Places: Tess of the D’Urbervilles

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1891

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedWessex

Wessex. Tess of the D’UrbervillesHardy’s fictionalized version of the region around Dorset, a coastal county in southern England, taking its name from the West Saxon kingdom of the sixth to tenth centuries. Hardy introduced Wessex in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). In later fiction, he layered a detailed topography modeled on actual locations with archetypal symbolism. The capital city of Wessex, Casterbridge, mentioned several times in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, is Hardy’s version of Dorchester.

Marlott

Marlott. Village in the north of Wessex on a plain called the Vale of Blackmoor (or Blakemore), modeled on Marnhull, that is Tess Durbeyfield’s original home. Even before she is forced to leave this “fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry,” mishaps and catastrophes in its environs indeed seem destined to mar her lot in life.

Trantridge

Trantridge. Town east of Marlott, based on Pentridge, where the Durbyfieldses’ supposed D’Urberville relatives live in a redbrick lodge. At the edge of this newly rich estate, Hardy places the Chase, a forest dating back to the time of the Druids that he bases on Cranbourne Chase, once a royal hunting ground. There, primeval shadows and modern corruption collude in Alec D’Urberville’s rape of Tess.

Chaseborough

Chaseborough. “Decayed market-town,” located two or three miles southeast of Trantridge, whose hard-drinking looseness drives Tess into Alec’s company.

Talbothays Dairy

Talbothays Dairy. Destination of Tess’s second journey from home, in the Great Dairies region, which Hardy alternately calls Var Vale and Froom Valley after its double-named river. Lying symbolically in almost the opposite direction from Trantridge, the fertile valley is the scene of Tess’s summer healing and rebirth after her rape. At times, Talbothays seems to be Eden after the Fall, at others a pagan pastoral idyll.

Emminster

Emminster. Little town surrounded by hills in which the religious family of Tess’s husband, Angel Clare, lives. A dominant church tower signals the contrast to Talbothays’ natural, pagan lushness.

Wellbridge

Wellbridge. Village in which Tess and Angel honeymoon in a farmhouse. There her ancestors’ looming portraits represent Tess’s entrapment by her past, and Angel leaves her after she finally reveals part of her past to him.

*Brazil

*Brazil. South American country to which Angel flees to gain new farming experience after he is disillusioned by Tess’s revelation. In addition to reflecting a trend among British agriculturists of the period, Angel’s stay in the New World serves to liberate him from England’s narrow conventions.

Flintcomb-Ash

Flintcomb-Ash. Bleak “starve-acre place” about fifteen miles southwest of Marlott where Tess works at swede-hacking during a harsh winter. Hardy explicitly contrasts Flintcomb-Ash, his fictionalized Nettlecombe-Tout, with “Talbothays Dairy, that happy green tract of land where summer had been liberal in her gifts.” At Flintcomb-Ash, Tess simultaneously endures seasonal hardship, renewed sexual predation by Alec, and mechanical oppression by a demoniac, black threshing machine.

Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill

Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill. Former home of Tess’s highborn D’Urberville ancestors, now buried in its churchyard. The migration of Tess’s family from Marlott to Kingsbere (modeled on Bere Regis) exemplifies village depopulation caused by seasonal work but also symbolizes how Tess’s heritage has a death-grip on her fate.

Sandbourne

Sandbourne. Fashionable resort modeled on Bournemouth where Angel finds Tess after returning from Brazil. Hardy uses this “city of detached mansions; a Mediterranean lounging-place on the English Channel” to emphasize his rural heroine’s sense of alienation in living as the wife of the newly rich Alec, whom she kills after she turns away Angel.

New Forest

New Forest. Setting for Tess and Angel’s delayed consummation of their marriage, contrasting with the antiquity of the Chase.

*Stonehenge

*Stonehenge. Circle of stone monoliths placed in prehistoric times on a plain about eight miles northwest of Salisbury, which Hardy calls “ancient Melchester,” in the county of Wiltshire. In this pagan setting, which Angel associates with human sacrifices to the sun, Tess rests on a stone slab before her arrest for Alec’s murder. As the police close in around her, the setting makes her not merely the law’s victim but also a sacrifice to some unjust, even cruel, universal power beyond natural phenomena.

BibliographyCasagrande, Peter J. Tess of the D’Urbervilles: Unorthodox Beauty. New York: Twayne, 1992. Focuses on Hardy’s intertwining of beauty and ugliness, of moral and aesthetic issues. Examines Victorian attitudes toward women, Tess’s “terrible beauty” and parallels between her suffering and the horse’s death. Analyzes Angel as a mix of convention and newness.Kramer, Dale, and Nancy Marck, eds. Critical Essays on Thomas Hardy: The Novels. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Discusses Hardy’s plots and rhetoric, with focus on individual novels. Good essay on Hardy’s understanding of Tess as a woman, examining Victorian debates and postromantic ideas. Treats awareness of language as a shaping force.Moore, Kevin Z. The Descent of the Imagination: Postromantic Culture in the Later Novels of Thomas Hardy. New York: New York University Press, 1990. Uses language and cultural dominance issues to discuss Tess’s quest for beauty and freedom.Vigar, Penelope. The Novels of Thomas Hardy: Illusion and Reality. London: Athlone Press, 1974. Analyzes Hardy’s techniques and style. Examines Tess of the D’Urbervilles in terms of Hardy’s notion of imaginative flights that emerge from visual effects. Analyzes the novel’s structure in terms of its contrasts–Tess’s purity and guilt, reality and perceptions.Wright, Terence. Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1987. Summarizes critical approaches to Tess of the D’Urbervilles: social, character, ideas, formal, and genetic. Gives overview of criticism on the novel. Synthesizes the best criticism, emphasizing importance of place, ambiguity of causes, human insignificance, and the inevitability of human tragedy, with Tess representing individual and larger tragedy.
Categories: Places