Tess of the d'Urbervilles


Thomas Hardy

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Themes and Colors
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Social Criticism Theme Icon

As in many of his other works, Thomas Hardy used Tess of the d'Urbervilles as a vessel for his criticisms of English Victorian society of the late 19th century. The novel's largest critique is aimed at the sexual double standard, with all the extremities and misfortunes of Tess's life highlighting the unfairness of her treatment. Society condemns her as an unclean woman because she was raped, while Angel's premarital affair is barely mentioned. Angel himself rejects Tess largely based on what his community and family would think if they discovered her past. Hardy saw many of the conventions of the Victorian age as oppressive to the individual, and to women in particular, and in Tess's case the arbitrary rules of society literally ruin her life.

Even the title of the novel challenges convention. Because it was traditional at the time to see Tess as an “impure woman,” the title's addendum “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented” immediately reveals the author as his protagonist's defender against condemnation. By delving so deeply into Tess's sympathetic interior life and the intricate history of her misfortunes, Hardy makes society's disapproval of her seem that much more unjust.

There is also a satirical thread running through the novel's social commentary. The emphasis on ancient names is played to absurdity with John Durbeyfield's sudden pretensions upon learning of his ancestry, and the newly rich Stoke family adding “d'Urberville” to their name just to seem more magnificent.

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Social Criticism Quotes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Below you will find the important quotes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles related to the theme of Social Criticism.
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:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Well, Tess ought to go to this other member of our family. She'd be sure to win the lady – Tess would; and likely enough ‘twould lead to some noble gentleman marrying her. In short, I know it.

Related Characters: Joan Durbeyfield (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield, Mrs. d'Urberville
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“It was to be.” There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine's personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother's door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

He was surprised to find this young woman – who though but a milkmaid had just that touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of her housemates – shaping such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her own native phrases… feelings which might almost have been called those of the age – the ache of modernism.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield, Angel Clare
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 31 Quotes

Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report – as you are, my Tess.

Related Characters: Angel Clare (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

Here was I thinking you a new-sprung child of nature; there were you, the belated seedling of an effete aristocracy!

Related Characters: Angel Clare (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 47 Quotes

Whip me, crush me; you need not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim – that's the law!

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker), Alec d'Urberville
Page Number: 332
Explanation and Analysis:

Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife you are mine!

Related Characters: Alec d'Urberville (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 332
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 52 Quotes

The old order changeth. The little finger of the sham d'Urbervilles can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath…

Related Characters: Alec d'Urberville (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 364
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 59 Quotes

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the d'Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 398
Explanation and Analysis: