Study Questions for Tess of the D'Urbervilles

This late Hardy novel once again explores the life of an unconventional heroine. On the title page of the first edition, Hardy calls Tess "A Pure Woman," and yet many of his contemporaries found his portrayal of Tess objectionable. How did Hardy mean us to understand Tess's "purity"?

A simplistic reading of the novel would hold that Alec is the villain, Angel the hero. But generations of readers have pointed out Alec's complex relationship to Tess, as well as Angel's inherent weaknesses. What point is Hardy trying to make by having both of Tess's lovers be so much less than perfect?

The descriptions of Dorset in this novel are rich, especially the descriptions of agricultural lands and practices. How do the depictions here compare to the depictions in Hardy's earlier novels?

On a related note, how does the extensiveness of the landscape in Tess compare to the local focus in The Mayor of Casterbridge? Where in Dorset does this novel play out?

Why Stonehenge?

In the closing paragraphs of the novel, Hardy writes: "'Justice' was done, and the President of the Immortals (in the Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess." This passage suggests a particular religious conception as governing the novel's action, but are we to take it seriously? What is the religious view of this novel? Is there hope for the supernatural redemption of suffering? Or has Hardy seemingly abandoned such a theology?

Back to the Literature 117 Syllabus.

This page maintained by Eckert, Groves & Co.; last updated March 22, 2012.