The novel was adapted for the stage for the first time in 1897. This a production by Lorimer Stoddard proved a great Broadway triumph for actress Minnie Maddern Fiske, was revived in 1902, and subsequently made into a motion picture by Adolph Zukor in 1913, starring Mrs. Fiske, of which no copies remain.
In 1924 Hardy himself wrote the script for the first British theatrical adaptation and he chose Gertrude Bugler, a Dorchester girl from the original Hardy Players, to play Tess. The Hardy Players (now re-formed in 2005 by Bugler's sister Norrie) was an amateur group from Dorchester who re-enacted Hardy’s novels. Bugler was highly acclaimed, but she was prevented from taking the London stage part by Hardy's wife, Florence, who was jealous of her; Hardy had said that young Gertrude was the true incarnation of the Tess he had imagined. Years before writing the novel, Hardy had been inspired by the beauty of her mother Augusta Way, then an 18-year-old milkmaid, when he visited Augusta's father's farm in Bockhampton. Hardy remembered her when writing the novel. When Hardy saw Bugler (he rehearsed The Hardy Players at the hotel run by her parents), he immediately recognised her as the young image of the now older Augusta.
The novel was successfully adapted for the stage several other times:
- 1946: An adaptation by playwright Ronald Gow became a triumph on the West End starring Wendy Hiller.
- 1999: Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a new West End musical with music by Stephen Edwards and lyrics by Justin Fleming opens in London at the Savoy Theatre.
- 2007: Tess, The New Musical (a rock opera) with lyrics, music and libretto by Annie Pasqua and Jenna Pasqua premieres in NYC.
- 2010: Tess, a new rock opera is an official Next Link Selection at the New York Musical Theatre Festival with music, lyrics, and libretto by Annie Pasqua and Jenna Pasqua.
- 2012: Tess of the d'Urbervilles is produced into a piece of musical theatre by the Youth Music Theatre UK as part of their summer season.
1906: An Italian operatic version written by Frederic d'Erlanger was first performed in Naples, but the run was cut short by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. When the opera came to London three years later, Hardy, then 69, attended the premiere.
The story has also been filmed at least eight times, including three for general release through cinemas and four television productions.
- 1913: The "lost" silent version, mentioned above (in theatre), starring Minnie Maddern Fiske as Tess and Scots-born David Torrence as Alec.
- 1924: Another lost silent version made with Blanche Sweet (Tess), Stuart Holmes (Alec), and Conrad Nagel (Angel).
- 1979: Roman Polanski's film Tess with Nastassja Kinski (Tess), Leigh Lawson (Alec), and Peter Firth (Angel).
- 1996: Rajiv Kapoor's film Prem Granth with Madhuri Dixit, Rishi Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor in lead roles. It was a commercial failure.
- 2000: Assamese filmmaker Bidyut Chakrabarty's film Nishiddha Nadi starring Trisha Saikia, Bina Baruwoti, Dhritiman Phukan and a host of others was based on the novel. The film was produced by the Assam State Film (Finance and Development) Corporation and was released on 18 February 2000. Cinematography, Editing and Music Direction were done by National Award Winners, Mrinal Kanti Das, A.Sreekar Prasad and Sher Choudhury respectively.
- 2011: Michael Winterbottom 21st century Indian set film Trishna with Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed.
- 2013: The Maiden 21st century set film starring Brittany Ashworth, Matt Maltby and Jonah Hauer-King, directed by Daisy Bard, written and produced by Jessica Benhamou.
- 1952: BBC TV, directed by Michael Henderson, and starring Barbara Jefford (Tess), Michael Aldridge (Alec), and Donald Eccles (Angel).
- 1960: ITV, ITV Play of the Week, "Tess", directed by Michael Currer-Briggs, and starring Geraldine McEwan (Tess), Maurice Kaufmann (Alec), and Jeremy Brett (Angel).
- 1998: London Weekend Television's three-hour mini-series Tess of the D'Urbervilles, directed by Ian Sharp, and starring Justine Waddell (Tess), Jason Flemyng (Alec), and Oliver Milburn (Angel), the latter himself Dorset-born.
- 2008: A four-hour BBC adaptation, written by David Nicholls, aired in the United Kingdom in September and October 2008 (in four parts), and in the United States on the PBS series Masterpiece Classic in January 2009 (in two parts). The cast included Gemma Arterton (Tess), Hans Matheson (Alec), Eddie Redmayne (Angel), Ruth Jones (Joan), Anna Massey (Mrs d'Urberville), and Kenneth Cranham (Reverend James Clare).