How the story of Tess from Tess of the d’Urbervilles shows the author’s intention to challenge the Victorian idea of “purity”?
Tess’s fallen state is very much linked to her loss of sexual purity, as she is ostracised by her family when she tells them what happened and becomes notorious around town as a sinner and at church, she has to endure the whispers of the townspeople. Hardy foreshadows Tess’s ostracism following her rape when he writes ‘an immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine’s personality thereafter…’. This relates to the ostracism of ‘fallen women’ in the Victorian era, and Hardy uses this sentence to highlight just what Tess losing her innocence means in terms of her place in society.
Society in the Victorian period was obsessed with social status and young women’s “purity”. During this era, a woman was expected to stay “pure” until marriage, and if she was found to have given into temptation, therefore losing her innocence, she was branded a ‘fallen woman’. When Thomas Hardy chose to subtitle his novel ‘A Pure Woman’ he was obviously trying to cause controversy in terms of the reaction from his Victorian audience. This subtitle angered critics when the novel was first published, as they thought the character of Tess was anything but pure, as she is not just a ‘fallen woman’ but she is a murderer as well.