Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Part 1 – The Virgin Eve

The Crown Inn pub in Marnhull, Dorset. Marnhull is to town of ‘Marlott’ in Tess, and The Crown Inn is known in the book as ‘The Pure Drop’. ‘Purity’ and ‘dropping’ potentially relating to Tess’ status as a pure, chaste girl and her ‘fall’ from that status during part 1 of the book. (Credit: Nigel Freeman / The Crown or The Pure Drop / CC BY-SA 2.0)

CONTENT WARNING: Contains discussions of sexualisation of children, rape, sexual assualt and infant mortality.

The first theme presented to us is one of the most important to the whole novel. A simple, humble, some could argue lazy, countryside peddler, John Durbeyfield, is lounging about minding his own when the local Parson informs him he actually comes from a once noble family, the d’Urbervilles, who would have accompanied William the Bastard on his Norman conquest of Britain.

The social themes slice through this entire book from this point. From ‘Sir John’ as he likes to style himself after finding out his lineage, believing being found to be from an old family is going to make any difference so irresponsibly going drinking, to the Stoke-d’Urbervilles buying their name (as we’ll find out later), to the treatment of Angel Clare the countryside ‘gentleman’, who we won’t really get to know until part 2, though he has a brief cameo.

The late 19th century in Britain was accented by huge movements for social change, labour movements, sex and gender equality movements, dissent and dissenting voices were everywhere. Old money died and their castles crumbled and new money was born and built factories where castles would have stood.

The rural way of life was changing, industrialism was growing, slowly the kinds of characters we read of in ‘Tess’ would move from their country homes to squalid sheds in cities, or workhouses for factories.

For now, though, this is still the ‘old world’ and those conflicts fail to touch this small town in the valley of Blakemore (or Blackmoor).

This leads us to a second theme, the invalidity of naming conventions, nomenclature. The once noble d’Urbervilles are now the humble Durbeyfields, the once common Stokes are now the more respectable Stoke-d’Urbervilles. The valley of Blakemore was once Blackmoor. What does it mean? Change, is what it means. Why would you include so dull an addition as to tell us what a place used to be called unless you want to specifically highlight the changeable nature of things, especially labels we believe so permanent, names of places, and yet that rub off so easily.

Change is ever happening and the arbitrarily labelling of one-thing-as-this and another-thing-as-that is as old as human history and just as full of stupidity. ‘Virgin’, ‘Chaste’, ‘Pure’ – these are some arbitrary words, or names, that we will be questioning soon.

But back to the ‘old world’;

We then move on to the reason for my starting the ‘Celestial Classics’ series when I did, because the girls of the village of Marlott engage in the Cerealia. A festival named after the Roman Goddess Ceres, goddess of field and grain (and the root of our word ‘cereal’) and introduces to us our next major theme of the novel – The contrasting of paganism and Christianity in rural life.

It is explained that the reasons for the traditional Cerealia have long since been forgotten, as far as the villagers are concerned it’s just a jolly-good May-Day knees-up.

Yet in such a pastoral word, in a world dominated by season, by weather, by vitalism – the essence or spirit of life itself – can you ever, truly escape the pagan? Did Christianity not just somewhat wallpaper over the old-world worship of hill, river, stream and season? Did they not call their Zeus ‘God’ and then divide up the minor divine roles among so many holy ghosts, angelic hoards and patron saints?

There is a sense in this whole book that the pastoral is the pagan, the human social is the Christian and the two are mirrors of each other in blessings and cruelties. This opening ‘part’ – and I divide the book into three parts – is probably the best at highlighting this, culminating in the greatest combination of natural cruelty and human inhumanity.

So the girls (as well as some older women) all don their nicest white frocks and have a bit of a cavort. To be honest, it gets a little noncey at this stage. In depth discussions about secondary sexual characteristics such as hair, eyes, lips, figures…that sort of thing.

It’s of its time. I get that. “The past is a different country…” and all that. It doesn’t stop it from reading very uncomfortably to a modern reader and…

Well how best can I put it? Given the plot of the novel, and the presentation of ‘women’ throughout the rest of it I did get a genuine feeling of fetishism of youth from Hardy. Whether there is anything paedophilic in it, or whether it is merely the musings of an aging man remembering when he was a plump-cheeked boy joining in dances with these girls is hard to discern. There is a revelry in their purity, that becomes a shame in their ‘taintedness’ moving forward that I found uncomfortable.

