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Themes

Tess of the D'Urbervilles asks the reader to think about the fact that marriage is a social convention: it's a practice that was invented by people. It's something that we learn from society, but not an idea that we're born with. So what's the difference between social marriage, and natural marriage? What are the responsibilities and obligations of each kind of marriage? And who is Tess's real, "natural" husband?

Questions About Marriage

  1. Who is Tess's real husband, and why is this an important question in this novel?
  2. Why does Tess want Angel to marry 'Liza-Lu after she dies? What kind of marriage would that represent?
  3. How much does Hardy condemn Angel for leaving Tess right after their marriage? Look for specific passages to back up your answer.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although Hardy frequently privileges the laws of nature over the laws of society, it is clear that Alec's claim that Tess is his "natural wife" should be rejected out of hand.

Despite having two "husbands" at different points in the novel, Tess is never actually married to either of them in the fullest sense of marriage that Hardy proposes.

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