A Collision of Vice and Virtue in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles: “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented” or a Fallen Angel

Nafiseh Salman Saleh, Pyeaam Abbasi


Heralded as a sympathizer with the oppressed nineteenth century femininity, Thomas Hardy adopted an aggressive stance towards the institutionized codes of the time particularly the ideal of femininity which results in presenting him as one of the promethean forerunners of “New Woman” fiction. His outspoken attitudes are tangible in his fictional prose where he valiantly tries to challenge the Victorian ideals of femininity. By creating non-conformist heroines, Hardy took the first step to move away from the constitutionalized codes of the time particularly on behalf of femininity. In effect, Hardy valiantly tries to challenge the Victorian ideological discourse of femininity through spotlighting on his fictional women’s flaws which comes into conflict with the time’s conception of a pure woman. Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), as a typical example of his fiction, is representative of Hardy’s vision towards the Victorian ideal of femininity through the “Fallen” Tess. This paper is an attempt to re-read Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles to explore the Victorian ideal conception of femininity first and, then, an attempt has been made to delineate the discrepancy between Hardy’s perceptions of a “Fallen Woman” in contrast with the Victorian’s. This paper, finally, concludes that although Hardy’s genuine commiseration towards the “Fallen Woman” shows close affinity with the radical feminist notions of the day, Tess’s sheer misery and her final tragic death in Stonehenge attest to Hardy’s substantial contribution as a Victorian male novelist to the ideologies circulating at the time.

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