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Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Adam Bede: Comparative Analysis

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Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Adam Bede, both novels were written when Queen Victoria ruled the England from 1837 until her death in 1901. It is known as Victorian Age, an Age of great change. It was a time when development in science was observed as Queen Victoria was interested in the welfare of people, she worked hard to pass meaningful reforms. Her assets were her prime ministers; with them she decreased the powers of the monarchy.

During Victorian Age England quickly moved from an agriculture based society to a totally different society, a society in which factories replaced individual workshops, people moved from small town to the cities in search of work, people become prosperous. So, we can say that it was an era of prosperity.

Aboiut authors

Author of Tess of D’Urbervilles is Thomas Hardy whose novel “Tess of D’Urbervilles” was published in 1891, and it was a strong criticism of the sexual and social hypocrisy. Hardy built his reputation as a successful novelist. He wrote in a time when England also

faced a great change by making social and painful transition from an old fashioned, agricultural nation to a modern industrial one. Hardy was very much frustrated by the cotroversy caused by his work. He spent rest of his career in writing poetry.

When this novel was published it assured Hardy’s financial future. In this novel he demonstrates his sympathy for the lower class of England. He achieved fame for his compassionate, controversial portrayal of young women, who are victimized by the self-righteous rigidity of English social morality.

George Eliot is the author of novel “Adam Bede” published in 1859. Her pen name is Mary Ann Evans. She was highly respected scholar of her time. This novel is used in university studies of 19th century English literature. “Adam Bede” is George Eliot’s first novel in which she had shown her extensive knowledge of farm management and running of dairy as her personal experience.

Eliot was fluent not only in English and German but also in many other modern and ancient languages. In addition to translations, essay, criticism, she wrote short fiction, poetry and seven novels, among them “Adam Bede” is her first novel. After the publication of “Adam Bede” George Eliot revealed herself to be a female author and continued to write all her work under that name. Critics praised “Adam Bede” as: “a work of a true genius”

She was one of the fortunate writers who has been financially rewarded and praised by critics. She was admired for her psychologically well-developed insights into character and for her deep treatment of social and political issues of her life.

(Main characters in Tess of D’Urbervilles)

Tess of D’Urbervilles

Tess of novel “Tess of D’Urbervilles” who is a victim of social prejudice and male dominance in Victorian patriarchal society belongs to a poor family. She is pretty young girl, who lives in the village of Marlott. Her main concern is to support her family financially as she is a responsible person, although she faces many problems and loses her love. She works as a dairymaid at different places. Her formal name is Theresa but other character in the novel call her by different name at different places for instance in chapter XVII Angel call her “a daughter of nature” or refers to Tess by the Greek mythological names “Artemis” and “Demeter” in chapter XX.

The narrator himself describes her as more than an individual woman. Similarly in chapter XIV he says that her eyes are “neither black nor blue nor grey nor violet”. The shades she has are like “almost standard women”.

Tess’ father John Durbeyfield is a haggler, a middleman who buys vegetables and poultry from whole sellers and then sell to retailers. He has not proved to be a supportive person for his family as he is drunken, uneducated and leaves his family destitute when he dies. Joan Durdeyfield is Tess’s mother an uneducated woman. It is Joan who sends Tess to “claim kin” with the D’Urbervilles.

Eliza-Lour’se (Liza Lu) is the second child of Durdeyfield. In the end of novel Angel gets marry with her, because Tess asks him.

Abraham, Hope, and Modesty Durbeyfield are the other siblings of Tess Durbeyfield.

(Main characters in “Adam Bede”)

Hetty Sorrel, the protagonist of novel “Adam Bede” is a young farm girl. She is the niece of Mr.Poyser, a dairy farmer.

Mr. Poyser whose name is Martin Poyser is the husband of Rachel Poyser. He is the owner and manager of Prosperous Hall Farm. He is regarded as the leader of the farmers and tradesmen in the Hay slope. He has good reputation in Hay slope. Rachel Poyser is the wife of Mr. Poyser. She is talkative and meddling but efficient, generous and loyal lady. She knows well how to stand for her rights.

Adam Bede the protagonist of novel is an intelligent and young carpenter who loves Hetty Sorrel, although not sure whether she loves her or not. Dinah is a young Methodist Preacher. She is the niece of Mrs. Poyser; Dinah is a compassionate woman who is always ready to help others.The credit goes to Dinah that she makes Hetty to confess the killing of her illegitimate baby.

