Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891)

Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) centres on the love story, or rather the love triangle, between Tess, Angel and Alec.  This, in turn, serves as a vehicle through which Hardy can criticise the prevalent sexual morality of the Victorian era, particularly its double standards and hypocrisy in its treatment of women and their virtue.  For example, men could have sexual experiences before marriage and still be considered potentially marriageable but a single woman could not have sex and be regarded as virtuous even if she was a victim of rape.  A woman could be stigmatised as having a ‘history’ and become the subject of scandal that could deter any man from considering a serious relationship with her. Victorian sexual morality is shown to produce immoral outcomes in terms of the suffering it inflicted on otherwise decent people. 

In addition, Hardy also affords himself the opportunity to criticise the English class system.  He exposes the groundlessness of the genetic claims to social superiority of the aristocracy, the exploitive nature of the rising middle class that was displacing the aristocracy as the dominant class, the narrow-minded insularity of the professional middle class and also the unjust practices of many rural employers.  Meanwhile, Hardy found considerable virtue among the rural lower classes, in particular the cottagers and agricultural labourers. In addition to his socialist-influenced critique of industrialising Britain, Hardy also expresses a profound romantic sensibility in his criticism of the impact of modernity on ancient localities, where he laments the erosion of their distinctive ways of life and customs that were, in his eyes, more in tune with nature and more fulfilling. 

Meanwhile, Hardy’s novel also explores the nature of love and the feelings associated with different dimensions of love, such as courtship and heartbreak.  Furthermore, the novel also touches upon issues usually examined in tragedies, of how the flaws in one’s character can contribute to one’s downfall. In addition, Hardy also seems to be fascinated by the nature of fate and how factors can coalesce to dramatically adversely change the direction of one’s life. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Tess of the d’Urbervilles meaning, Tess of the d’Urbervilles themes, Tess of the d’Urbervilles analysis, Tess of the d’Urbervilles notes