The girls are all pure, nice, correct, proper and innocent. The women are broken, bawdy, boisterous, nervous, improper, snobbish or crude.

I’m not usually someone sensitive to that sort of thing, being a man and all, and I felt it radiating, like heat from a bonfire, off this novel. It was so obvious as to almost be a motif and yet subtle enough that it could just be discrimination.

There is something with Hardy and women, I don’t know what but it’s there and it definitely affected my enjoyment of the novel because it most affects the main character who is so inconsistent in presentation that sometimes she feels like an alien even to herself. Some of this is deliberate but, a lot of it, I felt, was just bad character writing.

Then a young Angel Clare runs in to join the dance and dances with everyone except Tess who is naturally upset. I also cannot believe in my Unintentional Innuendoes article I missed out a reference to Tess’ “Own large orbs,” which I hope, given the context, meant eyes. 

So Tess leaves the dance and goes to visit her mother, the first of the coarse and tainted women of this great novel. Tess had been somewhat put out by not getting a dance with the strange visitor, but also by the fact that her dad drives by in a carriage proclaiming to all his new-found lineage.

Tess feels guilty for not having returned to help her mother sooner. Tess and guilt are like Bonnie and Clyde or Butch and Sundance – These are two partners in crime. Mrs. Durbeyfield is basically struggling and slaving away only until such time as Tess gets back so that she can go and ‘fetch her husband’ from the local ale house. In this case ‘fetch her husband’ is code for get wankered herself, and it is heavily implied that both John and Joan Durbeyfield are in the habit of enjoying a bevy.

Nothing wrong with that, except when you decide to have a litter of children and lean on the eldest to pick up the pieces for you because you’d rather get shit-faced.

There’s an interesting comparison of Tess and her mother’s physical features;

“There still faintly beamed from the woman’s features something of the freshness, and even the prettiness, of her youth; rendering it probable that the personal charms which Tess could boast of were in main part her mother’s gift, and therefore unknightly, unhistorical.”

Given the current plot of they-find-out-they’re-of-old-stock I think this is important. Those unknightly, unhistorical features are about to get Tess in a lot of trouble because of a pursuit of a historic knightliness, at the hands of someone who is unknightly and unhistorical but is pretending to be so.

There is surely some commentary here? The sullying of the pure pastoral beauty, untainted by historical links, by new-money buying old-names pretending to be something it isn’t?

This is why I title this part ‘The Virgin Eve’ – Tess is pure. Almost newly created just for us. Yet Tess is a duality, her looks are attributed to her mother, a woman of no renown whom history doesn’t know and the future will forget. Her mentality, her attitude, is very much of the d’Urberville, and there will be talk later of their feistiness, the “d’Urberville Curse”, this whole idea that just because you come from good blood does not make you a good person.

At this point, though, Marlott is an Eden before The Fall, and Tess is its Eve. She is the most innocent, the most innocuous, the most part-of-the-Earth. It is as if she wasn’t born, John and Joan didn’t have a bump, grind and moan and burst a bloody infant, covered in placenta, the aftermath of carnal sin, into the world. Tess was grown from the soil, from a pure seed, always stood on a firm moral stalk and even when winds would blow she would guiltily sway, but never waver or break.

So Tess takes over looking after the kids while the Durbeyfield parents go get sloshed at Rolliver’s, a tiny patch of Sodom in this Garden of Eden. The only thing of note to really happen here is that it has come to the attention of some that there are d’Urbervilles living nearby. The two exceptionally responsible parents decide the best thing to do is to, effectively, pimp their daughter out in the hopes they can scrounge some dosh and get her to marry a gentleman.

The Blackmore Vale Inn, believed to be the inspiration for Rolliver’s, where Mr. and Mrs. Duberyfield go drinking (Credit: Kevin Young / Blackmore Vale Inn, Marnhull / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Eve, it seems, will have trouble not eating the forbidden fruit if people don’t stop shoving it in her mouth.

Daddy Durbeyfield is so wankered from the pub that he can’t actually do his job the next day so it’s left to his teenage daughter and – I think – 8-year-old son. He’s their youngest son, anyway. He and Tess have to take over the responsibility of transporting a wagon full of bees to a nearby town, in the small hours.

