Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Introductions

The hypocrisy of Angel Clare is rank, and he bears huge responsibility for the tragic fate of Tess Durbeyfield (“Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, 1891). Hardy’s characterisation of Angel as man who will not be bound by social convention creates hope for happiness in his heroine, but Clare’s cowardly rejection of Tess reveals both the weakness of his character, and also the punishing social conventions of nineteenth century society.

“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” was written by Thomas Hardy in 1891. The story concerns a working class girl who is raped by an aristocrat, before finding love with a middle-class social revolutionary. However, Angel Clare’s apparent strength of character disappears when Tess confesses that she has been raped, and he rejects her as a fallen woman. This essay will look at how this rejection happens, and also at how Hardy’s use of symbolism and the theme of fate support the novel’s plot.

Inciting outrage upon publication in 1891, Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” directly challenged Victorian morality and social codes. Key to this challenge is the character of Angel Clare, a middle-class man who falls for a woman below his social rank. Tragically, when his apparent moral independence crumbles, it is Tess Durbeyfield who suffers, and rejected by the man she loves, her life lurches from tragedy to tragedy. Underpinned by symbolism and key themes of fate and morality, the plot of this novel is as bleak as Hardy’s view of society.


“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.” – Virginia Woolf

Never more in fiction was this true than in the case of Tess Durbeyfield and Angel Clare. His apparent lack of care for society’s laws are proven to be a sham halfway through Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel, as he rejects Tess upon learning that she is not the “pure woman” he had believed her to be. His scorn for rules of class are all exposed as false, and he abandons his new bride in order to set up a new life in Brazil. Tess, on the other hand, is left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. From being symbolically marked with the colour red, to the relentless note of fate sounding throughout, this powerful rejection was forecast throughout the novel.