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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy
Summary Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters XII–XV
Summary Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters XII–XV

However we view Tess’s struggle with what has happened to her, we are likely to consider her an innocent victim and to be sufficiently impressed with her character that we react with outrage to her unhappy fate. As she asks her mother, “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?” Tess sees herself as a victim of her own ignorance. She can claim that she did not know the dangers a man such as Alec d’Urberville posed and that it is not fair that she is made to suffer for succumbing to an unknown danger. When Tess refuses to marry Alec despite the social advantage the match would give her, and refuses his offers of help because she does not sincerely love him, we see her as more than an unwitting victim: her integrity and courage make her heroic.

Phase the Second is primarily a transitional period, taking Tess from the scene of her disgrace to the promise of a new life at Talbothays. But it also begins to crystallize some important themes in the novel. We see in the previous section that Tess is fated to tragedy. In this section, we learn about the human instinct that leads Tess to oppose her fate, “the invincible instinct towards self-delight.” Tess’s healthy desire simply to be happy is perhaps the source of her great courage and moral strength. Additionally, the novel’s exploration of nobility, which begins with Mr. Durbeyfield’s discovery of his aristocratic heritage, is developed further here. In the previous section, the upper-class Alec trifles shamelessly with the lower-class Tess. With Tess’s moral integrity shown to its fullest extent, we begin to see Tess as truly noble through her goodness and her determination. Of course, the irony is that Tess is actually the real possessor of the d’Urberville name, while Alec is simply an imposter, the amoral son of a merchant and, hence, a commoner.