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Who thinks Tess of the D'Urbervilles was raped?

(73 Posts)
KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 12:19:35

Who thinks Tess of the D'Urbervilles was raped?( In the book by Thomas Hardy 1892)

I started a thread in Feminism about this but I wondered if perhaps some book lovers might not have looked in Feminism recently. This book is so loved and so important.

I also posted in Radio but no one has answered.

Academics discussing this book in the programme In Our Time last Thursday
said, 'We can't know.'

I feel that one can indeed know.... yes, she was.
So do most people as far as I can see.
about 32:00 minutes in.

RaeSkywalker Sun 08-May-16 12:21:13

I think she was, definitely.

Muskey Sun 08-May-16 12:24:36

By modern standards yes she was raped. However by nineteenth century standards probably not.

EDisFunny Sun 08-May-16 12:27:09

When we did it in school we discussed it as rape and this was ages and ages ago. I can't imagine a modern reader thinking it was anything but rape.

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 12:39:27

Thanks, for your answers. That is why the academics in the discussion were shocking.

It also seems clear that Hardy wants us to know Tess was raped, even though people would still most likely have blamed her in those days. He was way ahead of his time....ahead of some 2016 academics too it seems.

For those who did not hear the radio discussion, it was not the case that they were saying, In modern terms yes. According to the mores of the time, no

We can't know was the line of argument.

allegretto Sun 08-May-16 12:43:38

What Muskey said. I think in the context it was also possible that she trusted him (thinking he was family) and it was quite common to have sex before marriage if you trusted the man not to leave you high and dry if you got pregnant. So she might just have thought it was what girls do.

beeny Sun 08-May-16 12:47:51

yes i think she was raped

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 13:01:37


In 11 you see that at the point where she was raped she had been trying to get away from Alec Durberville just before and was desperately trying to leave. He told her not to because they were lost (because he had taken them a long way off the path on purpose). While he went to see where they were, she fell asleep in a deeply exhausted state having been up since dawn. When he came back, in the pitch dark, she was deeply asleep on a pile of leaves with a coat over her.

It was her mother, not Tess, who had guessed what might happen and thought stupidly he would marry her. See chapter 12. Tess had had no idea.

emotionsecho Sun 08-May-16 13:02:06

Definitely raped.

I won't admit to how long ago I studied it at school but even in those less enlightened times of my school days it was taught unequivocally as rape.

Celticlassie Sun 08-May-16 13:06:00

She was definitely raped. I can't believe anyone would think otherwise.

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 13:08:17

It is unbelievable that the academic answered that question the way she did.

I put a transcript of that section of the programme over in Feminism.

Muskey Sun 08-May-16 13:11:55

With Thomas Hardy you have to be careful what he is actually raising awareness to as it's not always straight forward. For eg the outcome of the story was based on a hanging he witnessed as a child which obviously affected him a lot but by the time of writing female executions were on the wane although still going ahead eg Ruth Ellis. In Tess I think Hardy is actually looking at the wider picture of the perceived dual nature of women and the double standards that were employed by men. Tess was poor and had little or no protection. She would have been considered as property. She would not be considered naive or innocent and almost certainly she would have been blamed. Had she been from a more wealthier family she would have been protected by her father and when married she would be expected to bear children and run her house. If her husband chose to entertain himself with loose women that was his business and she would be expected to put up with it.

Hardy in Tess and other books like The Mayor of Casterbridge is actually trying to underline the inequalities present in society whether it's the difference between the way men and women are treated or how wealthy people and poorer people are treated.

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 13:52:45

That's interesting Musky
I was not talking about hanging as an issue per se though.

But about Hardy's physical reaction to the sight of a hanged girl when he was aged sixteen when he had been aroused by her. This brought up the idea that men are aroused by women, even when the woman does not intend it (in this case she was actually dead), and then men may the blame woman for causing that reaction in them.

In the book Tess's mother sends her off as bait. probably guessing what will happen but hoping it will lead to marriage. Hardy, however makes it clear that Tess herself had not realised. (Chapter 12)

She had not known that her body would lead to her rape and the sense that she had enticed him.

Tess is about her taking the blame for mens' weaknesses.

allegretto Sun 08-May-16 14:02:05

I haven't read it for years so it looks like I remembered it wrong! If I remember correctly her friends knew what Alec (Alex?) was like but she was completely ingenuous.

MarianneSolong Sun 08-May-16 14:07:38

I think the subtitle of the novel is 'a pure woman'. As opposed to Tess being a 'fallen woman.'

I think Hardy's concern was more with the limited opportunities available to women. You only had a degree of freedom of choice - re marriage etc - if you had money and a family who protected you. Tess has neither.

It wasn't possible to write explicitly about sex, but Tess is clearly presented as a vulnerable person who is outmaneouvred by an unscrupulous man

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 14:54:43

It wasn't possible to write explicitly about sex, but Tess is clearly presented as a vulnerable person who is outmaneouvred by an unscrupulous man

Yes, that is true.
In light of the recent radio programme though, the question is Was Tess raped?

