Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy was raised in a small, rural village in Dorset. His father was a stonemason and his mother educated Hardy until age eight. His family was too poor to pay for university, so Hardy became an architect's apprentice until he decided to focus on writing. His stories are generally set in the Dorset area. In 1874 he married Emma Gifford, and her death in 1912 had a profound effect on him. In 1914 he married his secretary, Florence Dugdale. Hardy's first few novels were unsuccessful, and even his later works were controversial and often censored. Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure drew such an outcry for their sexual frankness and social criticism that Hardy stopped writing fiction, focusing instead on his poetry. He is best known for Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure. He died in 1928, at the age of eighty-seven.
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Historical Context of Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Tess of the d'Urbervilles is set in England in the first part of the Long Depression (1873-1879), so in general life is especially hard for the poor characters of the book. English society was also going through some major changes during this time. Most important for the novel are the shift from an agricultural to an industrial culture, which is emphasized in the novel as a tension between nature and modernity, and the decline of the old aristocracy. Old names like “d'Urberville” didn't mean much in terms of power anymore, except as status symbols that could be purchased by the newly wealthy, like the Stokes. The sexual morality of the day was also very conservative, a fact that made Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented seem that much more shocking to Hardy's critics.
Other Books Related to Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hardy is considered a Victorian Realist like George Eliot, the author of Middlemarch, but he was also influenced by the Romantic poetry of William Wordsworth and the social critiques of Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. Hardy's style prefigures Modernist works like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and his writing influenced D. H. Lawrence, especially his books The Rainbow and Women in Love.
Key Facts about Tess of the d'Urbervilles
  • Full Title: Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented
  • When Written: 1887-1891
  • Where Written: Dorchester, England
  • When Published: 1891
  • Literary Period: Victorian Realism
  • Genre: Realist Fiction
  • Setting: Southwest England, the fictional county of Wessex
  • Climax: Tess murders Alec and flees with Angel
  • Antagonist: Alec d'Urberville, society in general
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient, but generally follows Tess
Extra Credit for Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Wessex. Hardy named his fictional “Wessex County” after the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in southwest England in medieval times. Since his resurrection of the name, it has become a popular modern term to describe the region, and there is now even a Wessex Regionalist political party.

Graphic. Tess of the d'Urbervilles was first published in a serialized, censored version in the illustrated newspaper The Graphic. No other publishers would take it because of the novel's sexual themes.