Tess is a carefully structured novel in many aspects, despite its apparently single plot and straightforward timeline. Hardy does not use any complicated framework structures, such as occurs in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, nor multiple subplots as in Dickens. Yet the reader still gains the impression of a carefully layered and complex novel form.

A number of devices help create a sense of a layered structure which brings depth and complexity to the book.

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