusta.
The novel was successfully adapted for the stage several more times:
- 1946: An adaptation by playwright Ronald Gow became a triumph on the West End starring Wendy Hiller.
- 1999: Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a new West End musical with music by Stephen Edwards and lyrics by Justin Fleming opens in London at the Savoy Theatre.
- 2007: Tess, The New Musical (a rock opera) with lyrics, music and libretto by Annie Pasqua and Jenna Pasqua premières in New York City.
- 2009: Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a new stage adaptation with five actors was produced in London by Myriad Theatre & Film.
- 2010: Tess, a new rock opera, is an official Next Link Selection at the New York Musical Theatre Festival with music, lyrics, and libretto by Annie Pasqua and Jenna Pasqua.
- 2011: Tess of the d'Urbervilles, adapted from the original 1924 script by Devina Symes for Norrie Woodhall, the last surviving member of Hardy’s theatrical group, the Hardy Players. Three extra scenes were included at Woodhall's request, including the final one, staged as Woodhall described it from her own appearance in Hardy's original adaptation: "Tess, accompanied by Angel Clare, is arrested by a phalanx of constables for the murder of her other suitor Alec d'Urberville at sunrise, after a night spent within the bluestone towers of a lonely henge on the bleak and wind swept expanse of Salisbury Plain."
- 2012: Tess of the d'Urbervilles was produced into a piece of musical theatre by Youth Music Theatre UK as part of their summer season, and further developed, edited and performed in 2017 at the Theatre Royal, Winchester, and The Other Palace, London in 2018.
- 2019: Tess - The Musical, a new British musical by composer Michael Blore and playwright Michael Davies, received a workshop production at The Other Place, the Royal Shakespeare Company's studio theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, in February 2019.
1906: An Italian operatic version written by Frederic d'Erlanger was first performed in Naples, but the run was cut short by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. When the opera came to London three years later, Hardy, then 69, attended the premiere.
Film and television
The story has also been filmed at least eight times, including three for general release through cinemas and four television productions.
- 1913: The "lost" silent version, mentioned under Theatre, starring Minnie Maddern Fiske as Tess and Scots-born David Torrence as Alec.
- 1924: Another lost silent version was made with Blanche Sweet (Tess), Stuart Holmes (Alec), and Conrad Nagel (Angel).
- 1944: Man Ki Jeet, Indian Hindi-language film adaptation directed by W. Z. Ahmed.
- 1967: Dulhan Ek Raat Ki, Indian Hindi-language film starring Nutan, Dharmendra and Rehman.
- 1979: Roman Polanski's film Tess with Nastassja Kinski (Tess), Leigh Lawson (Alec), and Peter Firth (Angel).
- 1996: Prem Granth, Indian Hindi-language film adaptation directed by Rajiv Kapoor - starring Rishi Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit in the lead roles.
- 2000: Nishiddha Nodi is an Indian Assamese-language film by Bidyut Chakrabarty, based on the novel, produced by the Assam State Film (Finance and Development) Corporation and released on 18 February 2000.
- 2011: Michael Winterbottom 21st-century Indian set film Trishna with Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed.
- 2013: The Maiden 21st century set film starring Brittany Ashworth, Matt Maltby and Jonah Hauer-King, directed by Daisy Bard, written and produced by Jessica Benhamou.
- 1952: BBC TV, directed by Michael Henderson, and starring Barbara Jefford (Tess), Michael Aldridge (Alec), and Donald Eccles (Angel).
- 1960: ITV, ITV Play of the Week, "Tess", directed by Michael Currer-Briggs, and starring Geraldine McEwan (Tess), Maurice Kaufmann (Alec), and Jeremy Brett (Angel).
- 1998: London Weekend Television's three-hour mini-series Tess of the D'Urbervilles, directed by Ian Sharp, and starring Justine Waddell (Tess), Jason Flemyng (Alec), and Oliver Milburn (Angel), the latter Dorset-born.
- 2008: A four-hour BBC adaptation, written by David Nicholls, aired in the United Kingdom in September and October 2008 in four parts, and in the United States on the PBS series Masterpiece Classic in January 2009 in two parts. The cast included Gemma Arterton (Tess), Hans Matheson (Alec), Eddie Redmayne (Angel), Ruth Jones (Joan), Anna Massey (Mrs d'Urberville), and Kenneth Cranham (Reverend James Clare).
The Ninth Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams (composed 1956–1957) has a slow second movement based on Tess. It depicts the Stonehenge scene underscored by the eight-bell strokes that signify her execution at the traditional hour of 8 a.m.
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