1. What is the role of fate in Tess of the d’Urbervilles? What does Hardy mean by “fate”? To what extent does Tess’s tragedy hinge on improbable coincidence?
2. Throughout Tess’s story, a number of sources are presented as possible moral authorities and possible guides on which characters might base their moral choices. What are some of these sources? Which of them, if any, prevails?
3. Discuss the character of Alec. Is he the villain of the novel? Does he really love Tess? In what ways does he exemplify the novel’s critique of the upper class?
4. Tess’s story is full of omens, and her tragedy is largely prefigured by all the bad omens that occur throughout her story. What are some of these omens? Are they an effective device? Do they build suspense, or are they simply a kind of heavy-handed foreshadowing?
5. Social class and lineage are powerful forces for determining character in the novel. What role does Tess’s noble lineage play in the depiction of her character? With regard to noble blood, is it possible that the novel’s portrayal of Tess advances some of the very social stereotypes it otherwise criticizes?
6. Hardy’s style has been praised as rhythmic and imaginative, and also criticized as clunky and rough-edged. How is Hardy’s style best characterized? What are some of its other characteristics?