- “You are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?”
Parson Twingham plants the idea in John Durbeyfield’s mind that he and his family are better than their neighbors and thus begins Tess’s path toward destruction.
- “Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience.”
At the beginning of the novel, Tess is angry when the villagers attempt to make fun of her prideful father riding home in a hired cart he can’t afford. In a state of heightened emotion, she tells her friends that she will no longer talk to them if they laugh at Durbeyfield. From the beginning, Tess demonstrates great love for her family. She will defend them to the death.
- “I don’t know; but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree, most of them splendid and sound—a few blighted.”
As the youngsters ride along at night to market, Tess pessimistically explains to her younger brother Abraham that stars are indeed worlds and that they have the misfortune to live on a blighted star and that this explains all their family’s misfortunes
- “By this time every couple had been suitable matched…an inner cloud of dust rose around the prostate figures.”
Unlike Car Darch and the other crude working women, Tess keeps herself pure and apart from drinking and sexual activity. However, as Hardy would have it, despite her efforts, Tess’s fate insures that she will fail to preserve her chastity after she rides off with Alec d’Urberville into the woods.
- “I wish I had never been born--there or anywhere else. “
Tess says this to Alec d’Urberville after he has seduced her and she feels forced to return home to Marlott in disgrace. She will make this wish over and over throughout the novel until she finally gets her wish.
- “Perhaps, of all things, a lie on this thing would do the most good to me now; but I have honour enough left, little as ‘tis, not to tell that lie.”
After a month with Alec d’Urberville, Tess realizes she must leave him. Although it would serve her well financially to tell d’Urberville she is in love with him, Tess maintains her honor by leaving him and not becoming his paid mistress.
- “`Dead! dead! dead!’” he murmured. After fixedly regarding her for some moments with the same gaze of unmeasurable woe he bent lower, enclosed her in his arms, and rolled her in the sheet as in a shroud. Then lifting her from the bed with as much respect as one would show to a dead body, he carried her across the room, murmuring, ‘My poor, poor Tess, my dearest darling Tess! So sweet, so good, so true!’”
After telling him of her secret past, Tess finds Angel sleepwalking and looming over her in the dark. Pride keeps Angel from accepting and loving Tess, yet unconsciously he remains deeply in love with her and understands her reasoning for not telling him the truth. This scene foreshadows Tess’s early death.
- “Under the trees several pheasants lay about, their rich plumage dabbled with blood; some were dead, some feebly twitching a wing…Tess’s first thought was to put the still living birds out of their torture, and to this end with her own hands she broke the necks of as many as she could find… ‘Poor darlings—to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours!’ she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the birds tenderly.”
After changing her mind about asking Angel’s parents for help, Tess despairs after spending the night outdoors. In the morning she spies the dead and dying pheasants and experiences an affinity for the tortured birds. Then, despite her tortured life at Flintcomb-Ash, she optimistically rallies and realizes that compared with the birds, her life is not bad. Despite her attempts to remain optimistic, however, Hardy’s pessimistic views insure that Tess is doomed and that the birds’ wrung necks foreshadow her own death by hanging.
- “His father too was shocked to see him. So reduced was that figure from its former contours by worry…you could see the skeleton behind the man and almost the ghost behind the skeleton.”
Like his forlorn wife Tess, Angel Clare also undergoes great mental and physical hardship when he is separated from her in Brazil. The price of forgoing his immature judgmental ways comes at great personal cost.
- “Justice was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.”
The Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote tragedies. Like Aeschylus’s characters, Tess ultimately had no control over her life. Her actions were fate-driven, predestined, determined solely by the whim, or the sport, of the gods.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Top Ten Quotes