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Quotes

Quote #1

'Well, my big Beauty, what can I do for you?' said he, coming forward. (5.30)

Point of interest here – this is the first thing Alec D'Urberville ever says to Tess. Why does he call her "my big Beauty"? Why not just, "my Beauty"? Aren't Victorian heroines supposed to be all tiny and petite and corseted? Well, Tess is repeatedly described as a blooming, country girl – she's also described as very "womanly" for her age (see the next quote for an example). We're going to give you one guess what that means.

Quote #2

She had an attribute which amounted to a disadvantage just now; and it was this that caused Alec D'Urberville's eyes to rivet themselves upon her. It was a luxuriance of aspect, a fullness of growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was. She had inherited the feature from her mother without the quality it denoted. It had troubled her mind occasionally, till her companions had said that it was a fault which time would cure. (5.63)

Yes, Alec's eyes are "rivet[ing] themselves upon" Tess because – you guessed it – she has big breasts. This is just one passage that contemporary critics pointed to when they complained that Hardy included too much detail about Tess's sexiness. Why, they asked, did Hardy need to include this description of Tess's chest? Because Tess's "fullness of growth" "denote[s]" her femininity – her curvaceousness is supposed to make her seem like some kind of primitive nature goddess, which is probably why Hardy connects Tess's "fullness" to her mother – he wants to tie her to a matrilineal history that reaches back to pagan times when femininity and motherhood were considered sacred, and were worshipped in the form of nature goddesses.

Quote #3

The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. (11.60)

The scene of Tess's rape by Alec is deliberately ambiguous. Hardy never once uses the word "rape" to describe it, although that's certainly what it was by today's definitions. The sense of ambiguity is set up from the moment that Alec finds Tess sleeping under the tree – Hardy uses words like "obscure" and "nebulous" to indicate that what's about to happen is hard to interpret. Impossible, in fact, if you take into account the "blackness" that surrounds them. And because the actual act of the rape is left out (or "elided" to use the literary critical expression), we're left grasping at straws. There's "absolutely nothing" to interpret – but even that, as you can see from these lines, can mean something.

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