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Representation of Victorian Era in Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Analytical Essay

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If one word could come close to characterizing the entirety of the Victorian Era that would most certainly be change. In all aspects and domains, from industrialization to scientific discoveries, the period stands for development and rebirth. But greatness cannot be achieved completely and the proof stands in the inequality that the development brought with itself .This change has also made an impact on the authors of the age for which the literature that they were offering to the audience started to have a different meaning than the usual one. The literature was given the mission of advocating for the change that people desired to see in the society.

The period represented for many authors the source of inspiration for their writings perhaps because of the condition of the individual in that particular time, which depended entirely on society and its development. Some of them managed to foreground the society as well as its influence on the inhabitants of Victoria’s Empire and in the same time their thoughts and feelings or perspective towards the Age.

Thomas Hardy was one of the first novelists of the Victorian Era that put the bases of the realistic way of writing in the English literature, through his novels. His style has remained unique all throughout this time grace to the intense use of emotions that he made his characters experience and his highly pessimistic views of the society which he has not hesitated to picture through his writings.

The village in which he was born in the year of 1840, in the county of Dorset, had provided him with all the needed inspiration for his fiction and poetry, the writer itself becoming a reflection of the little village and identifying himself and his work with it with it as the characters of his novels are exploring closely the unseen sides of the village.

Similar to Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy was no stranger to the way in which the Victorian life was rewarding for few and hardly tolerated by many of its citizens. Those belonging to lower social classes were cursed to endure the low standards of living that the industrial cities were offering them as a reward for their long working hours in the factories that were meant to assure England’s prosperity. He comes to acknowledging the hardships of the city life through his architectural apprenticeship that he is taking in London that he soon leaves for the career that is being prospected after the success of his installments novel that is published in the newspaper ,A pair of blue eyes that turns into Far from the Maddening Crowd soon after. The novel is the first one through which Hardy introduces Wessex to the audience receiving praises and admiration for the agricultural setting and the fine blend of tragic, comical and pastoral elements within it.

Through the realistic way in which was able to describe life in the Victorian England, coating it with his own views on the events which was seldom leaning into criticism, Thomas Hardy manages to break through the stiff walls of the Victorian literature, bringing a new perspective towards the Age and further more towards the style of writing. His characters are never shallow, never simple, always portrayed experiencing the peak of their emotions whether the ones in cause are leaning into the tragic or comic category. The events that they are faced with are always the ones that are to be held responsible for their emotional state or for their upcoming actions that are reflections of their deep, intense feelings towards the events or the society they are placed in.

Hardy manages to give a realistic touch even to his poetry, his poems ranging from lyric to ballad and going even as far as dramatic monologue, experimenting with different styles and stanza forms. Their subjects are as various as his experiments with styles foregrounding the war such as in The Dynasts which brings an epic drama of the war with Napoleon. The poem written in blank verse portrays the vision of the writer of the universe as a place governed by unconscious forces who in Hardy’s perspective take the name of Immanent Will. The death of his wife, Emma influences Hardy in finding other subjects for his poems which now are reflecting the regret and remorse that the author is experiencing through this tragedy, the collection bearing names such as After a Journey and The Voice. This period in Thomas Hardy’s life is also considered by critics the peak of his poetic achievement, the death of his wife bringing the author to explore different feelings that he manages to portray through his poems.

Tomalin says that “the moment when Thomas Hardy became a great poet” is related to Emma’s death, going as far as mentioning that some of “finest and strangest celebrations of the dead in English poetry” are represented by the poems that eulogies his wife’s death.

Hardy’s career in fiction comes to an end once with the publication of his two later novels Tess of the d’Urbervilles in 1891 and Jude, the Obscure in 1895, both of which represent some of the writer’s finest novels. Even though different in style, both of the novels foreground different aspects of life of the same individuals belonging to the working class of England, during the Victorian Era. While the biggest difference is made through the main character of the both novels, the two , Tess and Jude belonging to different sexes and having their own personality and character influencing the unfolding of the story, there are also brought to the light through Tess’s character, society’s sexual mores that are continuously being questioned though the events that are shaping Tess’s destiny and through Jude’s character , the studious stonemason, the criticism towards the educational system and the institution of marriage judging by the relationship he has with Sue.

Both of the characters are strong reflections of the writer’s critical views towards the Victorian society, the way in which the poor are treated by the rich and how their condition proves to be the determining factor of their destinies. Citat

Some of the main taboo subjects of the Era, sex and femininity seem to find themselves being thoroughly explored by the writer, even more so throughout the unfolding of the story of Tess, the female figure being foregrounded in views of emphasizing the role of a black fate in a hostile environment. In the same time the author makes sure that the audience is in a complete understanding of the purpose of the novel, that of depicting through Tess’s destiny not only an individual destiny but rather predicting the potential fate of all women alike her living in that particular time, Tess being an exponent of the female category in the Victorian society.

