A small cast of characters

Hardy's novels tend to focus on the lives of just a few individuals. In Tess, the concentration on Tess herself is significant. Only in the last phase does the viewpoint shift away from her. Yet Hardy as author never completely aligns himself with her perspective:

  • He is able to stand apart and comment on her
  • There are many crucial moments when he passes over what she might be feeling or thinking.

The patterning of protagonists

The pattern of main characters is that of the classic English romantic novel (clearly seen in Jane Austen):

  • The heroine is flanked by two contrasting male suitors
  • One is clearly the ‘wrong' man
  • The other is apparently the ‘right' one
  • Both men are attracted by different facets of Tess
  • Both fail to know her completely:
    • However, unlike the dilemmas of many heroines, Tess has no difficulty perceiving the wrong man from the right, except that the ‘right' one turns out to have great failings too, affected by the actions of the wrong man in a way Tess did not expect, though feared.
  • Both men are of a higher social class and different background to Tess:
    • Ironically, Tess's background is more aristocratic than either when a long historical view is taken
    • The wrong man merely takes advantage of this; the right man finds his judgements being warped by it.
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