Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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John Durbeyfield Character Analysis

Tess's father, a peddler with a bad heart condition and a love of alcohol. The novel begins with Durbeyfield learning that he is the last descendent of the ancient d'Urberville family. The news immediately goes to his head and he acts entitled for the rest of the book. He hopes to profit from his ancestry, and sends Tess off to connect with the wealthy d'Urberville-Stokes, which leads to her many misfortunes.

John Durbeyfield Quotes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

The Tess of the d'Urbervilles quotes below are all either spoken by John Durbeyfield or refer to John Durbeyfield. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Don't you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d'Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d'Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?

Related Characters: Parson Tringham (speaker), John Durbeyfield
Page Number: 7-8
Explanation and Analysis:

In the first chapter of the novel, a religious figure, Parson Tringham, gives John Durbeyfield the information that sets the remainder of the novel in motion. Parson Tringham believes that John and his family are descendants of the famed d'Urberville family, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the area. The d'Urbervilles have something more important than money: they have history and cultural capital, the respect and elite status that come with having lived in England for hundreds of years.

It just so happens that the Parson's remarks will eventually mislead the Durbeyfields--Tess Durbeyfield will go to a nearby family of d'Urbervilles, unaware that they've just adopted the surname to seem prestigious. In a different kind of book, the Parson's speech would set in a motion a kind of Victorian "Cinderella story," in which John and his family rise to the top of society by reclaiming their family connection. But in this novel (as is common in Hardy's work), such a quest only leads to doom. John's family wants to rise in society, but they won't do so by the strength of their name.

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John Durbeyfield Character Timeline in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

The timeline below shows where the character John Durbeyfield appears in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Social Criticism Theme Icon
On his way home from haggling, a peddler named John Durbeyfield meets Parson Tringham, who surprises Durbeyfield by addressing him as “Sir John.” The parson... (full context)
Chapter 3
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
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Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
...mother, Joan Durbeyfield, doing housework and singing. She surprises Tess with two pieces of news: John Durbeyfield has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition, and their family is descended... (full context)
Chapter 4
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
...wealthy gentleman will end up marrying Tess. She says that the Compleat Fortune-Teller confirmed it. John worries that “queer” Tess might not like the plan. (full context)
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
...up and her appearance alone makes them get ready to leave. She and Joan walk John home, all three weaving back and forth. He did not drink very much but his... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...manage the fowls. Joan exclaims over his handsomeness and the diamond ring on his finger. John thinks that Alec wants to marry Tess to improve his own bloodline. Tess is again... (full context)
Chapter 38
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John Durbeyfield returns. Joan has quickly taken the news in stride as if it were no... (full context)
Chapter 50
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...says that their father is dead. Tess rushes home. Joan is out of danger, but John suddenly fell dead of his heart condition. The news means that the Durbeyfields will be... (full context)
Chapter 54
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
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...by the field where he first saw Tess at the May-Day dance, and he sees John Durbeyfield's grave marked with “How Are The Mighty Fallen.” A stranger approaches and says that... (full context)