Tess gets to daydreaming about d’Urberville blood and marrying a gentleman and falls asleep and when she wakes up, her horse, Prince (ironic name), has been lanced through the heart by the postman. Not deliberately, of course, the mailcart had been speeding along and the lamps on the Durbeyfield cart had gone out so he didn’t see them.

It is interesting that Tess goes from daydreaming about her knightly ancestors, flighty, fighty Princes and Earls, to her actual Prince, her horse, being stabbed through as if by a sword in a fight, or a lance in a joust.

Tess and her partner guilt take all the responsibility. Given that the horse was, essentially, the only real, adult worker of the family the plan to send Tess to their supposedly rich relatives becomes even more desperate and Tess agrees to it. She agrees to it mainly out of guilt and partially out of how put-upon she is looking after everyone else.

This is when Eve, after wandering through Eden, meets the Serpent. Alec Stoke-d’Urberville.

As mentioned before, this line of the family is not a line of the family at all. They are the Stokes family from up north where they made their money and now wish to escape in newly-moneyed splendour to the South where all the old money came from. The Durbeyfields are none the wiser to this little scheme and don’t realise they’re no relatives at all, and don’t realise they’re sending their daughter to her own demise.

Alec Stoke-d’Uberville is, what I think we could academically call, “a fucking twat.” If he’d grown up where I did we’d have chucked him off a cliff to the beach and let him die there.

Tess arrives, he charms her with overwhelming, tells her how ‘beautiful’ and ‘pretty’ she is, suggestively feeds her strawberries, packs her a basket of roses, shoves some down her tits for good measure and sends her back home knowing full well he intends to fuck her, whether she wants it or not, calling her a “…Crumby girl,” as he sends her on her way. He’s a fucking twat.

The irony, of course, is Tess is of the real d’Urbervilles, the actually historic family and Alec is of no such prestigious lineage at all. This reversal, this change, one of the themes of the novel, is a surprisingly powerful device. Tess has every right to condescend to him and yet, due to not knowing the true lack of value of his name against hers she accepts his manners, his intrusiveness, his invasiveness and his twattishness.

Upon her return to her own family very little of a shit seems to be given besides they might get a new horse, Tess is clearly in favour with this wealthier line of the family, as evidenced by a letter asking her to work with Mrs. d’Urberville, and if she fucks off she’s be ‘made a lady of’…

Oh, the irony…

Tess’ hesitation is made pretty apparent. In some kind of reverie or trance whilst there, she had permitted Alec to do all sorts of things that made her uncomfortable and she doesn’t like him, or the idea of him. Do you know what? I don’t either. The idea of a man like that existing in my world makes me downright uncomfortable and want to throw him off a bridge. But Tess, tethered by responsibility to a heavy ball of guilt, relents.

So Tess leaves, and is escorted to her new life at The Slopes, the Stoke-d’Urberville house, by Alec himself who, effectively grabs her like a hostage and steals her away down the lanes, at speed, showing off how fast his horse is. Much like a boy-racer today might put his foot down to deliberately scare the shit out of his lady passenger, it’s all done with a view to getting her heart racing, her chest heaving and have her feeling vulnerable so that he may soothe her and comfort her and all the saucy whatnots that follow.

I’ve mentioned that Tess’ parents were useless? Right? Because I know damn well if Mrs. Durbeyfield had been my mum she’d have told Tess all about the birds and the bees and how sometimes the birds need to peck at eyes and the bees need to sting crotches.

Tess, though, is like a rabbit in headlights with it all. She knows she feels uncomfortable, and has expressed it, but can’t quite say why. It’s clear that she is sexually ignorant – not just naïve, but totally ignorant. Even despite having so many younger brothers and sisters it doesn’t seem like the manner of their coming to be in the world has crossed her mind.

Her job at The Slopes is to teach caged birds how to sing, and help the blind old Mrs. d’Urberville, Alec’s mother, hug her chickens daily.

A woman who can’t see what’s right in front of her face and caged birds – that’s some heavy symbolism.

There’s a creepy scene where, when trying to re-learn how to whistle for the songbirds Alec decides to give Tess some lessons. Here her sexual ignorance is on full display and Alec should have the sense to notice she’s a bud, not a flower and fuck off, but he doesn’t because he’s a fucking twat. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that.

His sexual overtones are overwhelming, Tess’ ignorance infuriating and every protective sense in you is tingling at this point. You know this won’t go well for Tess.

Getting past that, Tess starts to feel alright and goes with the rest of the workers to some drunken barn dance. Begging the question, who is Eric Cartman’s father?

