Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Modernity and Tradition in Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" College

Hardy’s novels are grounded in a realist portrayal of a society defined by constant advancement. The preceding Enlightenment era developed a sense of shedding traditional values in pursuit of intellectual evolution, and this only accelerated into the constant striving for progress of the Victorians. “Modernity” encompasses a web of issues, ideas and concepts ranging from industrialisation to sexualisation. One could also use the term to describe changes in class distinction, political systems and even societal loss of faith. Although it is not specified when exactly Tess of the d’Urbervilles is set, Hardy conveys a strong sense of contemporaneity by firmly embedding the plot in Nineteenth Century culture; he depicts the changing conditions of agricultural labour, a changing class structure where wealth eclipses the importance of ancestry, and he even points to specifics such as Tess’s education within the National Schools movement.

All of these allusions suggest that the author wishes to address themes of current debate and this is explicated in the novel’s Explanatory Note: “The story is sent out in all sincerity of purpose, as an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of things… I would ask any too genteel reader,...

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