The young daughter of a rural working class family at the start of the novel, Tess Durbeyfield is sent to claim kinship with the wealthier side of her family, the d'Urbervilles, when her family faces imminent poverty. After being seduced by Alec d'Urberville, she bears his child, which dies in infancy, and must leave her home to start a new life elsewhere. Although Tess is dutiful and obedient as the novel begins, she gains great strength and fortitude through her suffering, but remains unwavering in her love for Angel Clare and is prepared to do anything that Angel might wish.
The son of a parson and the youngest of three brothers, Angel did not enter college as his siblings, despite his superior intellect, but rather diverged from the career path his father intended for him, the ministry, to study agriculture so that he might become a farmer. Despite holding more liberal opinions than his father and brothers, Angel Clare is nevertheless equally dogmatic and obstinate. He has a deeply theoretical mindset; it is this quality that causes him to reject Tess when he learns information about her past that contradicts his idealistic view of her.
The sophisticated, urbane son of the elderly, blind Mrs. Stoke-d'Urberville, Alec is rapacious and possessive, believing that his status in society and his financial situation gives him power to possess and control Tess after he gives her a job caring for his mother's chickens. After seducing Tess, Alec reforms his hedonistic ways to become a fundamentalist preacher, but soon deviates from his newfound spirituality once he sees Tess again.
She is the householder at The Herons, the boarding establishment at Sandbourne where Alec and Tess stay together. She discovers Alec after Tess stabs him in the heart.
Reverend Clare and his wife intend this young woman from Emminster to marry Angel, despite his affection for Tess, for she holds proper religious views, according to the Clares.
A fundamentalist parson in the style that has nearly died out when the novel begins, Reverend Clare does not send his son, Angel, to college because the two disagree on religious philosophy. Reverend Clare is responsible for Alec d'Urberville's conversion after he confronts Alec.
He is one of Angel's older brothers.
He is one of Angel's older brothers.
Angel's mother is a conservative woman who dislikes the idea that Angel has married Tess, believing her to be a simple country girl unsuitable for her more refined son.
The dairyman and owner of Talbothays Dairy, he employs both Tess and Angel. Dairyman Crick is a gregarious, jovial man who treats Tess well as an employer.
The younger brother of Tess, Abraham accompanies his sister when she must deliver a cart of bees in place of their father.
Tess's mother is a bawdy, irresponsible woman who views her daughter only in exploitative terms, believing that she can send Tess to the d'Urbervilles explicitly to marry a gentleman and thus raise the fortunes of her family. Tess returns home when Joan is deathly ill, but she makes a sudden recovery just as her husband's health worsens.
A jovial, irresponsible man, John Durbeyfield sets the plot of the novel in motion when he learns that the Durbeyfield family is descended from the renowned d'Urbervilles. John suffers from heart disease, and when he dies his family is evicted from their home and forced to move to Kingsbere.
Tess's younger sister travels to Flintcomb-Ash to request that her sister return home when her parents are ill. Before Tess is caught, she asks Angel to marry Liza-Lu after Tess has died.
Nicknamed the Queen of Spades, this woman nearly fights Tess when Tess laughs at Car when she stains her dress with treacle. Tess is only saved from a brawl when Alec saves her. Tess later meets Car again when the two work together at Flintcomb-Ash.
Nicknamed the Queen of Diamonds, Nancy is the sister of Car and accompanies her sister to Flintcomb-Ash to work.
When Angel and Tess are in town before their wedding, this former Trantridge Cross resident identifies Tess as a woman of ill repute, causing Angel to defend her honor. Later he nearly accosts Tess as she travels to Flintcomb-Ash, and appears a third time as her employer at Flintcomb. Because of her early cold treatment of him, Farmer Groby is a difficult taskmaster who treats Tess poorly.
One of the dairymaids at Talbothays Dairy with whom Tess stays, Izz Huett is also in love with Angel Clare, but after his separation from Tess when he invites her to accompany him to Brazil, Izz refuses because of Tess's love for Angel. Izz later works with Tess at Flintcomb-Ash and sends a letter to Angel telling him to forgive Tess.
A servant at Talbothays' dairy, he delivers news of the other works to Tess and Angel during their honeymoon.
One of the dairymaids at Talbothays with whom Tess stays, Marian is also in love with Angel Clare and becomes an alcoholic after Tess and Angel marry. Marian invites Tess to come to Flintcomb-Ash where she works, and with Izz Huett sends a letter to Angel telling him to forgive Tess.
One of the dairymaids at Talbothays with whom Tess stays, Retty is also in love with Angel Clare. After Tess and Angel marry, Retty attempts to drown herself, but soon joins her former dairymaids at Flintcomb-Ash.
An elderly, blind woman and the mother of Alec, she employs Tess to look after her chickens. She dies not long after Tess leaves Trantridge Cross.
This clergyman in Marlott tells John Durbeyfield that his family is descended from the noted d'Urberville family.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles Questions and Answers
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