…Sorry, wrong drunken barn dance.

This doesn’t go so well because she starts to feel self-conscious, not helped by a lingering Alec creeping around in the dark like a predator.

Eventually everyone starts to go home, but one of the women spills some molasses down her back causing everybody, including Tess, to laugh, causing – for some reason, it seems to be that she is the apple of Alec’s eye and everybody else wants a piece of him – everybody to want to berate Tess, including old molasses-back herself, Car Darch, who essentially punches Tess in the face with the power of her tits.

“Ah, th’st think th’ beest everybody, dostn’t, because th’ beest first favourite with He just now! But stop a bit, my lady, stop a bit! I’m as good as two of such! Look here—here’s at ’ee!”

To Tess’s horror the dark queen began stripping off the bodice of her gown—which for the added reason of its ridiculed condition she was only too glad to be free of—till she had bared her plump neck, shoulders, and arms to the moonshine, under which they looked as luminous and beautiful as some Praxitelean creation, in their possession of the faultless rotundities of a lusty country-girl.

I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean besides a larger, plumper country girl showing Tess what a real pair of norks is supposed to look like? It could be suggested she is trying to show the frail and slender Tess that she is muscular but if that’s what Hardy means by ‘faultless rotundities’ well then stick another one in the unintentional innuendo article!

Frightened by this confrontation Tess takes flight, the song-bird uncaged, let loose into the wilderness and the apparently conveniently waiting carriage of Mr. Alec Stoke-d’Urberville (twat). He takes her off in the horse-and-cart, getting lost down in ‘The Chase’ and this isn’t some twee ITV game show. It is euphemistically named.

“Tess!” said d’Urberville.

There was no answer. The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. D’Urberville stooped; and heard a gentle regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.

Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primaeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess’s guardian angel? where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked.

Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe. Doubtless some of Tess d’Urberville’s mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards peasant girls of their time. But though to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by average human nature; and it therefore does not mend the matter.

As Tess’s own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: “It was to be.” There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine’s personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother’s door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.

This is both my most and least favourite entire passage in the book. Let me explain.

On its own it is a beautiful testament to the vile, beautiful savagery of nature. A philosophy I, myself, espouse. A philosophy I wrote an article about. A philosophy I recognise in the vegetation, the chirping, the barking, the screeching, the blossoming, the biting, the snatching, the maggots and the decomposition around me. If I am anything, academically, I am a biologist and as I have often explained, you will be having anxiety attacks half way into your first year as an undergrad in bio if you have any mind for recognising the implications of what you are taught. Earth is danger.

It is my least favourite because in so subscribing to this philosophy Thomas Hardy has left ambiguity. Discussion continues to this day as to whether or not, in a moment of bleary-eyed, vulnerable weakness, Tess allowed Alec to violate her, or whether or not, basically asleep at the side of a lane, alone, he raped her.

I have no such doubts and need no such textual clues. She was raped. There is nothing about anything of the relationship between them that leads me to believe Tess would ‘permit’ – truly consent, to what happens to her. Indeed, she is so sexually ignorant I don’t think if Alec had said “Can I fuck you?” she would know whether to answer yes or no. It is a world apart from her and, yes there are contextual clues.

He doesn’t find a girl, plump, curvaceous, rosy and warm. There is nothing ‘sexy’ about what he finds. She is a ‘pale nebulousness at his feet’. She is more spirit than human. She was ‘sleeping soundly and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears’. That doesn’t exactly sound horny, does it?

The narrator asks “Where was Tess’s guardian angel?” implying she needed protection. From herself? Not likely, she’s a strong-willed young woman whose sole weakness is her family.

I won’t get too deep into biblical discussion. In the bible the serpent tempts Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, ensuring Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden.

In Tess, the serpent forces the fruit upon her, and God ignores, leaving her to be ‘damaged’ in the eyes of a judgemental society – a society full of hypocrites.

I love this passage because of that discussion it has, that judgement it casts upon both God and human. Whether it be the rapist, the people who blame the victim after the attack, or the fools who taught others that nature was innately kind, God innately merciful and life not just a basket of cruelties.

He mentions how knights of her own, once noble, family probably did the same, or worse, to peasant girls of their time. Invoking the cyclical, invoking some kind of karma and then, striking it from the record by saying that doesn’t excuse it! In a way very critical of ‘original sin’.

