Analyze The Character Of Tess As A Pure Woman Or A Fallen Woman

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The aim of this paper is to analyze the character of Tess as a pure woman or a fallen woman in Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891)by describing Tess as a pure woman and comparing to a?????????????????? Bero2010-10-17T18:00:00

Redundant, unless you specifically state which aspects of her character you intend to analyze and what type of method you propose.

– is it possible to return to this part of introduction at a later time? I would like to specify it but still don`t know what to add. Bero2010-10-17T18:00:00

Ok, leave it for later

By presenting Tess as ‘a pure woman’ Hardy criticises Victorian notions of female purity. The nineteenth-century society treated women as second class citizens. Although they did have certain legal rights, those were not respected in real life.

The prime role of women was to produce children and to be good wives; women learnt to play the piano, to sing, to wear dresses etc. Women were forced to live in a state of perpetual childhood depending on the male family member. Contrary to nineteenth-century notions of women, Hardy portrays Tess as an independent heroine. Furthermore, in redefining the role of women Hardy focuses on sexuality.

Tess of D’Urbervilles is regarded as Hardy’s tragic masterpiece, subtitled ‘A Pure Woman’, first published in 1891 after being rejected by two publishers. It is a story of a country girl who is first presented as an innocent girl but turns into a tragic heroine. From Hardy’s point of view, Tess in not responsible for what she has done. She is a victim of a series of misfortunes which slowly destroy her personality.

The novel is written in seven chapters; each chapter representing a phase of Tess’s life after which Tess becomes more mature. With the life as series of tragedies, Tess refuses to remain a victim and struggles through life.

In the nineteenth-century society, there were two types of women: Fallen women and Good women i.e. pure women. Good women were seen as pure and clean i.e. virgins until the marriage. And their bodies were seen as temples that should not be used for pleasure. Their role was to have children and take care of the house. Any woman who did not fulfil these expectations was seen as a fallen one. Is Tess a pure woman? Or is she a fallen one? While the Victorian society regarded Tess as a fallen woman, Hardy seems to be representing her as a pure woman. She seems to be a victim and femme fatale at the same time.

Answers to these and similar questions are the aim of this paper.


Britain had lost its most important American colonies in the eighteenth-century during the American war of independence (fought between 1775 and 1783) and when the nineteenth-century began, the country was at a brink of war with France. Under such circumstances, no one would have expected Britain to control the biggest empire the world had ever seen after the end of the century. This empire included Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, India, large parts of Africa and some smaller areas and islands (such as those in the Caribbean). Colonization, which was seen by some as a matter of destiny, turned Britain into the world’s greatest economic power, which brought about great changes in social structure.

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The greatest symbol of such a powerful nation and empire was its monarch, Queen Victoria, whose official title was “the Queen regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the first Empress of India”. She ruled the empire between 1837 and 1901, which makes her reign longer than that of any other British monarch, and is the longest of any female monarch in history. She ascended the throne when she was only eighteen, following the death of her uncle William IV. The reign of Queen Victoria is known as the Victorian era. It was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military progress within the United Kingdom. Victoria was a religious mother of nine children, a devoted wife to her husband, Prince Albert, and as such she was regarded as the best personification of the morals of her time. She set very high moral standards which were difficult to follow for the twentieth century monarchy.

As was already mentioned, the nineteenth-century Britain was the greatest economic power of the world. During the nineteenth-century the factory system gradually replaced the system of people working in their own homes or in small workshops. In England the textile industry was the first to face changes. This caused great shifts in social structure, making owners of industries and trades people more powerful than ever. However, the industrial revolution created a great demand for female and child labour. While it is true that children had always worked together with their parents, before the nineteenth-century they usually worked part time. In the new textile factories women and children were often made to work very long hours (often twelve hours a day or even longer). The situation improved slightly after 1833, when the first law regulating factory working conditions was passed. Among other things, it set a limit on the number of hours that children could work and made it illegal for children under nine to work in cotton mills. In 1868 the Trades Union Congress was passed, which helped even more for the working conditions to improve.

