The context of Hardy’s Tess of the d’urbevilles strongly influences the text. Through values in the late 18th Century in areas such as gender, religion and class, we witness how ‘Tess of the d’urbevillies’ is a true product of its times and elucidates the ideologies and morals of its context. Purity, both sexual and moral, is an important concept in Tess of the d’urbevilles. The novel was set in a Victorian society where women were judged on the basis of being a virgin or a whore, a dichotomous situation in a society which was patriarchal.
Women were often marginalised and double standards prevailed. Furthermore, women were judged and valued in terms of their appearance. “How pretty she is; and how that best frock do set her off! ” Tess is constantly complimented on and this elucidates the importance of physical appearance for a woman in a Victorian milieu. Angel goes so far as o use the term as a proper noun, substituting her name for a word which describes her appearance.
“Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my Pretty? Through constant usage of this phrase, it depicts the fact that Angel loves Tess mostly because she is beautiful and this further elucidates the values of the 18th Century context. While Hardy portrays the existence of prejudice against women in a Victorian age, his representation of Tess is a sympathetic one which challenges long held beliefs. He utilizes authorial intrusion in the story to explain or justify or comment on her actions.
He asks the responder, “Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive. ” Through the use of cumulation of positive attributes, such as ‘beautiful’, ‘feminine’ and ‘sensitive’, it shows that Hardy values women and this is juxtaposed with his depiction of fate and implicitiy of mean as ‘coarse’. He sees that women as victims of men and thus challenges the values of Victorian society.
Even from the titles of the chapters uses derogatory terms, such as ‘Maiden no more’ and ‘The Woman Pays’, shows that after Tess was raped by Alec, she is no longer classified as a maiden, and this shows that society only classified women into two groups, whores and maidens. The title ‘The Woman Pays’ also emphasises that even if Angel and Tess carry out the same acts, it is the woman who ends up in paying for the wrong doing. Despite the cultural context of a deeply religious age, scientific advances began to challenge deep seated ideologies.
The general acceptance of Darwin’s evolutionary theories in the Victorian age, led to a time of questioning the principles of Christianity, a religion which had previously dominated social and individual lives. Widespread doubt was most common among educated young men and it is through the vehicles of Angel and Tess that Hardy excoriates his own philosophy that the church exemplified a repressive morality which conflicted with the needs of the modern world. Hardy describes Mr. Clare (Angel’s father) as a “wellnigh dropped out of contemporary life”.
His attitude towards Christianity is made quite clear with the quote: “The last grotesque phase of a creed which had served mankind well in its time. ” Angel decides he cannot believe in the principles of Christianity, rejecting the church as a vocation. Quote! Hardy also undermines authority of vicars and the church by calling him a tradesman. “Having the natural feelings of a tradesman at finding that a job he should have been called in for had been unskillfully botched by his customers among themselves, he was disposed to say no.
When the Vicar Quotes such as “Three Leahs to get on Rachel”, and soon after when Angel thinks of himself as Adam, and Tess as eve, Hardy injects the irony that Tess is more like a Magdalen. When Angel sees the inside of Tess’ mouth as if it had been a snake’s, we see that in the midst of the Talbothay’s idyll and the Garden of Eden, there is a hint of evil and betrayal. Religious beliefs are also undermined by rapid conversion, then deconversion of Alec funatacism as a passing fad.