Tess of the d’Urbervilles is subtitled ‘A pure woman’ and this is how Thomas Hardy sees and portrays her throughout his novel. As the novel progresses the reader is introduced to many aspects of Tess as she grows from being a child on the verge of adulthood to a mature and experienced woman. In some parts of the book Hardy describes Tess as very passive but in other parts of the novel she is shown as a powerful and even godly sort of woman. The character of Tess is first shown near the beginning of the book as a proud and shy young girl.
She is very loving of her family and holds them in high regard especially her parents even though they sometimes do feckless, irresponsible things such as when her father went to Rolliver’s a pub before going on an important delivery to “get up his strength for his journey”. At the club-walking at the beginning of the book Tess is shown to be just an ordinary, innocent country girl “not handsomer than some others” but it is also indicated that she is very attractive.
The white dress she wears symbolises purity and virginity and Hardy suggests that this purity comes from lack of experience as he describes her as “untinctured” by it. She is also shown to be very protective of her father and when she is teased by her friends about him it appears that she is quite sensitive and not resilient to embarrassment. At this point Tess is a “mere vessel of emotion” and she still has a local dialect but with some educated speech.
Tess is more responsible than her parents as she takes the beehive delivery herself when her father is too hung-over to do it. She is, however, contrary to her ordinariness marked out from the rest of her friends and fellow country girls from the very start of the book by a red ribbon in her hair. This doesn’t seem very significant at first but as the story progresses the colour red is mentioned several times to describe her and single her out from the rest.
Some other examples of this are the blood of Prince the family horse which splashes on her white dress after he dies, her red mouth which is described as a flower a couple of times throughout the novel and Alec when he is described as “the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her young life”. The colour red, in general, is also frequently used to symbolise danger, passion, death and anger. Tess at this point in the novel is pictured as extremely passive and subject to the wishes of her family and their evident irresponsibility.
Hardy is very intent on mentioning the cruelty of ‘fate’ which appears especially in chapter 4 with the discussion between Tess and her brother Abraham concerning the stars, the two children decide that the misfortunes they suffer are all because they live on a ‘blighted star’ instead of the normal Victorian belief that all misfortunes are due to God punishing someone. This shows Tess as an intelligent and educated young woman. These ideas though technically written in the nineteenth centaury reflect more rightly twentieth centaury views and beliefs.
The mere thought that life was random and doesn’t always turn out how you want was particularly offensive to people in the Victorian era who believed that there was a divine God that controlled everything. The idea that Hardy thought Tess to be a “pure woman” even after she had gotten pregnant before marriage and committed murder, was also unheard of in the Victorian era. After the death of Prince Tess feels guilty and responsible for the event, which ironically she had no control over, “she regarded herself in the light of a murderess” but her guilt leaves her more inclined to her parent’s wishes.
Tess’s return to Marlott from Trantridge becomes the subject of gossip in the town because she had come back in a lower social standing than before she left-pregnant and unmarried. In the dusk “when light and darkness are so evenly balanced” she feels free and her burden and problems fall away, she feels as if she is part of the environment because people in the village have turned their backs on her and she wants to be away from human beings.
Thomas Hardy describes her as an “integral part of the scene”, as if she almost becomes part of the natural world and landscape. At this point Tess is using pathetic fallacy, she thinks that the world around her was acting in sympathy with herself and that “a wet day was the expression of irremediable grief”. Tess feels that the elements around her are a part of what has happened to her and that whatever God she had spent her childhood praying to was angry at her weakness.
Hardy says that Tess feels to blame because people had made her feel this way but that her guilt was only in her imagination. There is irony here because even though Tess is completely at home in the countryside she feels that she is the personification of guilt trespassing on the wildlife and looks upon herself as a “figure of Guilt intruding upon the haunts of Innocence”, but this is how the natural world operates and Hardy is saying that there is no difference between Tess and the wildlife.
Animal imagery is used many times to describe Tess. Thomas Hardy always compares Tess to an animal using similes but never metaphors. This is shown clearly when Tess hears Angel playing the harp for the first time. Tess is described “like a fascinated bird” and then as “stealthily as a cat” in the same chapter. This happened at twilight, which the time between night and day that Hardy believed people became very sensitive to the world around them.
Hardy has mentioned this theory of his before when Tess returns to Marlott after getting pregnant with Alec d’Urberville’s child. It is silent around that time and Tess seems to enjoy silence and not think of it as the absence of sound. As Tess noiselessly walks up to Angel, who is portrayed as a genuine stereotypical angel playing a harp “in the attic above her head”, she is described using the imagery of birth, growth and nature seems to be in a sort of hallucinatory, erotic ecstasy.
This chapter also uses synaethesia to describe how she felt as she heard the music coming from Angel’s harp such as “the harmonies passed like breezes” and “his notes made visible”. In my opinion I think that this novel is quite depressing and the reader feels sorry for Tess as her misfortunes are usually not her fault. Personally I think that Tess is quite weak and if she had not been so weak she could have taken control of her life like she did at the end when she murdered Alec instead of being as passive as she was throughout the novel.