Study Guide

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Sex

By Thomas Hardy


Hardy had a difficult time publishing Tess of the D'Urbervilles because there was so much sex in it. Sure, most of the sex isn't described in any kind of graphic detail, but we still know it takes place. Hardy leaves out the details of the rape, for example, but it's clear what happens from the fact that Tess goes home pregnant, if nothing else.

And Tess herself if so sexually attractive and voluptuous that early critics suggested that Hardy change it to make her seem less "succulent."

Questions About Sex

  1. Is sex and sexuality more associated with nature or with civilization in this novel?
  2. Would the novel have played out differently if Tess had been taught about sex before being sent to Trantridge?
  3. Is it possible to read this novel as a cautionary tale about the evils of refusing to educate young women about sex? Is it productive to read it in that way?
  4. Why was this novel censored when it was first published? Is it really morally corrupting or overly sexual?

Chew on This

Tess's increasing self-consciousness about her looks, to the point of self-mortification so that she will be less attractive to men, is clearly a response to leers and comments by other characters in the book, but the narrator's obsessive attention to her physicality makes the reader feel complicit, as well.