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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title  · Tess of the d’Urbervilles

author  · Thomas Hardy

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Victorian, tragic

language  · English

time and place written  · 1880s, England

date of first publication  · 1891

publisher  · Random House, but also published serially in different periodicals

narrator  · Anonymous

point of view  · The narrator speaks in the third person, and looks deep into the characters’ minds. The narrator is objective but has an omniscient understanding of future implications of characters’ actions as they happen.

tone  · Realistic, pessimistic

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · The 1880s and 1890s

setting (place)  · Wessex, the southwest of England

protagonist  · Tess Durbeyfield

major conflict  · Tess is seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by the son of her upper-class patroness, making her unacceptable to her true love Angel later in life.

rising action  · Tess’s family’s discovery that they are ancient English aristocracy, giving them all fantasies of a higher station in life; Tess’s accidental killing of the family horse, which drives her to seek help from the d’Urbervilles, where she is seduced and dishonored.

climax  · Tess’s new husband discovers her earlier seduction by Alec and decides to leave her, going off to Brazil and not answering her letters, and bringing Tess to despair.

falling action  · Tess’s last-ditch decision to marry Alec, who claims to love her; Angel’s return from Brazil to discover Tess marriage to her former seducer, and his meeting with Tess; Tess’s murder of Alec and short-lived escape with Angel before being apprehended and executed

themes  · The injustice of existence; changing ideas of social class in Victorian England; men dominating women

motifs  · Birds; the Book of Genesis; variant names

symbols  · Prince; the d’Urberville family vault; Brazil

foreshadowing  · Tess’s killing of the pheasants foreshadows her own death by hanging; Alec’s assertion that he will “master” Tess again foreshadows his reemergence in her life