19th Century England was characterized by a humongous growth in the population in cities, and a movement away from old-fashioned farming in the country. That movement was a result of all the inventions of the period—new factories in the cities needed workers to make them go, and the new inventions on the farms in the country meant that fewer workers were needed on the farms.
Because all of these changes happened over such a short period of time, many people were thrown off and confused by the shifts that happened. The countryside looked the same as it had for hundreds of years, but then all of a sudden there would be a smokestack from a new factory on the horizon. The changes were destabilizing, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles shows us some of the results of those changes.
Questions About Contrasting Regions
Why are both of the major pieces of farm equipment described in the novel (the reaping machine and the threshing machine) painted red? (14.8 and 47.8)
Would Tess have been better off if she had moved to the city? Why?
The only scenes that take place in larger towns are when Tess visits the town near Trantridge with the fellow farm workers the night of her rape, when Tess and Angel visit the town near Talbothays just before their wedding, and when Tess moves in with Alec at Sandbourne at the end of the novel. What do these three scenes have in common?
Chew on This
Although Hardy frequently idealizes the country in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, he does not wholly reject the changes brought by modern progress.
The goring of the horse, Prince, by the front pole of the mail coach represents the rapid, and occasionally violent, shift of Victorian society from a rural, agricultural economy to an urban, industrial one.