DId she consent to the act that Hardy leads us to think took place at the end of Chapter 11? He leaves little room for doubt that she never did. She had just been trying to get away but had been stopped by Alec because he told her they were lost, so he would first check where they were..

Then we are told Tess fell asleep while he was gone. The next image Hardy gives us is of Alec returning, Tess being still asleep and Alec bending down in the dark and his cheek touching hers. That is the closing image. Hardy then brings up the point that her ancestors may have raped peasant girls even more violently on their way back from battles (i.e even if Tess's rape had not the Kenneth Clark version of rape, Hardy is telling us she had been raped).

He says her guardian angel left her. In the next chapter Alec admits he wronged her. She accuses her mother of not having warned her. She has a baby.

MarianneSolong Sun 08-May-16 16:58:52

There are pages from a book called 'Thomas Hardy and the Law: Legal Presences in Hardy's Life and Fiction.' This argues that in an earlier edition of Tess, Hardy wrote the relevant scene in a way that would signal that his heroine was raped. He later made changes that would suggest the act was more akin to seduction - perhaps because he was interested in saying something more complicated about women's sexuality i.e. that a woman might consent to acts which were damaging to her. Also that a woman might consent have sex with somebody outside wedlock (i.e not be simplay a 'victim') and nevertheless be a good 'pure' person.

If you Google the title you should be able to find the relevant pages.

Muskey Sun 08-May-16 17:32:05

Thanks marianne I will look at that

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 18:20:35

Thanks Marianne that sounds interesting.

He later made changes that would suggest the act was more akin to seduction - perhaps because he was interested in saying something more complicated about women's sexuality i.e. that a woman might consent to acts which were damaging to her. Also that a woman might consent have sex with somebody outside wedlock (i.e not be simplay a 'victim') and nevertheless be a good 'pure' person.

I have not read the 1891 Graphic novel which Hardy replaced his original with in order for the publication to go ahead, But I think from what other posters have said there was a false marriage she was tricked into and a drugging.

In the second one of 1892 reissued by Hardy, which was the true original, he shows how she went along with Alec only to a certain extent but did not like him. She found herself tricked into being alone in the woods with him a long way from home, and had tried to get away. He stopped her saying he would help her get back but needed to check where they were. While he went off to check she fell asleep.

When she was asleep, he returned, and without her consent, a sexual act that produced a baby took place which Hardy compared to a less violent version of rape than her ancestors wearing armour and returning from a war might have committed on peasant girls. Hardy makes it quite clear this was rape, with some subtlety and irony.

There was no suggestion that she consented to this act as someone choosing to have sex with someone out of wedlock. Furthermore, when Alec afterwards offered to have her as his mistress Tess refused.

BringMeTea Sun 08-May-16 22:09:19

That was definitely my interpretation when I read it aged 15.

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 22:13:08

I have just read the scene again BringMeTea and there is no doubt.
I am going to read the whole book again now!

WestleyAndButtockUp Sun 08-May-16 22:16:01

Can you re-explain the bit about Hardy being aroused by a hanged woman? I don't understand

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Sun 08-May-16 22:34:32

When I studied the book for A level 25 years ago it was presented unequivocally as a rape. And we were taught by a Jesuit priest.
He did, however, used to spend a lot of time telling the mixed class about boys' urges that they had to fight, and girls' tempting ways hmm.

ShotgunNotDoingThePans Sun 08-May-16 22:35:20

But I still think it was rape.

KindDogsTail Sun 08-May-16 22:41:15

In the radio programme last Thursday, In Our Time, Tess of the D'Urbervilles (still on Iplayer)
the listeners were told Thomas Hardy's background and the influences this may have had on his writing,

Apparently, when he was an old man of about 70, in some sort of recollection or memoir, he wrote that when he was sixteen he had witnessed the hanging of a beautiful young woman and then seen her hanging there. He had been sexually aroused by the sight. He would presumably have been very upset that he felt this.
He must have wondered too what had happened that this beautiful young girl had been hanged.

This was the inspiration for Tess, who was hanged for murder.

I think Melvyn Bragg said that the book was written as exculpation for his reaction to this poor hanged woman when he was sixteen.

My view, after hearing about this was that his feeling that way about a dead woman might have exemplified for him how men can be aroused by a woman who has not actually done anything intentional on her own part to cause that arousal - in this case she was even dead.

But more often men blame the woman for their own feelings of lust. Tess ended up being hanged because of two men's feelings for her. Yet she was the pure one. In those days she would have been blamed for what happened to her, Hardy was saying she was not the guilty one.

Hardy evidently was very honest with himself in admitting his reaction to the hanged woman. I don't think most people would be able to face that thought if they had it.

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