Tess belongs to a very poor family; her father is always drunk and their living conditions in the countryside are appalling. Their only source of survival is a horse; but there’s an accident and the horse dies. The family are starving. One day, Mr. D’ Urbeyfield learns they are the descendants of a noble family, the D’ Ubervilles. A wealthy family whose surname is D’Uberville live nearby; they may be relatives. Mr. Durbeyfield and his wife decide to send Tess there as the D’Ubervilles are looking for a poultry maid. Actually, they’re not relatives at all: Mr. D’Uberville, the merchant Simon Strokes changed his surname to D’Uberville. Mrs. D’Uberville’s son, Alec, is immediately attracted by Tess’s beauty and tries to seduce her. Finally, he abuses of Tess who gets pregnant. She goes back home to her family to give birth to Alec’s child, and she names him Sorrow. However, Sorrow soon dies. The family has to move to another house and Tess finds a job in a dairy. There Tess experiences a period of happiness. She meets Angel Clare and they fall in love each other. Tess and Angel decide to get married. The day before their marriage, Tess decides to tell Angel about her past experiences. She writes a message and leaves it under the door. However, Angel doesn’t see it. They get married. That evening, Angel confesses his wife he had a love affair with an older woman in London and Tess tells Angel about his past with Alec, as she’s sure he has read her letter. But Angel is shocked and abandons her. He goes to South America where he wants to establish a farm. One day, Tess meets a preacher who reveals to be Alec. As a matter of fact, Alec has converted to Christianity thanks to Angel’s father, who is a clergyman; he begs Tess not to tempt him. However, he soon leaves religion and again asks Tess to marry him. Tess is forced to go back home in order to look after her mother, who is about to die. Her mother recovers, but suddenly her father dies. Angel has repented and he has decided to forgive his wife; he leaves Brazil to find her. But Tess’s mother tells him she has gone to a village. Angel finds Tess in a little hotel; he tells her he misses her and has forgiven her, but Tess, who has decided to be we with Alec for her survival, replies that it’s too late. As soon as Angel leaves, Tess goes upstairs and kills Alec.
Tess: she’s a beautiful and innocent young woman. Just like Hester (“The Scarlett Letter”), Tess in a victim; While Hester is victimized by the Puritan community she lives in, Tess is victimized first by her family, and then by Alec and Angel. In particular, she’s a victim of male power in a male-centered society. To put it in other words, both Hester and Tess may be considered as sacrificial goats. Moreover, they’re both “fallen women”
Alec: he’s the handsome son of a rich merchant. Actually, he’s not a D’Uberville: his father, Simon Stokes, has changed his surname after retiring. When he meets Tess he’s immediately attracted by her beauty; he tries to seduce her until he abuses of her. He’s unable to make Tess love him.
Sorrow: he’s Tess and Alec’s son and he dies soon after his birth. His name is meaningful: he represents Tess’s suffering.
Angel: He’s interested in agriculture and technological progress and studies the use of machinery in agriculture. He goes to South America to apply his methods. He represents the enthusiasm for the technological developments of those times.