Tess of the D'Urbervilles
How we cite our quotes:
"Why didn't you tell me there was danger? Why didn't you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way, and you did not help me!" (12.81)
What's interesting about Tess's complaint to her mother is what she assumes about the purpose of reading novels. After all, we're reading a novel right now. What does Hardy want us to get out of it? Are we just supposed to learn what "tricks" to "guard against"? Perhaps this passage is partly a defense against those contemporary critics who accused Tess of the D'Urbervilles of being immoral – Hardy seems to suggest that reading novels, even novels with sex parts, is important for women, because too much innocence can be dangerous, like it was for Tess.
The outskirt of the garden in which Tess found herself had been left uncultivated for some years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass which sent up mists of pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming weeds emitting offensive smells – weeds whose red and yellow and purple hues formed a polychrome as dazzling as that of cultivated flowers. She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree trunks, made blood-red stains on her skin. (19.11)
If you're thinking that this description of Tess in the garden is disturbingly provocative, you're absolutely right. She's getting pollen smeared all over her. You know what pollen is, biologically? Yeah, so did Hardy.
[…] her mouth he had seen nothing to equal on the face of the earth. To a young man with the least fire in him that little upward lift in the middle of her red top lip was distracting, infatuating, maddening. […] Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But no – they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.
Tess's beauty is sometimes described as ethereal, or other-worldly, and at times, as totally human. Which is it? She's both a goddess, and a human woman – both a kind of "every woman," and totally unique.