Tess, a wronged maiden troubled by her past, suppressed by the society, ultimately loses her life destroying her seducer. Hardy’s genius is reflected in the presentation of Tess and her experiences against the historical framework of nineteenth century England with its agricultural decadence, economic instability, religious and moral beliefs. She bears the responsibility of her family as her father is a drunkard. She falls into the prey of Alec d’Urberville, who seduced her and returns home bearing Alec’s child who dies in infancy.
In the novel, Hardy highlighted, “The baby’s offence against society in coming into the world was forgotten by the girl mother; her soul’s desire was to continue that offence by preserving the life of the child”(Hardy135).
Later, she falls in love with Angel and their love resulted into marriage but unfortunately he abandons her with Tess’srevealing her past to her husband on her wedding night. Angel fails to understand her though he loves her.
He looks for an image of Victorian purity in Tess; though she herself is a victim, has to pay the price of other’s sin. Onceagain, she falls into the trap of Alac and ultimately relives herself murdering him with the cost of her own life.
However, Hardy’s critics have condemned the central character of Tess of the D’Urberville. A controversy was raised upon Hardy’s adding of the subtitle “a pure woman”, that is unwelcome in the Victorian society. The society was unable to understand the moral purity of Tess.
It fails to recognize Tess and her individuality as a human being by letting aside the so-called standard of the society. Moreover,they point out that Tess’s behavior is passive and she is unable to respond firmly during the crucial moments of her life. Though, this is not negligible, there are evidences where she speaks for herself as an act of courage. For instance, she reacts against Alec’s unreasonable behavior in a rare act of courage when she passionatelyflings the glove by the gauntlet, “heavy and thick as a warrior’s” (Hardy411) or her reply towards Alec’s male clinch- “did it never strick your mind that what every women says some women may feel?”(Hardy125). Moreover, she is not timid; she beholds enough courage to kill her oppressor.
Her resolution is firm, not easily shaken by others. She is not ashamed for her status, so when her husband mocked her in the peasant, she firmly replied, “I am only a peasant by position not by nature” (Hardy302). Another instance of her strength of character can be seen in her conversation with the church father when he refuses to a Christian burial to the child after the death, whom she named herself as ‘SORROW’, ”Then I don’t like you! . . . . And I’ll never come to your church no more!” or “Don’t for God’s sake speak as saint to sinner, but as you yourself to me myself poor me!”(Hardy142).
She is a victim of her surroundings. Her life takes different shapes;she transformed from a virgin to unmarried mother and then to a deserted wife to a mistress. But remarkably, she did not confine herself in agony and tears, rather moved forward in her life. Here, Tess is seen rebelling against her female stereotypical roles. Her final triumph is the murder of Alac D’Urberville. With the death of him, she breaks the mesh of pain and misfortune surrounded throughout her life.
In Hardy’s description of womanliness in Tess, he does not describe the feature of a woman in Dress or in an image attributed to a woman by the society, but in its original form- “Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome wom¬anliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then”( Hardy16). Like a true Victorian woman, the life of Tess is crashed under the demands of the society, to some extent, her parents. Her tragedy starts from her visiting theso-calledrelatives that is of course the result to restore her father’s vain pride. It can be said that she is used as a means to sustain for the entire family. Her parents were hoping for her marriage with a gentle folk to ensure the economic stability of the family.