Methods of economic and social betterment

Marriage

Intermarriage between the classes was possible but not easy or socially acceptable. Tess is more aware of this than the naïve Angel. Hardy experienced similar problems in his own life. He was considered to have married above his class, since Emma was the sister-in-law of a vicar, who would be considered a professional middle-class person, whereas Hardy's parents were tradespeople - that is, skilled working-class. Hardy's family never really accepted Emma, and vice versa. Hardy thus had a connection to both classes, but was fully accepted by neither and felt the tension keenly.

Professional development

Learning a skilled trade or even entering a profession like architecture, the law or the church was another way for a man to improve his standing. However, this was only possible if the individual had talent, access to education and could find some money for an apprenticeship or even university. Although Hardy achieved all this when he studied to be an architect, he memorably outlines the struggle involved for the protagonist of his last novel, Jude the Obscure.

Prospects for women

For country girls, teaching was one of the only ways in which they could improve their social and economic position. For example, in the novel there are thoughts of Tess becoming a teacher, first by being a ‘pupil teacher', and then going to Training College. However, with the absence of any parental support and with pressure to contribute immediately to the family finances, this cannot become a reality for her. In contrast, Hardy's own sisters and a cousin followed this route, one eventually becoming headmistress of the Girls' School in Dorchester.

Emigration

Emigration, either to a big city or abroad (to Canada, the United States or Australia), became a more feasible prospect with the advent of reliable transport and the ‘opening up' of large agricultural opportunities to Western colonisers. Even so, Angel's emigration to Brazil was seen as an extreme and unusual option, and ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Investigate!

  • Do you think Hardy idealises country society?
    • Make a table listing examples of either idealisation or realism.
  • What is fake about Alec?
    • Is it just his surname?
  • What do you think Hardy's attitudes to progress are?
    • Find evidence to support your ideas

For further study: see: Travel, transport and communication

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