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Tess of the D'Urbervilles Full Book Introduction

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

11 min / Published
By Renew

Tess of the D'Urbervilles



Written in the British critical realist style of the 19th century, the tragic story of Tess of the d’Urbervilles is probably Thomas Hardy’s most famous work. Tess, the novel’s heroine, is a peasant girl, pure in heart and attractive. The hardships she experiences in the story eventually destroy her. Tess’s life is quite impoverished. She must work to support her poor relatives. Previously, Tess’s family were of aristocratic descent, but at the start of the book, they have fallen from favor and lost their fortune. Alec d’Urberville, the lascivious heir to a significant inheritance, takes advantage of Tess’s naivety. His seduction leads to her being disgraced. Tess’s true beloved, learning of her lost virginity, abandons her. Afterwards, Tess’s life spirals down, in cruel steps, to ruin.


Overview | Chapter 1

Hi, welcome to Bookey. Today we will unlock Tess of the D'Urbervilles by the British realist author Thomas Hardy.


Hardy was born in 1840. His father was a stonemason in Dorset, England. Hardy didn’t move away and settled to live in this part of the British countryside for most of his life. He loved nature and derived a great deal of inspiration for his books from the landscape and the outdoors. Most of his novels are set in the countryside, presenting a strong local flavor. The ancient name of his home region was Wessex. He often referrers to Wessex in his novels to define the local character. With Hardy Wessex Novels became a whole genre of English literature, but Hardy always held the title of the genre’s preeminent writer. Tess of the D'Urbervilles is an exemplar of this phenomenon. The novel is regarded as the peak of Hardy's creative career.


The story of Tess relates the tragic life of a pure woman beset by hardships, suffering, and abuse. The book’s heroine, Tess, is born into a poor peasant family, victims of the economic recession that hit Europe in the 1870s, known as the Long Depression. Tess's father stumbles upon the knowledge that he may be a descendant of the noble d'Urberville family. He sends Tess to these wealthy relatives in order to stake a claim that they are of the same family thereby overcome their current economic misfortune. Tess gains employment on the d'Urberville estate, but the lascivious d’Urberville son, Alec, forces himself on her and rapes her. From this point, the real tragedy begins.


This novel was written at the end of the 19th century in England’s Victorian era. When it was first published, it caused a great stir for several reasons. Firstly, Hardy created an impressive female figure who rebelled against many forms of social oppression. Hardy lambasted the traditional moral standards of Victorian social classes and added a controversial subtitle to his piece - “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented”. Hardy was severely criticized by the public for this subtitle as his heroine is a woman who, in their view, was impure because she lost her virginity. Hardy responded to this criticism in the preface to his book’s first edition. He quoted the words of St. Jerome, the Latin translator of the Bible, “If an offence come out of the truth, better it is that the offence come than that the truth be concealed.” The way he stood up for his narrative shows Hardy's courage and his rebellious spirit against the rotten religious morality of the time.

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