What Hardy tries to project through his work is a challenge for all the morals and norms of the century, particularly in England. The challenge does not reside in the density of the written text or the complexity of the story but in the complex way in which the main character is being constructed and revealed to the audience, her feelings and attitude towards the way in which she is supposed to appear in front of others that could not be classified as belonging to the moral conduct of the age.

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When reading the last two of his novels, but more specifically Tess of the d’Urbervilles, one becomes aware of the dual role that the narrator is accomplishing being in the same time an advocate of Tess’s actions and defending her behavior, because she is his creation, but also switching to the voice of the category that he belongs to, Victorian men for whom the heroine’s decisions and behavior are the ones to be held responsible for her demise and ultimately, her death.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles was born between the pages of a newspaper and had to submit to the commercial rules of the suspense which to the author’s dismay was rising the density of the written text. In spite of its popularity, the story of Tess brought with itself many critical opinions that were labeling the heroine as immoral, savage or sly, a misfit in a world in which the woman was supposed to be an angel, completely stranger to the tormenting passions.

The development of the action stays fairly simple but the characters souls surpass the outlines of the biography, vigorously shaken by any unwelcomed event that is threatening their existence or happiness.

The beginning of the novel is in the same time the moment that leads to the unfolding of the action and is also symbolical for the period in which the action takes place, when the name that one was bearing was the deciding factor of its position in the society and of its own destiny.

Completely aware of how the Victorian world designates its winners and losers, when finding out from a priest that he might be a descendant of a noble family of lords and even though without being certain of the truthfulness of the priest’s words, Tess Durbeyfield’s father starts to further research with the purpose of finding the truth. He sends Tess to Mrs. d’Urbervilles who it is believed to be related to them in views of assuring Tess’s future with the inheritance that the family is thought to be leaving to his daughter. In reality the d’Urbrvilles are by no means related to the Durbeyfield family and their name is just as truthful as their bought position in the society. When retiring Simon Stokes , or the believed to be Mr. d’Urbervilles bought changed his last name buying their actual one along with their improved condition, climbing effortlessly on the social ladder.

The portrayal of Tess’s presumably family along with their son, Alec represents the introduction to the Victorian society and the way in which it is functioning. It depicts a two-faced world in which money represents the mean through which everything can be bought when in possession of the right amount. It is the ruler of the world, beholder of power and advantages and moreover, it has such strength that it can falsify identities and positions. Citat

Even though not related in any aspect to Tess and determined to maintain their respectable image in the society, Mrs. D’Urbervilles offers Tess the job of tending to her fowls collection. The depiction of Tess attending to animals represents the reflection of the concern that Hardy was having regarding the newly acknowledged theory of Charles Darwin according to which men were no longer superior to animals but on of their descendants. Furthermore he is expressing the fear for the consequences of this theory when depicting the fowls dwelling which had belonged to a farming family and their behavior as owners of the house which to the acceptance of the reduced status of the human being.

“The lower rooms were entirely given over to the birds, who walked about them with a proprietary air, as though the place had been built by themselves, and not by certain dusty copyholders who now lay east and west in the churchyard…The rooms wherein dozens of infants had wailed at their nursing now resounded with the tapping of nascent chicks. Distracted hens in coops occupied spots where formerly stood chairs supporting sedate agriculturalists. The chimney-corner in which the hens laid their eggs; while out of doors the plots that each succeeding householder had carefully shaped with his spade were torn by the cocks in wildest fashion,” (Hardy 54-55).

Here Tess has her first encounter with the vile things that the human soul is capable of in the shape of the family’s son, Alec. From the very beginning Alec asserts his position as a dominant over Tess’s mind and feelings and in the same time manipulating the girl into falling in his trap following the seduce and betrayal pattern. The relationship between Alec and Tess inevitably takes into account the treatment of women and the image of women in the society which prove to be a recurring theme in the Victorian literature. Alec shares the views of the society that he lives in, not having any consideration for the woman’s will or feelings and simply trying to satisfy his desires.

“considers satisfying his sexual need his privilege as a male member of the upper class. Alec –almost a stereotypical villain with a black pointy mustache – makes a game of seducing women…Rather than conceiving of women as powerful equals, Alec uses women’s sexuality to dominate them,” (Rode)

In his twisted thinking he feels entitled to take from Tess what he feels that rightfully belongs to him. In his seduction game he enjoys stimulating her sexuality but also uses his wealth and power seldom mentioning her family and their condition that she is supposed to improve in order to manipulate her into surrendering to his will.

“I have enough and more than enough to put you out of anxiety, both for yourself and your parents and sisters. I can make them all comfortable if you will only show confidence in me,” (Hardy 347)

This reduced status of the human proves to also be the very essence of Alec’s behavior towards Tess and ultimately when he assaults her in the woods showing no mercy for the poor girl in the role of a predator that has spent far too long hunting his prey.

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Representation of Victorian Era in Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
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