Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Image source: Google

Rating: 4.3/5
Thomas Hardy 

Paperback: 592 pages

Publisher: Penguin; Reissue edition

Publishing Date: 30 January 2003

Language: English

Genre: Classic Fiction

ISBN-10: 9780141439594

ISBN-13: 978-0141439594

ASIN: 0141439599

Cost: Rs. 197 (Paperback), Rs.49 (Kindle edition)


When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her 'cousin' Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future. With its sensitive depiction of the wronged Tess and powerful criticism of social convention, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, subtitled ‘A Pure Woman’, is one of the most moving and poetic of Hardy's novels.

Based on the three-volume first edition that shocked readers when first published in 1891, this edition includes as appendices: Hardy's Prefaces, the Landscapes of Tess, episodes originally censored from the Graphic periodical version, and a selection of the Graphic illustrations.


Tess of the d’Urbervilles presents complex pictures of both the importance of social class in nineteenth-century England and the difficulty of defining class in any simple way. Certainly the Durbeyfields are a powerful emblem of the way in which class is no longer evaluated in Victorian times as it would have been in the Middle Ages—that is, by blood alone, with no attention paid to fortune or worldly success.

The story is divided into seven phases taking place over the course of time.

  • Phase the First: The Maiden
  • Phase the Second: Maiden No More
  • Phase the Third: The Rally
  • Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
  • Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
  • Phase the Sixth: The Convert
  • Phase the Seventh: Fulfilment

Hardy’s writing often explores what he called the “ache of modernism”, and this theme is notable in this book, which, as one critic noted, portrays “the energy of traditional ways and the strength of the forces that are destroying them”. In depicting this theme Hardy uses imagery associated with hell when describing modern farm machinery, as well as suggesting the effete nature of city life as the milk sent there must be watered down because townspeople cannot stomach whole milk.

One of the recurrent themes of the novel is the way in which men can dominate women, exerting a power over them linked primarily to their maleness. Sometimes this command is purposeful, in the man’s full knowledge of his exploitation, as when Alec acknowledges how bad he is for seducing Tess for his own momentary pleasure.

Unfairness dominates the lives of Tess and her family to such an extent that it begins to seem like a general aspect of human existence in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Tess does not mean to kill Prince, but she is punished anyway, just as she is unfairly punished for her own rape by Alec. Nor is there justice waiting in heaven. Christianity teaches that there is compensation in the afterlife for unhappiness suffered in this life, but the only devout Christian encountered in the novel may be the reverend, Mr. Clare, who seems more or less content in his life anyway.

Rather surprising for a novel that seems set so solidly in rural England, the narration shifts very briefly to Brazil when Angel takes leave of Tess and heads off to establish a career in farming. Even more exotic for a Victorian English reader than America or Australia, Brazil is the country in which Robinson Crusoe made his fortune and it seems to promise a better life far from the humdrum familiar world.

Film Adaptations:

1913: The "lost" silent version, 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).

1967: Hindi film "Dulhan Ek Raat Ki" starring Nutan, Dharmendra and Rehman.

1979: Roman Polanski's film Tess with Nastassja Kinski (Tess), Leigh Lawson (Alec), and Peter Firth

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.

About the author:

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) immortalized the site of his birth—Egdon Heath, in Dorset, near Dorchester—in his writing. Delicate as a child, he was taught at home by his mother before he attended grammar school. At sixteen, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect, and for many years, architecture was his profession; in his spare time, he pursued his first and last literary love, poetry. Finally convinced that he could earn his living as an author, he retired from architecture, married, and devoted himself to writing. An extremely productive novelist, Hardy published an important book every year or two. In 1896, disturbed by the public outcry over the unconventional subjects of his two greatest novels—Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure—he announced that he was giving up fiction and afterward produced only poetry. In later years, he received many honors. He was buried in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey. It was as a poet that he wished to be remembered, but today critics regard his novels as his most memorable contribution to English literature for their psychological insight, decisive delineation of character, and profound presentation of tragedy.