Thomas Hardy published Tess of the D'Urbervilles in 1891
in England, the story of the seduction of a young country girl
who then goes through extended periods of hardship and suffering
on account of it. It enraged the public moral sense, for the
subtitle claimed her to be a "pure" woman -- the main theme of
the book. Yet intertwined with this are two more sub-themes that
underpin the story.
The 430-page novel begins with the discovery of the "knightly" lineage of Tess's family. It throws them on a high sense of dignity and position, and Tess is sent to make kin connections to a family with the same name, an act that becomes her undoing. The climax of the novel sees her refering to her even more historic and older nomadic, heathen maternal ancestors -- the pride of being 'royal' thus brought to a certain justice. The family of knights, once the tormenter of others, becomes a victim of the flux of time, so says the author.
Christianity, orthodox and dogmatic, forms a second backdrop. Tess becomes an unwed mother of a sick child, and tries to baptise it herself shortly before its death, reading from the old chapters of the bible, a chilling and gory account. Her husband is a rebellious youth, and doesn't believe in religous dogmas, straying away from his clergical father's vocation. Tess assimilates his ideas, that make her realise the difference between morals and religions, once two separate spheres. The climax sees her at Stonehenge -- a pagan worship place, lying on an altar.
The main theme of the novel explores subjects of a woman's purity
and virginity, and social norms and standards of judgment related
to these. Her husband has himself undergone a brief sexual
relation before marriage and is in a similar dilemma as hers, but
abandons her for the same reason -- the reason: she is not the
"same woman" that he loved. The youthful rebel, who would hate
old conventional norms, finds it too much to tolerate an 'impure'
woman -- especially when her seducer is still alive and
The reconciliation is brought about when Tess submits herself completely to his live, physically, morally and intellectually his servant; and the youg man undergoes a further opening of his mind in a distant country. Who is the moral man / woman, he asks. Moreover, heathens and pagans wouldn't subscribe to the orthodox norms on this subject.
The climax would thrill any reader -- two runaways in the countryside, two lovers who would die in each others' arms, running away from the "outside" world, for it is full of "trouble", and inside there is "content" and love.