Captain Arthur Donnithorne is the heir to Donnithorne Chase. He attracts to Hetty Sorrel and exploits her without any intention of getting marriage with her.

Comparison between Tess and Hetty Sorrel

Economic condition:-

Tess and Hetty Sorrel both belong to poor families. Tess is the supportive person of her family, who supports her family. Horse is the only mean for the family too survive when it dies Tess says “It’s all my doings…………. All mine!” While Hetty although works at the dairy as a milkmaid but not as much supportive to Poyser’s family as Tess. Hetty is an orphan who lives with uncle in Hall Farm and is dependent on the charity of her uncle and his wife . She . As she belongs to the lower class that’s why when she gets pregnant, she becomes a helpless poor woman. Arthur belongs to an aristocratic family so for him Hetty is a mere fascination. Both Tess and Hetty are not much educated and belong to working class.

Class difference:-

In both cases class difference is also the cause of their fall. After industrial Revolution economy in the rural areas collapsed. Tess belongs to a poor family doesn’t possess high status, that is why she is not welcomed warmly at Tantridge. So this class difference leads her to impending tragedy, while Alec even after committing the sin, a sinner (Alec) becomes the preacher but the innocent Tess is deprived of being a normal member of society.

Arthur belongs to an aristocratic family so for him Hetty is a mere fascination.So, when she gets pregnant,she becomes helpless.


We find the similarity of another element between Tess and Hetty and that is their beauty. Both are beautiful.

Hardy throughout his novel describes Tess’s simple beauty; she is attractive to all men, but innocent inside. She is aware of her beauty but this awareness hardly obsesses over her. She considers her beauty as a misfortune for her because of which Alec seduces her and instead of realizing his sin he blames Tess for tempting him with her beauty. Alec does the wrong and shifts it to the victim, he demonstrates this behavior when he calls Tess a “Temptress” and a “dear witch of Babylon”.

Alec and Angle both are inspired by her beauty.First meeting of Alec with Tess tells about his mentality when he focuses on her features.

Similarly Angle is also inspired by the beauty of Tess but when he comes to know that she has lost her virginity he leaves her, although she requests him and says:

“Forgive me as you are forgiven. I forgive you Angel.”

No doubt Hetty sorrel is a beautiful protagonist of novel “Adam Bede” than Dinah but she is cold and ugly inside. Arthur and Adam Bede both attract by her outer beauty, not by her inner beauty. Hetty’s beauty is described by using metaphors of nature and of animal imagery. “She has a beauty like that of Kittens, or very small downy ducks.” Even Mrs. Irwine remarks Hetty’s beauty by saying:

“What a pity such beauty as that should be thrown away among the farmers, when it’s wanted so terribly among the good families without fortune,”

Hetty’s admiration for her own beauty is described in chapter 22, when she worships her image in the mirror, adores herself in lace and ear-rings and finally prances about the room, Hetty looks beautiful even when she cries or is angry. Adam is so blinded by Hetty’s beauty that he often misinterprets her tears and excitement as love for him. Hetty is aware of her beauty and is quite used to the thought that people like to look at her and she is also not blind to the fact that she attracts the attention of men.

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Her outer beauty also blinds Arthur such that he loses control when she cries and kisses her.

Unlike Hetty, Tess has outer and inner beauty both as she is innocent. Tess is not conscious about beauty; her main focus is to fulfill the basic needs of her siblings. On the other hand Hetty is conscious about her beauty and her focus is on grooming herself, we observe this when she gets ready for Arthur’s birthday party. She desires material possessions and she believes that her beauty can bring her a life of luxury.


The protagonist of “Tess of D’Urbervilles” is forced by her mother to go to Tantridge for good fortune and to get marry to become a great lady. There she is victimized by Alec. Although she doesn’t love him but she is seduced by him. Similarly Alec’s feelings towards Tess are not reciprocated, he doesn’t really love her. It is just lust and obsession of Alec, there was not willingness of Tess. When she returns home she blames her mother for not telling her about society. As she says:

“Why didn’t you tell me that there was danger in men folk?”