But the fact that there is even a discussion is down to the fact that, for whatever reason, Hardy just can’t bring himself to say “He violated her,” or “He forced himself upon her.”

Maybe he was trying to make a point. Would you, the reader, pick up his clues and cues and figure out Tess is a victim of assault here? Or would you rather brush it away with a casual “It was to be,” and keep living your life like those people in their ‘fatalistic way’?

One of the things that made the book so controversial at the time of its release was how blatant it was in its exposure of the sexual hypocrisies and social hypocrisies of the time. I have mentioned in other articles about Romans (for the Victorians did a lot of classics reading) that the Romans, too, had a hypocrisy about their attitude to sex and family but the Victorians took it to a whole new level.

Whitewashed with Christian doctrine the sexual behaviours so natural to the species Homo sapiens are hidden in Victoriana. Hardy knew this and, like a wife walking in on an adulterous husband and casting away the sheet, exposed the utter indignity to the world. They, naturally, did not like it much.

The ‘first phase’ of the book ends here, but it is my belief the first ‘part’ doesn’t conclude until a little later.

Pentridge Village, Dorset, seen from the hills above. Believed to have been the inspiration for Trantridge. (Credit: Simon Barnes / Pentridge village viewed from Pentridge Hill 2 / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tess returns home – this return-to-home will become somewhat of a motif if not a theme. What does it mean, if anything? A reflection on the cyclical nature of things, people come and go just as do seasons, maybe? Or perhaps just that in times of crisis all one can do is pack a bag and go where you’re most familiar, most safe.

Alec insists on returning with her and they have a discussion in which he essentially acts as his own personal rape apologist and she just cries. There’s a line earlier, about Tess taking in the scenery;

“Since her eyes last fell upon it she had learnt that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing.” 

She was no doubt not the first, and will, sadly, not be the last of the young women who learn in the cruellest of fashions that even if your life is a bed of roses you should beware of the thorns. We have Hardy himself portraying Alec as serpent, temptation of Eve, and Tess as natural as a sweet bird.

She goes home to her mother who then takes it upon herself to act as a rape apologist on behalf of Alec, suggesting she should have agreed to marry him after ‘that’ and that she ‘brought it upon herself’ and various other rapey tropes still so disgustingly common today but then Tess says the thing that sealed, in my heart, if not my mind (which was already made up), what happened to her.

 “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’ learning in that way, and you did not help me!”

As I said earlier, Tess would not have known what she was consenting to if she did give any consent at all, which I doubt since the last we know she is fast asleep. Those are the words of someone who has been raped.

Her mother does as she is wont to do, next to piss all, and we move on.

It’s later in the year and Tess is busy working in a field, isolated from a lot of other people. It is lunchtime, she takes a short break, her siblings arrive from over the crest of the hill bringing with them a new little baby, surely not another Durbeyfield?

Tess takes the child in her arms, whaps out a milker and feeds the little’un. It’s her baby. She got pregnant.

Now this was the point where the book started getting interesting for me. NO! Not because she gets her boobs out in a field.

Even nowadays breast feeding in public is a controversial topic. Why, I have no idea? This, though, is a single-mum, breastfeeding her rape-baby in front of her social peers.


Suddenly Tess is being presented in this bold, new light. This girl, this weathered stalk of guilt and shame is unapologetic. In a way it is understandable, why stand on ceremony for oneself when you’ve got a child to raise? In another way, though, this is pioneering. This is a feminist revolution in rural Wessex in the 1890s.

She only gets bolder from there. The baby, it turns out, is sick and basically dying. The family do not want the shame brought upon themselves of asking the local vicar for a baptism (because, you know, it’s a bastard, but unbaptized babies burn in hell forever or something – I don’t know, if that’s your God, you do you. If that’s THE God he’d better be ready for me when I die because I’ll kick his fucking arse the sadistic piece of shit) but either way this troubles Tess. She does not want her baby to die, unbaptized, with no name. So she does it herself. Baptising the child with the name “Sorrow” – a little bit emo, but we’ll forgive her given the circumstances.

To sit and breast feed your illegitimate child in front of your co-workers is revolutionary. To act as an agent of God, to legitimise your child, to perform a baptism – this is a rebellion against God, this is Miltonian.

