Hardy muses a lot about Tess's status as a woman and the various roles women assume in society. Tess often plays the part of a passive victim, falling asleep and inadvertently killing Prince, falling asleep before her rape, and falling asleep at Stonehenge where she is arrested. She and many of the other female characters also act as symbols of fertility, nature, and purity. They are linked with the lushness of Talbothays and the bleakness of Flintomb-Ash, as well the fertility ritual of May-Day. Hardy also places a lot of emphasis on the power of men over women, in terms of both society and strength. Alec obviously dominates Tess in many terrible ways, but Angel also wields power over the women at the dairy, driving Retty and Marian to a suicide attempt and alcoholism. Tess finally assumes the role of an active agent in her own life when she writes angrily to Angel, and her final murder of Alec takes it to the extreme, underscoring Hardy's critique of the oppression of women in Victorian society. Tess is only able to actively change her life and escape her male oppressor by murdering him, which then leads to her own execution. There is no place for a woman in her position to escape.
But while Tess and the other female characters represent many things in the novel, Hardy ultimately celebrates the individual woman over a symbolic whole. Tess is not an “everywoman” or a symbol of fertility, passivity, or oppression, but a unique individual. Angel's relationship with Tess shows this tension between idealized image and living reality. He falls in love with his version of Tess, which is the Nature goddess and symbol of innocence, but when the real Tess reveals her troubled humanity and becomes truly alive for him, Angel rejects her. For Hardy, however, Tess remains both a symbol of many things and an individual soul, and it is because of this that she is so successful and sympathetic as a character.
Women Quotes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles
The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain. Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or “club-walking,” as it was there called.
He watched her pretty and unconscious munching through the skeins of smoke that pervaded the tent, and Tess Durbeyfield did not divine, as she innocently looked down at the roses in her bosom, that there behind the blue narcotic haze was potentially the “tragic mischief” of her drama – one who stood to be the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her young life.
“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.
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.
“I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.”
“Another woman in your shape.”
This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments – far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me – by your charms or ways.
What a grand revenge you have taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you. Four years after, you find me a Christian enthusiast; you then work upon me, perhaps to my complete perdition!
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!