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Teaching Guide

Teaching Tess of the D'Urbervilles

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Tess of the D'Urbervilles is one of the most challenging trips to the English countryside you'll ever encounter. We can help make the journey a little easier.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity mapping the countryside.
  • a lesson tackling the novel's difficult, defining rape scene.
  • pop culture connections from Monty Python to Simon & Garfunkel to a not-so-masterpiece theater adaptation.

When the going gets rough, Shmoop of the D'Urbervilles gets the discussion going.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: Hardy is known as a pastoral writer—hence, all those descriptions of cows and fields. We might be tempted to skip all those scenes (bo-ring), but…please don't. All those descriptions are actually closely tied to the plot and the characters (especially Tess). To appreciate those scenes and the skill behind them, you could always go the typical route and discuss them with the class. But we think there's a better (read: more engaging) way to get to the core Hardy's style.

Since the narrator in Tess is such an intense observer, what better way to understand the book than to step into the shoes of the narrator and become that observer. And then, of course, write about it.

Students will use Hardy's writing as a loose model on which to base their own autobiographical narrative sketches. After they're done, the class can do some peer editing and chat about the link between artistic intention and style (thus killing two objectives with one stone!). And of course, what would be the purpose of peer editing without a cycle of revisions?

In all, the lesson should take at least two class periods to complete. (With all this work, students have to gain some appreciation for the blood, sweat, and tears behind Hardy's writing, right?)

Materials Needed: Just the book. Sweet.

Step 1: We know having a general discussion about Hardy's writing is kind of typical, but before the students can be let loose on their creative ventures, they're going to need to know what Hardy's writing is all about. That means they have to read his novel over and over again—but it also means that they'll need to analyze at least one key passage from the novel.

Pick one of the major descriptive passages from the novel and lead a brief discussion on it. We suggest the cow passages (i.e., when Tess leaves home to go to the dairy farm), mostly because, well, look at all the things you could talk about with those cows!

Don't forget that the point of this exercise is to have the students get really familiar with Hardy's writing aesthetic. Here are some details to notice and bring up about his style:

Step 2: Time to let the students loose. All they need to do is observe. This can be done as homework, or you can all enjoy a day outdoors while also working on the assignment (who doesn't love a little escape from the classroom?). Have the students take notes on what they see. And get specific!

Then they write. We suggest giving them a few guidelines, having them mimic the narrator's syntax, tone, point of view, and figurative language. But make sure they keep their eye on the prize: becoming an observant narrator.

Step 3: Once the students have written their passages, split the class into small groups so they can edit and discuss each other's work. Make sure you keep them on track with some of the following questions:

  • What aspects of the other student's passage remind you of Hardy's writing?
  • Does this student have a signature writing style of their own that seeps through?
  • What kinds of things does this person observe? Did they miss anything big that Hardy might have mentioned? Where could they be more descriptive? Where could they be more Hardy-like?

Step 4: Students will now take all that (hopefully valuable) feedback and revise their work before they turn it into you. The end!

Instructions for Your Students

Yeah, we know. Tess is long and full of unending sentences about cows, woods, and fields. You might even get to the point where you're asking, "um, where's the plot?"

But stick with us on this. We here at Shmoop think there's a lot to be gained from understanding Hardy's style. And what better way to do that than by mimicking it? That's right: What would it feel like to observe your world the way Hardy (and his narrator) does? And then write like Hardy, long descriptions and all?

Step 1: Basics first. Before you actually get to flex your auteur muscles, it might help to take a closer look at one of Hardy's descriptive passages. How about the part with the cows (you know the one) mostly because, well, look at all the things you could talk about with those cows!

Don't forget that you're keeping an eye on how Hardy writes: how does he get you to picture things in your head? It might be time to break out your list of literary terms (long or short).

Step 2: Now it's time to observe your surroundings. Basically that means you get to chill out and take in everything that's going on around you. If you're lucky (and don't live in the tundra—a.k.a. northern New England), your teacher might even take you outside. In any case, go ahead and tap into that inner crunchy spirit. Or should we say your distant, English, pasture-loving self?

Step 3: Okay, it's finally go time. Also known as writing time. And this is one of those rare times when it's good to be a copycat—go ahead and rip off Hardy's style. Try to mimic the narrator's syntax, tone, point of view, and figurative language. But keep your eye on the prize: becoming an observant narrator.

Step 4: You're not done yet! It's writer's workshop time. Organize yourselves into small groups and edit each other's work. And by edit we mean go to town. Question what you're reading; give suggestions. In general, be curious about their artistic intentions! Here are some questions to guide you:

  • What aspects of the other student's passage remind you of Hardy's writing?
  • Does your group-mate have a signature writing style of their own that seeps through?
  • What kinds of things does this person observe? Did they miss anything big that Hardy might have mentioned? Where could they be more descriptive? Where could they be more Hardy-like?

Step 5: Everything can always stand for a little revision. Take all that feedback and turn it into your version of gold. Feeling like a literary star yet?

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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