Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles tells the shocking tale of an uneducated peasant girl whose inexperience leads to her rape by the son of a local nobleman. Tess gives birth to a child who dies and ends up murdering her rapist. She is then executed for the crime. First in serialization and then in publication as a book in 1891, the novel scandalized 19th-century readers. It continued to generate controversy even after author Thomas Hardy was forced to remove some of the more provocative scenes.

Today Tess of the d'Urbervilles is recognized as a moving and poetic depiction of a girl trapped by circumstance and class. Its criticism of social conventions and its universal themes of destiny and betrayal have made it one of Hardy's best-loved and most enduring novels.

1. Hardy's inspiration for Tess came from an execution he witnessed as a teenager.

In 1856 a woman named Martha Brown was tried, convicted, and hung for the murder of her abusive husband. Hardy, only 16 at the time, witnessed the execution. Though the author never said whether the hanging influenced his depiction of Tess and her plight, he was known for using events from his past in his writing. Scholars assume that the hanging provided inspiration for the book.

2. Tess of the d'Urbervilles was originally turned down for publication by several magazines for its racy content.

Hardy began writing Tess of the d'Urbervilles in 1888, after his publisher Tillotson & Son offered him 1,000 guineas for a new novel. When he submitted the tale, though, the publisher was appalled by its content and negated the contract. Hardy then submitted the story to Murray's Magazine and Macmillan's Magazine, both of which turned it down. The editor of Macmillan's objected particularly to Hardy's use of the word succulent, saying, "Perhaps I might say that the general impression left on me by reading your story ... is one of rather too much succulence."

3. Tess of the d'Urbervilles was adapted for the stage many times, once by Hardy himself.

Hardy adapted his novel for the stage in 1894–95, but the first adaptation performed was written by actor and playwright Lorimer Stoddard and performed in New York in 1897. Nothing was done with Hardy's version for 30 years; then it was resurrected and performed in 1924 in Dorchester and in London. Apparently the reaction was not especially enthusiastic, but Hardy, in his 80s by then, was entranced by the actress playing Tess, Gertrude Bugler. Scholars have suggested that Bugler's mother, a milkmaid named Augusta Way, might have been the original inspiration for the character of Tess.

4. Tess of the d'Urbervilles was censored by its original publisher.

The Graphic magazine finally accepted Tess of the d'Urbervilles for serialization, but it cut several scenes. Characters were not shown traveling on Sunday, Angel Clare pushed Tess over a stream in a wheelbarrow instead of carrying her, the scene of Tess's rape was replaced with a mock marriage, and Hardy had to delete the scenes of Tess's baby's baptism and burial. The story was published as a book in three volumes in 1891. That version, however, still did not include the scene of the wild dance at Chaseborough, after which Alec rapes Tess.

5. Hardy once dug up a graveyard.

Before he became a writer, Hardy worked at an architecture firm. The firm was hired to dig up and move multiple bodies from a graveyard at St. Pancras Church in London to make room for a railroad expansion. Hardy, as the youngest member of the company, was given the unsavory job. The headstones remained behind, and Hardy placed them in concentric circles around an ash tree in the churchyard. The tree, and many of the headstones, are still there, and the tree is now known as "Hardy's Tree."

6. Many readers found the subtitle, A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, offensive.

When Tess of the d'Urbervilles was published in book form, Hardy added the subtitle A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Readers who viewed Tess as an immoral woman were offended by the subtitle, particularly the idea that Tess, who bore a child out of wedlock, was "pure." Critics posit that Hardy was disturbed by the changes he had to make in the story when it was serialized and felt the book version was more faithful to his vision. As for the word pure, Hardy claimed about Tess:

I still maintain that her innate purity remained intact to the very last; though I frankly own that a certain outward purity left her on her last fall. I regarded her then as being in the hands of circumstances, not morally responsible, a mere corpse drifting with the current to her end.

7. Before she was horrifically murdered, the wife of the director of Tess urged him to make the film.

In 1979 Roman Polanski directed Tess, a film version of Tess of the d'Urbervilles . Polanski's actress wife, Sharon Tate, had given him the novel a decade earlier; she wanted them to make a film of the book together. Less than a month after this, Tate was murdered by Charles Manson's notorious "family," a group under Manson's sway. Manson directed the group to break into Tate's house, where they killed the pregnant Tate and four other people. When Polanski finally finished the film, he dedicated it "for Sharon."

8. The term cliffhanger probably comes from one of Hardy's novels.

Hardy's novel A Pair of Blue Eyes was serialized in 1872–73. In one scene from the story, a character slips and falls over a precipice. He hangs from the cliff as another character, Elfride, strips off her underclothing and weaves a rope from them, with which she saves him. Now, the term cliffhanger refers to a point in a narrative that leaves the reader in suspense about what will happen next.

9. Hardy's first novel was rejected by publishers and eventually disappeared.

In 1867 Hardy began writing a novel that he titled The Poor Man and the Lady. He sent the finished manuscript to Macmillan, and the publisher wrote back that "it has what seems to me fatal drawbacks to its success." The book had a strong vein of socialism, and other editors warned that its satire of English country life and religion might injure Hardy's future life as a writer. He put the novel away, and it somehow disappeared. No one is quite sure what happened to it.

10. Hardy was buried without his heart.

Hardy is buried in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey, along with dozens of other English writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His heart, however, was buried in Dorset, at Stinsford churchyard, next to his first wife, Emma. According to a story, when the doctor removed Hardy's heart for burial, he was called away from the table, and a cat ate part of it. The cat, too, according to this legend, was buried at Stinsford.

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