The Unintentional Innuendoes of Tess of the d’Urbervilles

“…A pure woman, faithfully presented…” Yeah, right Hardy. We figured out what you were really up to! From an OG 1891 edition (Public Domain)

Before moving on to a more serious analysis of this 19th Century version of ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ except with more gratuitous suffering and less satisfaction I figured why not have some fun.

For sure the book’s a serious one and requires serious thought. Whether it be directly related to the book itself within its own context or how it could/should be perceived in a modern context. I intend to give it that due thought.

What I can say is that Thomas Hardy sure does have a knack for a turn of phrase and whether by inventive syntax (sentence structure), anachronistic (out of time-period) language or he was just a saucy bugger there’s a few sentences that had me giggling and I figured if I couldn’t find a few accidental innuendos and share them with you, I am not trying.

That out of the way, let us begin.

It starts early on to be honest, with girls having;

“A difficulty arranging their lips in this crude exposure to public scrutiny,”

Frankly the entire start of the novel seems a bit noncey to me, but given how early girls would be, if not married off at least betrothed or arranged, it’s quite of its time for them to be…erm…getting their…lips…scrutinised…

…Nah, it’s just wrong!

But that doesn’t stop a young Angel Clare begging his brothers to go and have a public scrutinise of some of those lips;

“I am inclinded to go and have a fling with them. Why not all of us – just for a minute or two – it will not detain us long?”

Just for a minute or two? Surely the words of a young and eager man! Mind you they had been standing around with their;

“…Stout sticks in their hands.”

So who knows how long they’d been warming up?

Of course the local pub, Rolliver’s, is a bawdy place best avoided if you’re not of a swinging persuasion;

“In a large bedroom upstairs, the window of which was thickly curtained with a great woollen shawl lately discarded by the landlady, Mrs Rolliver, were gathered on this evening nearly a dozen persons…”

NEARLY A DOZEN IN ONE BEDROOM!? That’s one hell of a country orgy!

Or course away from such overtly sexual reference we do find;

“the brass handles of the chest of drawers were as golden knockers.”

And, whilst it is nowhere near as bad as the pub orgy I giggled.

After that there’s actually a lot of overt sexuality, so not much unintentional, more just…creepy.

“I haven’t offended you often by love-making?”

Asks a depraved Alec Stoke-d’Urberville.

Given the plot a grossly dark-humoured and ironic innuendo but nonetheless one that stands, but just about the only giggle-worthy one of that segment.

So then there’s not a lot more. That is until Tess and Angel start getting to know one another down at the dairy farm!

“So he played a more coaxing game; and while never going beyond words, or attempting the renewal of caresses, he did his utmost orally.”

In the modern age of one night stands, glory holes and casual Tinder fucks maybe casual oral down by the cattleshed is no big deal, but in the 19th century that’d be some scandalous stuff!

“That she had already permitted him to make love to her he read as an additional assurance, not fully trowing that in the fields and pastures to “sigh gratis” is by no means deemed waste; love-making being here more often accepted inconsiderately for its own sweet sake that in the carking, anxious homes of the ambitious, where a girl’s craving for an establishment paralyzes her health thought of a passion as an end.”

“He’d already fucked her in a field, and fields don’t mind if you fuck in ‘em, in fact it’s better to fuck in a field because once you get her home lady’s going all frigid thinking about what couch covering to get and where to put baby’s cot!” – That’s a rough translation of the horny misogynist message delivered here.

“…Hardly perceiving the scenes around him, and caring for them not at all: holding only strictly necessary intercourse with the natives…”

Sounds a lot like how the British Empire spread…

This is said of the mysterious wandering ‘engineer’ with his ‘iron charge’ that literally makes ladies vibrate as we find out next.

“Dinner time came, and the whirling ceased; whereupon Tess left her post, her knees trembling so wretchedly with the shaking of the machine that she could scarcely walk.”

Lucky girl, not everyone back in the old days got to ride the sybian.

This is also not too long before;

“Tess uttered a short little “Oh!”…

Not an unexpected result.

“Have they come for me?”

Tess asks, near the end of the novel.

And with lewdness like this, it’d hardly be a surprise if they did!

Anyway, this was just a short and silly interlude before the actual analyses of Tess starts coming out. There’s quite a lot to talk about and explore so I suspect it shall be an introduction plus three parts.

No one will read them, like they didn’t read my Shakespeare, but at least it will exist.

Know of any Tess innuendos we’ve missed? Unintentional ones, of course – there are some intentional ones. Leave them in the comments.


Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Karl Anthony Mercer is a writer, poet, author, musician and part-time dandy. He can often be found squatting in fields looking at insects (he is an unapologetic wasp fanatic), wandering around museums over-dressed, or hiding in a dank corner singing sad songs on a small guitar. His writing on WordPress consists of MercersPoems - an outlet for his poetry often using natural imagery, gothicism and decadence to explore the struggles of living as an autistic person; and We Lack Discipline - Where he writes about factual, often academic topics he has learned and is interested in (e.g. biology, psychology, Roman history etc.) with an inimitable, often light-hearted and irreverant style. You can support Karl by; Subscribing to the We Lack Discipline Patreon - Or buying him a coffee (he loves coffee!) -

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