Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess: A Bold Examination of the Double Standard in Victorian Culture

Thomas Hardy's Tess portrays a central character who is at the mercy of both circumstance and fate. Tess, by Victorian definition, is a fallen woman and, as such, not accountable for her own fate. Numerous critics -- Rosemary Morgan, Norman Page, and Terrence Wright among others -- have argued that Tess is to be forgiven or, at the very least, exonerated for her weaknesses, as she is an unfortunate "victim" of nature. As Tess is sexually vital and naive, she is almost expected, at least according to the beliefs of Victorian culture, to be a victim. All such statements stem from the Victorian double-standard, an unfortunate belief and practice relating to the inequality found in relationships of men and women. To understand the Victorian double standard is to understand entirely the power and purpose of Hardy's Tess and its protagonist of the same name: "There is no denunciation, in his entire oeuvre, as unequivocal as his denunciation of the sexual double-standard in Tess" (Morgan 84). If Hardy's Tess is the story of a woman whose "violation by one man and the betrayal of another" (Kramer 149) ultimately kills her, then her tragic demise is entirely the result of the persistent and...

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