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Tess Durbeyfield - The novel’s protagonist. Tess is a beautiful, loyal young woman living
with her impoverished family in the village of Marlott. Tess has a keen sense of responsibility
and is committed to doing the best she can for her family, although her inexperience and lack
of wise parenting leave her extremely vulnerable. Her life is complicated when her father
discovers a link to the noble line of the d’Urbervilles, and, as a result, Tess is sent to work at
the d’Urberville mansion. Unfortunately, her ideals cannot prevent her from sliding further
and further into misfortune after she becomes pregnant by Alec d’Urberville. The terrible
irony is that Tess and her family are not really related to this branch of the d’Urbervilles at all:
Alec’s father, a merchant named Simon Stokes, simply assumed the name after he retired.
Alec d’Urberville - The handsome, amoral son of a wealthy merchant named Simon Stokes.
Alec is not really a d’Urberville—his father simply took on the name of the ancient noble
family after he built his mansion and retired. Alec is a manipulative, sinister young man who
does everything he can to seduce the inexperienced Tess when she comes to work for his
family. When he finally has his way with her, out in the woods, he subsequently tries to help
her but is unable to make her love him
Angel Clare - An intelligent young man who has decided to become a farmer to preserve his
intellectual freedom from the pressures of city life. Angel’s father and his two brothers are
respected clergymen, but Angel’s religious doubts have kept him from joining the ministry.
He meets Tess when she is a milkmaid at the Talbothays Dairy and quickly falls in love with
Themes: Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Motifs: Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop
and inform the text’s major themes.
Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or
PLOT OVERVIEW-The poor peddler John Durbeyfield is stunned to learn that he is the
descendent of an ancient noble family, the d’Urbervilles. Meanwhile, Tess, his eldest
daughter, joins the other village girls in the May Day dance, where Tess briefly exchanges
glances with a young man. Mr. Durbeyfield and his wife decide to send Tess to the
d’Urberville mansion, where they hope Mrs. d’Urberville will make Tess’s fortune. In reality,
Mrs. d’Urberville is no relation to Tess at all: her husband, the merchant Simon Stokes,
simply changed his name to d’Urberville after he retired. But Tess does not know this fact,
and when the lascivious Alec d’Urberville, Mrs. d’Urberville’s son, procures Tess a job
tending fowls on the d’Urberville estate, Tess has no choice but to accept, since she blames
herself for an accident involving the family’s horse, its only means of income.
Tess spends several months at this job, resisting Alec’s attempts to seduce her. Sorrow dies
soon after he is born, and Tess spends a miserable year at home before deciding to seek work
elsewhere. She finally accepts a job as a milkmaid at the Talbothays Dairy.
At Talbothays, Tess enjoys a period of contentment and happiness. Tess and Angel slowly fall
in love.
After their wedding, Angel and Tess both confess indiscretions: Angel tells Tess about an
affair he had with an older woman in London, and Tess tells Angel about her history with
Alec. Tess forgives Angel, but Angel cannot forgive Tess. Tess learns from her sister Liza-Lu
that her mother is near death, and Tess is forced to return home to take care of her. t last,
Angel decides to forgive his wife. He leaves Brazil, desperate to find her.
Angel leaves in a daze, and, heartbroken to the point of madness, Tess goes upstairs and stabs
her lover to death. Angel agrees to help Tess, though he cannot quite believe that she has
actually murdered Alec. Tess is arrested and sent to jail. Angel and Liza-Lu watch as a black
flag is raised over the prison, signaling Tess’s execution.