Tess of The d'Urbervilles: Novel - Summary and Analysis

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      Tess of The d'Urbervilles of the most pessimistic and gloomiest of the novels of Thomas Hardy. It is the tragic story of a poor wounded girl Tess, the daughter of an eccentric villager of Blackmoor, who believes that he is a descendant of an aristocratic, ancient family named d'Urbervilles. Tess is seduced by a rich villain Alec d'Urbervilles and has an illegitimate son by her, who is baptized and named Sorrow as his early death. Thus a social outcast, Tess worked as a dairymaid on a large farm, where she becomes engaged and married Angel Clare, a clergyman's son. On the night of the marriage, the simple-minded girl confesses to the husband her past affair with Alec. The result is as expected; she is abandoned and condemned to live a life of ignominy and poverty. Alec once more appears as the evil genius of her life and maddened by the wrongs that she had suffered at his hands Tess murders him to liberate herself from his clutches. She is arrested, tried, and hanged. Hardy concludes the tragic story of the girl with the words "Justice was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended her sport with Tess."

Tess of The d'Urbervilles
Tess of The d'Urbervilles

Critical Analysis

      Tess and Jude the Obscure are the two last novels of Hardy in which his genius reaches its climax in poetic power and insight. But the unrelieved pessimism of the novels evoked such a storm of criticism that Hardy gave up novel-writing in disgust. In the earlier novels of the writer, the mingled sweetness and bitterness of life are admirably contrasted. But, life in these novels is represented as a sad affair. Tess is perhaps the most poignant of Hardy's stories. Here Hardy comes into close grips with moral or social problems, which accentuate the bitterness. Here Hardy shows how Tess, an innocent girl is buffeted by fate for double social standards. The profound sense of fate that underlies all Hardy's novels is most conspicuous in the novel. Tess suffers for no fault of her own. Much of her suffering results from the obduracy of Angel Clare, "the slave to custom and conventionality". The characters Suffer because they follow only their appointed course. Chances and coincidences play their parts in the shaping of the tragic fate of Tess. Tess is a pure, innocent girl who is a victim of malicious and ironic fate. Hardy has faith in the fineness and delicacy of the character.

      Tess is an 'epic novel', according to Abercrombie's classification of Hardy's novels into 'dramatic' and 'epic' novels. Tess is the dominating character in the action of the novel and others pale into insignificance before this girl of many sorrows. There is a little interplay of actions and character. As an epic in prose, it has a stark grandeur and pathos. The bleeding heart of the novelist speaks in the Shakespearean lines prefixed to the novel: "Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed small lodge thee."

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