Tess of the d’Urbervilles

by: Thomas Hardy

Social Structure

1

Oh—nothing, nothing; except chasten yourself with the thought of ‘how are the mighty fallen.’ It is a fact of some interest to the local historian and genealogist, nothing more. There are several families among the cottagers of this county of almost equal lustre.

After the parson tells John Durbeyfield of John’s relation to the d’Urberville family, John asks what he should do with that information. The parson answers him here that John cannot do anything with the interesting historical information. While the name d’Urberville once would have meant something in regards to lineage, in Victorian England, money and power mean far more than ancestry. The parson points out that other families nearby have similar ancestries, showing how much the social structure of England had changed over the years.

2

Everything on this snug property was bright, thriving, and well kept; acres of glass-houses stretched down the inclines to the copses at their feet. Everything looked like money—like the last coin issued from the Mint.

As Tess approaches the d’Urberville estate, she notes how new and bright everything looks in contrast to her more rustic village. Her observation that the property looks “like money” shows how class values have changed. In previous times, public perception of the worth of estates depended on their passage down from ancient generations. However, in Victorian England, having money and being able to show off one’s wealth with new furnishings served as the ultimate sign of status.

3

I do hate the aristocratic principle of blood before everything, and do think that as reasoners the only pedigree we ought to respect are those spiritual ones of the wise and virtuous, without regard to corporeal paternity.

Angel replies to Tess’s concern that her relation to the d’Urberville family will put him off. She worries he will lose interest in her because he hates old, rich families. Angel, like many in Victorian England, sees no value in aristocracy based on name and bloodline alone. However, he also doesn’t believe that having money makes people worthy of a higher social class. He believes that intellect and personality determine a person’s worth, a belief which leads him to choose to work on a farm rather than take advantage of his good name.