Tess of the D'Urbervilles

The Unconventional Heroine as a Tool for Social Change 12th Grade

In Thomas Hardy’s tendentious Victorian novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Hardy uses a format akin to that of a tragic hero to critique the double standards of Victorian society. His heroine, Tess, challenges Victorian standards by maintaining her innate purity and refusing to be defined by society even after committing acts that ought to both taint and define her. Unlike a tragic hero, Tess’ downfall is not due to a flaw in her character but rather in society’s ability to perceive her character.
Tess embodies nigh on every characteristic that the ideal Victorian woman ought to be; that is: modest, selfless, loyal, dutiful, pure and beautiful. These traits are exemplified throughout the novel. Tess’ beauty is unquestioned; being referenced as her “trump card”. Her selflessness and duty are exemplified in her compliance with her parent’s wishes to “claim kin”, despite not knowing “what good will come of it”. Tess is also cautious to pursue her “love” of Angel out of modesty but, once married to him, is loyal even after acknowledging that he has “punished” her unfairly. On a characteristic level, Tess is “pure”, “kind” and exemplifies the model Victorian maiden. Despite this, Tess is “doomed” and on her “beautiful feminine tissue”...

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