Bulbarrow Hill, Dorset – No immediate Hardy connection I know if, just a very pretty scene in roughly the area all of this seems to be set. (Credit: © Copyright Mr Eugene Birchall CC-BY-2.0)

I’m suddenly thinking the rest of this book is going to be this one young woman’s raging against the machine, a proto-punk from the 1890s, sticking it to the man, sticking it to God and sticking it to everyone in between in the name of all that is truly righteous.

The commentary here, against church and society, against the interweaving of the two – the reflections of natural cruelty, religious cruelty and social cruelty, all meet in this crescendo, this massive wave that crashes into a peak, into a point, and then it just falls as rain, dissipates and goes nowhere.

We will get to that in part 2, which should be nowhere near as long on account of being nowhere near as interesting.

There is then a disagreement with the local parson about whether or not the baby can get a Christian burial which, the parson is hesitant to do but does anyway because Tess is Tess and at that point in time if she wanted a dinosaur that shat diamonds she’d get one by force of will.

Interestingly in a discussion with someone acquainted with the rules of the cloth of the Church of England apparently this is all fine and the vicar is just a dickhead. For one thing, he should never refuse to baptise an infant especially in dire circumstances. If, however, a priest in unavailable, a baptism by any Christian so inclined is acceptable. Therefore the vicar’s reluctance to give the child a proper Christian burial is down to one of two things. One, either Hardy didn’t know the rules and gave the vicar the common social attitude of the time or two, Hardy did know the rules and made the vicar a deliberate dickhead.

Relatively unceremoniously the child is buried but, at least if it’s important to you, it’s on consecrated land and with the blessing of the parson.

She then gets an invitation to go be a milkmaid and so ends the second phase and my first part.

As I said, by this point I was wholly invested. The themes are right up my alley, Tess has gone from being a girl to a demi-God, she’s been broken by social misdeeds, disguised as norms, and broken them right back in revenge and I am curious to see how this exceptionally strong-willed girl, having been through the harshest, most chthonian of heroine’s journeys, gets on with punching life in the face, kicking arse and taking names.

Only she never quite does, after this point.

Remember what I said earlier about Hardy seeming to have a thing for girls more than women? Well I think in his mind that whole baptism, that taking life, the universe and God by the scruff of the neck, saying ‘rules be damned’ and doing what she wanted was, in his eyes, more of a loss of innocence than her assault in The Chase.

It’s almost as if, to the author, that was when she lost her innocence because she is never quite as potent as she is at that moment and yet that is the moment when she is, seemingly, most Tess-the-girl.

The themes set up here all carry through the rest of the book, that doesn’t change. I can’t say anything new gets added, I can’t say anything gets resolved. The events that have occurred so far are pivotal with regards to everything else that happens, so even though some characters may not appear for a while they will definitely play their part. So what we have done is set ourselves up, in the next part, for a lot of dismissal of plot and discussion of theme, I hope!

As far as the rest of it, in case you couldn’t tell from the few passages I’ve included there’s definitely a dialect issue if you’re trying to read it casually. Luckily I’ve lived in East Anglia before, whilst the accent and dialect is not the same as this one is made out to be there are enough similarities that ‘appen I ha’n’t a rum toyim a-figyin things ‘ut. (I didn’t have a hard time figuring things out.)

There’s also the language in general. I think I mentioned in the introduction, when he is simple Hardy’s use of English is stunningly beautiful, like a crisp September morning. When he’s writing with the style that was the pomp of the 19th century, flowery, florid, overly wordy and verbose – it’s a hazy July midday and you’ve got hayfever.

That I can’t really blame Hardy for, as I said, it was the style of the time and it’s not one I particularly care for. But it is something to consider if you’re reading along or thinking about reading.

Part 1 was incredibly promising. I feel for Tess, I will come to feel even more for Tess into part 2 – but that just doesn’t carry her journey forward. It’s almost like she starts a new one in a parallel universe. From being built into this deity, baptising her own baby because God wasn’t there to do it and he damn sure wasn’t there to help her the day he was made! There was a rebel there who vanishes into submission and pride.

We’ll get to that.

I’m calling it, before I disappoint myself even more. This has been Part 1, join me again for part 2 where you get to read me ranting about Romance.

You can find that right here! Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Part 2 – The Wessex Artemis.


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 - https://www.patreon.com/WeLackDiscipline Or buying him a coffee (he loves coffee!) - https://ko-fi.com/welackdiscipline

5 thoughts on “Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Part 1 – The Virgin Eve

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