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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy
Main Ideas 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