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TESS'S PURITY

Hardy added the subtitle, A Pure Woman, at the last moment. It has created problems for readers and
critics ever since the novel's appearance. The title offends many on moral grounds, for whom Tess is a
"ruined," immoral woman. Others are puzzled intellectually; what is Hardy's basis for calling her pure?
Hardy defended the subtitle in an 1892 interview with Raymond Blathwayt:
... I still maintain that her innate purity remained intact to the very last; though I frankly own that a certain
outward purity left her on her last fall. I regarded her then as being in the hands of circumstances, not
morally responsible, a mere corpse drifting with the current to her end.
The subtitle has been defended in various ways. For example, Hardy is showing that the traditional
Christian view equating virtue and purity with virginity is wrong. Or Hardy is distinguishing between the
act and the intention, a distinction Angel Clare finally makes in the novel. Irving Howe offers a more
subtle explanation:
in her incomparable vibrancy and lovingness, she comes to represent a spiritualized transcendence of
chastity. She dies three times, to live again:--first with Alec D'Urberville, then with Angel Clare, and
lastly with Alec again. Absolute victim of her wretched circumstances, she is ultimately beyond their
stain. She embodies a feeling for the inviolability of the person, as it brings the absolute of charity nearer
to the warming Christian virtue of charity. Through a dialectic of negation, Tess reaches purity of spirit
even as she fails to satisfy the standards of the world.
For F.B. Pinton, her purity derives from her victimization:
... she is the victim of chance--of heredity, physical and temperamental; of the position she was born into,
and all the other factors that impinge on her life. She could not be held responsible for them; she was, in
Hardy's words, "a pure woman."

TESS'S PERSONAL TRAITS
Tess is at the center of this novel, as almost every reader feels and as the evolution of the title suggests.
Hardy originally called it Too Late, Beloved!. So an understanding of Tess's character and her personal
traits is essential to understanding the novel.
SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND PRIDE
Tess has the strong sense of responsibility which the children of alcoholics often develop; has she, like
some of them, developed an excessive sense of responsibility?
Tess leaves the dance early because she is worried about her father's behavior; she feels guilty about the
grass stains on the white dress her mother washed and ironed. An incompetent housekeeper and mother,
Mrs. Durbeyfield is "flinging the baby from side to side like a weaver's shuttle" as she rocks the cradle
(page 14). Having irresponsible parents, Tess assumes responsibility for and worries about her younger
siblings. This concern is obviously the basis of her volunteering to drive Prince, but it does not explain
why she chooses to drive herself with her younger brother as a companion rather than ask some young
man. "'Oh noI wouldn't have it for the world!' declared Tess proudly. 'And letting everybody know the
reasonsuch a thing to be ashamed of!'" (page 24). Tess also has a strongly developed sense of pride, and
it will determine, at least in part, future actions.
Tess assumes responsibility for Prince's death, to the extent of feeling like a murderess. This feeling
causes her to acquiesce in her mother's scheme to go to the d'Urbervilles for help.
TENDENCY TO REVERIE
The accident which kills Prince results from Tess's tendency to fall into a dream-like state or reverie.
From it, she falls into sleep. Similarly, she submits to Alec's showering her with strawberries and roses
"like one in a dream" (page 37). And the pattern of a reverie becoming sleep repeats itself disastrously in
the Chase with Alec.
PASSIVITY
Tess's dreaminess is sometimes connected to another trait, her passivity. She is passive in her dream-like
state, as when Alec loads her with roses and strawberries. It is guilt that causes her to submit passively to
her mother's scheme for going to the d'Urbervilles and to her mother's dressing her up, even though her
own good judgment sees the folly of both efforts. At key times in her life, Tess passively submits, when a
determined effort would have produced a more favorable outcome; the most obvious examples occur in
her relationship with Angel in Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays.
APPEARANCE
Not surprisingly, Tess's exceptional good looks bring her unwanted attention from men. But what proves
unfortunate for her is her mature sexual appearance, "a luxuriance of aspect, a fullness of growth, which
made her appear more of a woman than she really was" (page 37). Her mother's efforts to enhance Tess's
good looks emphasize this quality and "imparted to her developing figure an amplitude which belied her
age and might cause her to be estimated as a woman when she was not much more than a child" (page
44). And it is as a woman that Alec sees her.
TESS AND ALEC
Tess's life becomes a succession of journeys, and these journeys and the resulting experience can be seen
as leading to her education. Each journey she takes and each place where she stays presents her with a
test. She returns to Marlott after each journey but the last one. Her returning and leaving again are one
example of the repetition of past actions that runs through this novel. The repetition of actions, for J.Hillis
Miller,
shows the impossibility of avoiding not so much the effects of the past as its repetition. The past has
embodied itself in the persons of the present as well as in their surroundings. This embodiment forces
people against their will to re-enact the patterns of the past. It is as if they were caught up in a great wind
of history which whirls them into the rigid forms of a predetermined dance.