On the other hand her love for Angel is true. Her trust on Angel makes her to write a letter to him to tell that what happened between her and Alec. But unluckily the letter slips under the carpet. On her wedding night when she tells Angel about the event, he responses negatively. His educations, his love and his passion evaporates. She says to him:

“In the name of our love, forgive me.”

But he says:

“The woman I have loved is not you.”

“Another woman in your shape.”

For him she is no longer the “fresh virginal daughter of nature.” But Tess loves him no less than before.

In case of Hetty, Adam really loves her although not sure whether she loves him or not. He praises her beauty.Hetty attracts to Arthur and fell in love with him who seduces her afterward, Adam and Arthur who have good relation fight because of Hetty. Arthur is annoyed by Hetty’s expectations of marriage, “her vision was all spun by her own childish fancy.” He never offers her to marry although he is free to do so, he writes:

“I know you can never be happy except by marrying a man in your own station.”

Arthur’s rejection is a great shock for Hetty as she thinks about her dreams of becoming a “lady” are shattered after receiving Arthur’s letter. Broken hearted, she is ready to get marry with Adam and diverts her love towards Adam while we find no diversion in case of Tess.

In the end of both novels, lovers of both protagonists are guilty of their act. Angel after realizing about his misbehaviour returns and wants to get marry with Tess, but Arthur although not willing to get marry with Hetty saves her and has the sentence commuted to transportation.


Although Angel doesn’t forgive Tess for her past.

“O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another.”

But she forgives Angel for the same act. As she says:

“I have forgiven you for the same.”

The protagonist of “Adam Bede” Hetty on one hand begs Adam’s forgiveness and he forgives her. On the other hand she asks him to tell Arthur that she has forgiven him too. Her vanity has gone.

Acceptance of reality:

In “Tess of D’Urbervilles” Tess is raped and gets pregnant because of Alec. After giving birth to baby she faces the reality, although child is illegitimate. She gives him name “sorrow” and takes care of him even though people whisper and gossip about her.

When the infant falls ill, Tess realizes that her baby has not been baptized, she becomes worried that he will die without baptizement so, she decides to christen him herself. When he dies the following morning Tess asks the parson if her christening was sufficient to earn her baby a Christian burial. The parson replies that though he cannot bury the child himself, Tess may do so as a result she lays sorrow to rest in a corner of the churchyard, and makes a little cross for his grave.

Contrary to this Hetty does not face the reality, knowing the news of being pregnant, she tries to approach Arthur. It is a pregnancy that Hetty is not emotionally equipped to handle and she repeatedly denies and shows no emotion at her trial she looks “down at her hands” and throughout the trial has a “blank hard difference” standing “like a statue of dull despair.” She is unsure what she feels for the baby as she says “I seemed to share to hate it.”

After the birth of baby she leaves it in the woods, there she sees a hole under the tree, she puts the baby into it and covers with grass and when returns on listening to its cries, it dies. It is her fear of shame which forces her to leave the baby alone in the woods.

So, we can say that Tess although degraded by the society but owns her child but Hetty does not .


In Victorian Age, female honor is fairly passive and relies entirely on chastity. If women lose this chastity, they are helpless to regain their honor, while male honor is more complicated and active. Honor is tied up in their profession, land and overall identity.

In both cases (Tess and Hetty) when they lose their virginity, they are degraded and rejected by the society. But Alec and Arthur who are sinners become respectable in society. Alec even after seducing Tess becomes a preacher and is accepted by the society. However, Tess is still in the predicament of continuing to suffer for her sin as a social outcast, religious offender because of a disgrace that is much more Alec’s fault than her own.

Similarly, in the case of Hetty, it is her fear which makes her to kill her baby, fear of losing grace in society. Although both Hetty b and Arthur have transgressed society’s norms the penalty falls much more heavily on the woman than on the man. Hetty is well aware she has destroyed her life by giving birth to an illegitimate child and therefore, tries to get rid of it.

Hetty dies but Arthur carries out a form of symbolic penance by going away to fight at war, on his return home he resumes his place as head of the community, as Josephine Mc Donagh notes “Arthur Donnithorne” the squire.


In nutshell; although both Tess and Hetty are seduced Tess is innocent and has no love for Alec, while Hetty loves Arthur and dreams of becoming a “lady” by getting married to him. Being part of a patriarchal society both lose virginity and could not regain respect because of male dominance.

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Adam Bede: Comparative Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
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