As far as the political life in nineteenth-century Britain is concerned, the House of Commons was headed by two parties, the Whigs and the Tories. “From the late 1850s onwards, the Whigs became the Liberals; the Tories became the Conservatives.” It was a period of great political and social unrest in Britain. It is worth mentioning here that in 1812 a Tory Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot. “He was the only British prime minister ever to be assassinated.”

The nineteenth century in Britain was marked mostly by industrial development and colonization, which had its positive and negative effects on the British society. It was definitely a period of great changes.

The period between 1837 and 1901 is known as the “Victorian age”, named so after the Queen Victoria. There are two historical elements which affected the English society of the nineteenth-century: colonization and industrialization. Both of these brought great increase in wealth, making Britain the leading economic power of its time. From today’s perspective, it might seem that the Victorian age was quite conservative, since it was characterized by great prudishness. However, most of the nineteenth-century in Britain was a tremendously exciting period when many artistic styles, literary schools, as well as social, political and religious movements were started. It was a time of prosperity, imperial expansion, and great political reform.

As far as the society is concerned, there were great changes. The social classes were reforming and the middle classes were gaining more power. There was also an emerging commercial class, which was very wealthy. However, the conditions of the working class (which included many children as well as women) were extremely bad. Even children at the age of three had to work. In coal mines, children used to work from the age of five and often died before the age of twenty-five due to the hard working conditions. Many children (and adults) worked sixteen hours a day. Some writers and intellectuals of this period protested against it. The most prominent was Charles Dickens, who himself worked at the age of twelve. The reforms that were passed did not change the reality of the working classes, although they did gain some rights (e.g. most males over the age of twenty-one gained the right to vote).

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In the nineteenth-century there was a great shift of population from rural to urban areas. People seeking better living conditions for their families left everything and populated big cities in search of work. By 1870 Britain had grown from ten million at the start of the century to over twenty-six million. Millions of workers lived in slums or in empty, old decaying upper class houses. They had no sanitation, no water supply, no paved streets, no schools, no law or order, no decent food or new clothing. Many had to walk miles to mill or factory work. Their working hours began at 5.30 a.m. and lasted till 10 p.m. Drinking and abuse were frequent in family lives, since people thought that life had very little to offer them.

Nevertheless, it was also a period of great scientific progress and ideas. Darwin’s ideas emerged in this period; there was the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London which introduced the technical and industrial developments of the age. Railways helped connect faraway parts of the land and made travelling cheaper and faster, and inventions like trains and steamships made it possible to import cheap food from abroad so people were better fed. Waterproof clothing and anaesthetics made life more comfortable and convenient. Some things which we take for granted today, such as photography, also thrilled people of the Victorian age.

Without a doubt, it was an extraordinarily complex age, which has sometimes been called the Second English Renaissance. “It is, however, also the beginning of Modern Times” (Miller).

The Victorian society was divided into four classes: nobility and gentry, middle class, “upper” working class and “lower” working class. The woman’s role and her duties were defined by those classes providing her no other alternatives. The barriers of these classes which included their own specific standards defined the role of a woman. It was expected of a woman to behave according to the standards of a society class she belonged to and was considered an offence to adopt the standards of another.

Ladies of the highest class, nobility and gentry who inherited land, wealth and titles, managed the home and household. When it came to meeting new people with the purpose of establishing connections in economic sense, men relied on their wives to organize parties and dinners. Women also took care of her children, ill family members and at the same time had to improve their cultural knowledge.

The middle class included everyone between the working class and lower gentry. The role of middle class women varied from family to family depended mostly on how much money they had. A single woman had an option to work as a governess if she did not marry and had no relatives to care for her.

The “upper” working class included those who had a slightly higher level of income and status and those who were employed in jobs that took skill or thought as opposed to physical labour. Women of the working class found positions in shops, as teachers or governesses.

