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Tess of the dUrbervilles

This research examines the way in which Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles functions as a social commentary on 19th-century British society. The research will set forth the social context in which the novel is set and then discuss how it deals with such issues as the role of gender in determining the quality of human experience, economic realities, religious consciousness, and the sense of British national identity, with a view toward identifying meanings latent in the portrayal of social customs and practices in the text.

The burden of circumstance has a profound effect on the emotional makeup of the characters in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and the text combines social criticism with a description of the emotional impact of events and circumstances on characters. Indeed, it is partly in reaction to social circumstance that the psychology of characters is resolved. That a critique of the power of social circumstance is the main impetus behind the novel may be discerned from the fact of Hardy's prefaces to the text. In the 1891 preface to the first edition (xxvii) he cautions "any too genteel reader"--i.e., the typical member of the middle-class British public--that the book may reveal some disturbing truths that should not be ignored. In an 1892 preface, Hardy rearticulates an intent to upset received wisdom when he cites his "plan of laying down a story on the lines of tacit opinion, instead of making it to square with the merely vocal formulae of society" (xxix). His reference is undoubtedly to the subject and image of the Fallen Woman, but more than this, of such a woman configured as a complex individual worthy of sympathy. Too-genteel readers, he explains, were scandalized by what they apparently felt were subject matter and treatment of social (= sexual) realities that Everybody Knows but that Everybody either conceals or pretends not to know for the sake of appearances--unwed pregnancy, limited options among the lower c...

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Tess of the dUrbervilles. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:54, August 04, 2020, from