Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
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Tess of the D'Urbervilles Theme of Women and Femininity

Hardy has plenty to say about this theme. Part of the tragedy of this novel is that Angel idealizes Tess, and thinks of her as a kind of "every woman," instead of as a unique, individual woman. In his mind, she represents some kind of eternal, universal Femininity. In the world of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, women have a unique relationship to nature, and to the land, that men cannot share. Women are more in touch with the outdoors, and men are more in tune with modernity and industrialization.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Which is more important to Tess: the beauty and rural traditions she inherited from her mother, or the name and aristocratic bearing she inherited from her father?
  2. Angel calls Tess "Demeter" and "Artemis" during their courtship. Why does he choose these two goddesses in particular? Why does Tess not like being called "Demeter" and "Artemis" (or any other goddess name)? Why does she insist, "call me Tess"? (20.10-11)
  3. Why do other women love Tess so much?
  4. Some critics have argued that Tess is more of a mythic "every woman" than a unique individual character. Which is it?

Chew on This

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

Angel sees Tess as a mythic, idealized woman, rather than as a unique individual, and his failure to recognize that she has a history drives them apart.

Women of Tess's acquaintance, like Izz, Marian, and Retty, adore Tess in an almost worshipful way, even when they have good cause to be jealous. Their loyal affection for Tess suggests that even to other women, Tess represents a kind of ideal femininity.

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