The “lower” working class included the desperately poor, typically single women. They were expected to support themselves and the Industrial Revolution offered them factory jobs; some were maids, barmaids, sold flowers.

However, the most important role of a nineteenth-century woman in Britain was the one of a wife and mother. John Simkin notes that “The laws in Britain were based on the idea that women would get married and that their husbands would take care of them”. When a woman got married her personal property became the property of her husband, the same as her earning if a woman worked after marriage. She could not do anything without the consent of her husband.

A married woman was defined as one person with her husband according to the law. The husband was supposed to take care of his wife and she was supposed to obey him. As having no rights, a woman could not refuse forced sex by her their husband and could be beaten by him if she did.

Simkin notices that “the idea was that upper and middle class women had to stay dependent on a man: first as daughters and later as wives”. When they were married, women could not get a divorce without difficulties. As Simkin continues, according to the British law men had “the right to divorce their wives on the grounds of adultery” as opposed to women who did not have the same right if their husbands had been unfaithful. Simkin also notes that “Once divorced, the children became the man’s property and the mother could be prevented from seeing her children.”

It was believed that education of a woman did not have to be extended as that of a man. The most important thing for a woman to know was how to bring up her children and to keep house. Therefore, it was unnecessary for a woman to attend university. People even believed it was against a woman’s nature and could make her ill. A woman had to stay subordinate to her husband and the most valued virtue was obedience.


Tess of D’Urbervilles is a tragic novel of a young girl named Tess who goes through many struggles in her life and due to her innocence and youth ends up “violated by one man and forsaken by another” (Heap).

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Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield, discovers that he is the descendant of the Norman noble family of the d’Urbervilles, who came across with the Conqueror. As they very poor, the family sends Tess to the new found relatives hoping that Tess would marry a nobleman. Unfortunately for Tess, the new “relatives” have taken the name because it sounded good. Tess’s “cousin”, Alec, takes full advantage of Tess’s inferior position; he seduces and rapes her. Tess goes back to her parents` home where she gives birth to a boy who soon dies. So, Tess leaves home again to work as a milkmaid on a farm where she meets Angel Clare and they fall in love. Scared of losing him, she does not tell him about her past. However, as Angel in their wedding night confesses his previous affair, Tess, convinced that she will finally be forgiven, confesses about her past. Angel cannot bare the thought that Tess in not pure as he believes and therefore leaves Tess. Tess struggles through poverty but in the end accepts the help of Alec. When Angel finally returns, he finds Tess with Alec. Tess murders Alec and runs away with Angel; however, the police found them at Stonehenge and Tess was hanged.


Fix this. Indent the beginnings of all paragraphs. Avoid short paragraphs.Thomas Hardy was an established writer at the time he wrote Tess of d’Urbervilles. However, this was his first novel to meet “public outrage, mainly because of his portrayal of a fallen woman as being “pure””(Rowland). As Matthew Rowland notes, “Tess went through some struggles and issues” in her life that make it difficult for us to claim whether they were completely right or wrong. The question whether Tess is a heroine and victim or a fallen woman still remains a mystery.

What is heroism? Angus Wilson notes that “The opportunities for heroism are limited in this kind of world: the most people can do is sometimes not to be as weak as they’ve been at other times.” Arthur Ashe points out that “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but to serve others at whatever cost.”

As Hardy wrote his book in the Victorian Age, it becomes obvious that he was attacking that society through Tess. Tess leaves her home, as Rowland notes, “betraying her family duties in order to move up” in the world. Hardy’s Tess is not a typical heroine. She evolves “into a great person in the pubic sphere even though she is a young female” (Rowland).

Most critics see Tess as a hero. “Tess has a stature that makes her own sufferings touching and personal to the reader” (Rowland). Even the way Hardy himself writes about Tess makes us, the readers, believe he was fond of Tess. He describes her experience of the world, her feelings and gives us an intense reality.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that Tess is a fallen woman. They see Tess as a woman who wronged herself in all the rules and laws of the society and therefore should be punished.

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