Ask yourself, as Tess makes her various journeys, what she has learned, if anything, and howor
whethershe has been affected by her experience.
GOING TO THE SLOPES
On the journey to The Slopes, when Alec speeds down the hill, Hardy compares the terrified, trapped
Tess to a "wild animal" (page 51); this is the first of the hunted/wounded/trapped images of Tess that run
through the novel. At this point, Tess is able to act to defend herself and to resist Alec's advances; she
rubs off his "kiss of mastery" (page 51) and jumps out of the gig for her hat, which she deliberately let fly
away. Tess thinks of returning home but decides to stay; at this point, Tess still feels she has choice. Is
she really free at this point so that she is responsible for her decision? Does this decision to stay make her
responsible for Alec's sexually violating her later?
Tess is first associated with birds in taking care of the fowls and whistling to the caged finches (can the
caged birds and the blind Mrs. d'Urberville be seen as representing the condition of Tess in particular or
of humanity in generalblind and caged?)
FATE
The meeting of Alec and Tess leads Hardy to comment on the arbitrariness of life, which frustrates human
desires and fulfillment:
In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things, the call seldom produces the comer,
the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving. Nature does not often say "See!" to her poor
creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing, or reply "Here!" to a body's cry of "Where?" till
the hide-and-seek has become an irksome, outworn game. We may wonder whether at the acme and
summer of the human progress these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a closer
interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us round and along; but such completeness
is not to be prophesied or even conceived as possible. Enough that in the present case, as in millions, it
was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each other at the perfect moment; a missing
counterpart wandered independently about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the late time came.
Out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes, and passing-
strange destinies (pages 38-9).

SIGNIFICANCE AND CONSEQUENCES
The immediate result of her sexual experience is the "immeasurable social chasm" which separated Tess
the Maiden from Tess the Maiden No More. And only society and Tess's acceptance of society's judgment
make it a sin and her an immoral woman. In nature, she has done nothing wrong. As she wanders along in
the deepening twilight, she is an integral part of nature. It is her guilt at breaking society's conventions
and religion's prohibitions that isolates her. Hardy comments of them:
It was they that were out of harmony with the actual world, not she. Walking among the sleeping birds in
the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough,
she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while, she
was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in
accord. She had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in
which she fancied herself such an anomaly. (page 85)
The opposition between natural law and social/religious law operates throughout the book. Does it
contribute to Tess's misfortunes? Does the phrase "made to break" suggest that Tess was raped, or does it
only mean that the natural act of sex was a transgression in society, so that by doing something natural
Tess "had been made to break a social law"?
Besides isolating her from the community, her sexual experience changed her
from simple girl to complex woman. Symbols of reflectiveness passed into her face and a note of tragedy
at times into her voice. Her eyes grew larger and more eloquent. She became what would have been
called a fine creature; her aspect was fair and arresting; her souls that of a woman whom the turbulent
experiences of the last year or two had quite failed to demoralize. But for the world's opinion those
experiences would have been simply a liberal education. (page 99)
By transforming Tess, her loss of virginity has individualized her and thereby cut her off from the folk or
community to which she belonged in the beginning. Initially, she was indistinguishable from the others,
which is why Angel Clare did not choose her as a dancing partner. Hardy's calling her experiences "a
liberal education," just a learning experience, shocks many readers. Is her liberal education a fortunate
fall? The Fall of Adam and Eve, which introduced sin and suffering into the world, is traditionally
regarded as an unmitigated disaster. However, a heterodox view arose that the Fall was fortunate; as a
result of the Fall, Christ took human form to redeem humanity from sin.
TESS AND ANGEL
Guilt prompts Tess to resist her attraction to Angel; similarly, scruples about damaging her life move
Angel to resist expressing his love. However, the appetite for joy and nature's drive to reproduction and
fulfillment carry them into an engagement and marriage. Nature, unfortunately, proves unable to
overcome either the misconceptions each has of the other or the conventions and social rules that Angel
and Tess have internalized.
The meaning of the title, "The Consequence," is not as clear cut as previous titles. What is the
consequence? and what is the source of the consequence? Possible sources are Tess's sexual experience,
her rally, her guilt and need to confess, nature's drive to joy and fulfillment, or the marriage of Tess and
Angel. What do you think?
MUTUAL MISCONCEPTIONS
Both Tess and Angel are deluded about the true character of the other. Because of her unfortunate
experience with Alec, Tess overestimates Angel's moral integrity and his personal superiority to herself.
Initially she sees him not as a man but as an "intelligence" (page 126); she learns, to her sorrow, how hard
his reliance on intellect can make him. She admires his self-control and sense of duty in making no effort
to seduce Marion, Izz, and Retty, even though all three would be easy prey because of their love for him.
