- The novel’s protagonist. Tess is a beautiful, loyal
young woman living with her impoverished family in the village of
Marlott. Tess has a keen sense of responsibility and is committed
to doing the best she can for her family, although her inexperience
and lack of wise parenting leave her extremely vulnerable. Her life
is complicated when her father discovers a link to the noble line
of the d’Urbervilles, and, as a result, Tess is sent to work at
the d’Urberville mansion. Unfortunately, her ideals cannot prevent
her from sliding further and further into misfortune after she becomes
pregnant by Alec d’Urberville. The terrible irony is that Tess and
her family are not really related to this branch of the d’Urbervilles
at all: Alec’s father, a merchant named Simon Stokes, simply assumed
the name after he retired.
in-depth analysis of Tess Durbeyfield.
intelligent young man who has decided to become a farmer to preserve
his intellectual freedom from the pressures of city life. Angel’s
father and his two brothers are respected clergymen, but Angel’s religious
doubts have kept him from joining the ministry. He meets Tess when
she is a milkmaid at the Talbothays Dairy and quickly falls in love
in-depth analysis of Angel Clare.
- The handsome, amoral son of a wealthy merchant named
Simon Stokes. Alec is not really a d’Urberville—his father simply
took on the name of the ancient noble family after he built his
mansion and retired. Alec is a manipulative, sinister young man
who does everything he can to seduce the inexperienced Tess when
she comes to work for his family. When he finally has his way with
her, out in the woods, he subsequently tries to help her but is
unable to make her love him.
in-depth analysis of Alec d’Urberville.
Mr. John Durbeyfield
- Tess’s father, a lazy peddler in Marlott. John is
naturally quick, but he hates work. When he learns that he descends
from the noble line of the d’Urbervilles, he is quick to make an
attempt to profit from the connection.
Mrs. Joan Durbeyfield
- Tess’s mother. Joan has a strong sense of propriety
and very particular hopes for Tess’s life. She is continually disappointed
and hurt by the way in which her daughter’s life actually proceeds.
But she is also somewhat simpleminded and naturally forgiving, and she
is unable to remain angry with Tess—particularly once Tess becomes
her primary means
- Alec’s mother, and the widow of Simon Stokes. Mrs.
d’Urberville is blind and often ill. She cares deeply for her animals,
but not for her maid Elizabeth, her son Alec, nor Tess when she
comes to work for her. In fact, she never sees Tess as anything
more than an impoverished girl.
Marian, Izz Huett, and Retty Priddle
- Milkmaids whom Tess befriends at the Talbothays
Dairy. Marian, Izz, and Retty remain close to Tess throughout the
rest of her life. They are all in love with Angel and are devastated when
he chooses Tess over them: Marian turns to drink, Retty attempts
suicide, and Izz nearly runs off to Brazil with Angel when he leaves
Tess. Nevertheless, they remain helpful to Tess. Marian helps her
find a job at a farm called Flintcomb-Ash, and Marian and Izz write
Angel a plaintive letter encouraging him to give Tess another chance.
father, a somewhat intractable but principled clergyman in the town
of Emminster. Mr. Clare considers it his duty to convert the populace.
One of his most difficult cases proves to be none other than Alec
mother, a loving but snobbish woman who places great stock in social
class. Mrs. Clare wants Angel to marry a suitable woman, meaning
a woman with the proper social, financial, and religious background.
Mrs. Clare initially looks down on Tess as a “simple” and impoverished
girl, but later grows to appreciate her.
Reverend Felix Clare
- Angel’s brother, a village curate.
- Clare Angel’s brother, a classical scholar and dean
at Cambridge. Cuthbert, who can concentrate only on university matters,
marries Mercy Chant.
Eliza Louisa Durbeyfield
- Tess’s younger sister. Tess believes Liza-Lu has
all of Tess’s own good qualities and none of her bad ones, and she
encourages Angel to look after and even marry Liza-Lu after Tess
son with Alec d’Urberville. Sorrow dies in his early infancy, after
Tess christens him herself. She later buries him herself as well,
and decorates his grave.
daughter of a friend of the Reverend Clare. Mr. Clare hopes Angel
will marry Mercy, but after Angel marries Tess, Mercy becomes engaged
to his brother Cuthbert instead.