The Victorian Woman: Tess

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‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. A rush of thoughts about my A-Level experience come flooding back. Terrifying how one book can captivate emotions from your entire life huh?

Last week, I decided to reread possibly the most controversial novel ever written. Tess of the D’Urbervilles explores sex, love and passion, in a constricted manner.

This post is more of a rant however, I wanted to focus it on helping anyone looking to write  about Tess, perhaps as part of their literary understanding, or simply to help gain an alternative perspective on the novel. After finding out that the novel was continually dismissed by publishers, I was pretty damn angry, not at anyone in particular,but at the fact that a book about realism and women couldn’t be published without numerous amendments….. and so here is an essay, and a rant about the Victorian Women

From the long, and predominately controversial, journey Hardy had to endeavour to publication, it leaves us with numerous ideas about the society he lived in: particularly how Victorian society treated women. It is evident that the publications disallowed the more racy versions of Tess due to its explicit nature: but not in the way we might first assume. At a first glance one would assume that it was simply because ‘the book was about sex’, to put it matter-of-fact, but it wasn’t the men, or Alec’s rape, or even Tess’s sexual imprisonment which were the biggest problem: it was having a strong-willed women, who was willing to challenge the social norms in order to change her families life. Of course, Tess is not able to do this, and ends up marrying into a higher class, not out of love, but desperation for survival. But, these strong willed notions are still apparent: Tess leaves Alec after he rapes her, and raises his baby alone and without an official baptism. These were considered outrageous acts of the time, but personally, what I find even more outrageous is that these were all seen to have been Tess’s fault. As a helpless, socially inferior women, Tess was forced into these acts, and in some respects it is only her will and determination that allows her to survive. Yet publishers were adamant that such stories cannot be issued into the public eye: the realism of a struggling women was too much controversy for them to handle. 

Have you ever read Tess of the D’Urbervilles? It would be lovely to get some thoughts on Tess, and Victorian Society!

Sophia x


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