She well knows the suffering that he could cause them. Tess attributes a chivalrous, honorable attitude
toward women to Angel, who
was far from all that she thought him in this respect; absurdly far, indeed; but he was, in truth, more
spiritual than animal; he had himself well in hand, and was singularly free from grossness. Though not
cold-natured, he was rather bright than hotless Byronic than Shelleyan; could love desperately, but with
a love more especially inclined to the imaginative and ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion which could
jealously guard the loved one against his very self. (pages 193-4)
This passage stresses his intellectuality--"spirituality," "imaginative," and "ethereal," which originate in
the mind; his predisposition to the mind is contrasted with "grossness," i.e., the sexual or animal, which is
the channel for nature's drives. "Bright" connotes mind, which predominates in Shelley; "hot" connotes
passion, which predominates in Byron. His love, being fastidious, is the product of the mind or
imagination [fastidious: paying careful attention to detail; difficult to please; excessively scrupulous or
sensitive, especially concerning what is proper or customary]. What does Hardy mean when he says that
Angel's fastidious love could "guard the loved one against his very self"? Is he protecting her against his
baser nature? is he protecting his own idea of her? or does it mean something else altogether?
Angel perceives Tess as "a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature" (page 121). The idea of her purity
recurs in Angel's thoughts and in conversations about her with his parents. Unfortunately for Tess, his
idea of "purity" and "virtue" is conventional and narrow; he equates them with physical virginity. Angel
seems intellectually liberated; he does not subscribe to the religious beliefs of his father and brothers and
refuses to become a minister. In reality, his underlying emotions and basic principles remain
conventional, perhaps as conventional as theirs. Angel chooses intellect and ideas over emotion and
instinct; in this, he contrasts with Tess who is "a vessel of emotions." In the crisis of their wedding night,
his ideas have more influence than his feelings, the appetite for joy, and the drive to reproduction. A
similar conflict between his expressed beliefs and underlying values exists in his view of families glorious
in the past; from a political point of view, he scorns them and regards their descendants as doomed to
failure, but from an imaginative or poetic point of view, he sees their glamor and romance. From a social
point of view, he is pleased with Tess's ancestry, which he thinks will make her more socially acceptable;
does this make him a snob?
Their misunderstandings about each other contribute to their alienation on their wedding night.
TESS'S URGE TO CONFESS
Tess makes two attempts to confess her past to Angel. The first time his indulgent attitude causes her to
retreat and tell him about her d'Urberville ancestry. The second time, her letter slips under the rug, so that
this effort to confess also fails. Are circumstances stacked against her, or does she bear responsibility for
not telling him about her past? Would her telling him before marriage have made any difference?
Once they are married, Tess's spirits become depressed by a series of occurrencesthe cock's crowing,
Angel's reference to the d'Urberville coach, the horrid women in the portraits, and Retty's suicide attempt.
Immediately after the ceremony she wonders whether she has any right to be his wife, whether her real
husband is Alec. Hardy compares her fear that their marriage might be "ill-omened" to a quotation
from Romeo and Juliet, "These violent delights have violent ends" (page 216). Does the reference to
Romeo and Juliet, who were star-crossed lovers, i.e., were doomed by circumstances, suggest that Tess
and Alec too are doomed by circumstances? Was chance operating against her when he did not dance
with her when she was still a virgin? But would she have attracted him then? He did not choose her then
because she was indistinguishable from the other country girls; Hardy notes that discerning strangers
might notice her freshness but to "to almost everybody she was a fine and picturesque country-girl, and
no more" (page 10). Would Angel have been that discerning stranger? And would the inexperienced
vessel of emotion that Tess was then have interested him? Angel first notices her when she explains how
watching stars induces an out-of-body experience, but is it her "liberal education" or sexual experience
which has given her the depth and individuality that hold his attention?
MUTUAL CONFESSION
Angel is moved to confess his sexual transgression on their wedding night. Like Tess, he wanted to
confess during their courtship; unlike her, he made no effort to tell, afraid he might lose her. She warmly
and immediately forgives him, and he accepts her forgiveness easily, "Then we will dismiss it at once and
forever!" (page 227). Tess is "almost glad" at his lapse because she thinks it is the same as hers and that
he will forgive her just as she has forgiven him. The details hint that her revelation will have an
unfortunate outcome, with the reference to the Last Day and to her diamond necklace having "a sinister
wink like a toad's" (page 227).
This section ends with her confession and ends the rally in the Froom Valley. Is it meaningful that the
death of her rally occurs in a home of her dead d'Urberville ancestors or is it a meaningless coincidence?
Is her personal history repeating her family history? As the d'Urbervilles decayed into the Durbeyfields,
does Tess experience a deterioration in her status and life?