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Free Study Guide-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy-Free Book Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

As a novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is organized into seven phases, each reflecting a period of Tess's life: The first phase, "The Maiden," begins with Tess as an innocent girl of sixteen, who is totally unaware of the dangers of the world. This phase covers four months of her life, in Marlott and in Trantridge; at the end of the phase, she is no longer a maiden, for Alec has stolen her innocence and purity.

The second phase, "Maiden No More," has Tess returning to her parents' home from Trantridge, filled with guilt and self-hatred. The birth and death of her son is part of this section.

In the third phase, "The Rally," Tess matures into a beautiful woman who strikes out on her own. She becomes a milkmaid at Talbothay's Dairy, and Angel enters her life.


The fourth phase, "The Consequence," shows Angel's courtship of Tess and her vain efforts to reveal the truth about her past to him. It also contains their marriage ceremony and her fatal wedding night confession.

In the fifth phase, "The Woman Pays," Tess is denied forgiveness and happiness by her husband and returns home to Marlott to live.

The sixth phase, "The Convert," has a helpless Tess striving against unbeatable odds. She is caught between her responsibility towards her family and her hatred for Alec. Finally, she is forced to accept Alec's proposal for help in order to save herself and her family.

In the seventh and final phase, "Fulfillment," Tess takes her revenge on Alec. After his murder, she spends several blissful days as the wife of Angel Clare, who loves, protects, and forgives her. Unfortunately, the happiness cannot continue, for she is arrested and executed for Alec's murder.

Obviously, the entire plot revolves around the story of Tess and her struggle to find happiness. From early in the book, she is caught in the eternal triangle. She is seduced by one man, marries the one she loves, is rejected by him on account of her past, and when compelled to renew her relationship with the first, kills him after her husband returns. Consequently she is hanged for the crime. The entire plot tells Tess's tragic story.

With vivid and imaginative style, Hardy has constructed a very tight plot that keeps the reader interested in Tess's plight. Certain scenes, such as the baptism of Sorrow and the meeting of Tess and Angel at Herons Lodge, are built up with outstanding theatrical skill. Throughout the book, the tempo of the tale beats ever forward even as Hardy gives his excellent descriptions and accurate details. He is a masterful storyteller.

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