Notes on Characters from Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Major Characters

John Durbeyfield: A shiftless man who takes drinking more seriously than work, finds out that he’s the only descendent of the ancient and noble d’Urberville family and thinks it’s a way to get money so that he doesn’t have to work to provide for his family. He takes great pride in his name, although it never brings him anything of value.

Tess Durbeyfield (d’Urberville): Daughter of John and Joan Durbeyfield, she is the mother-figure for her parents and siblings because she is conscientious and hard-working. The family sends her to ask the d’Urberville family in Tantridge for money, and she is seduced by Alec d’Urberville. Her life is one long series of near-misses after that. She ends up murdering d’Urberville after he takes her away from Angel Clare, her true love, and she is executed for it.

Angel Clare: Son of a minister, he is thoughtful and open-minded, or so he thinks. He falls in love with Tess only to abandon her days after they are married because he learns that she was seduced. Years pass and he finally realizes that he was wrong to treat her that way, but when he returns to find her, she is married to Alec d’Urberville, the man who seduced her. He and Tess reconcile after she murders d’Urberville and they are together until she is executed, at which point he marries her younger sister.

Joan Durbeyfield: John Durbeyfield’s wife and Tess’s mother, Joan uses her daughter as a way to get money and encourages her daughter to find a wealthy husband. She is disappointed in Tess when her daughter refuses to marry Alec d’Urberville and when she tells Angel Clare about her past. Joan seldom wants what’s best for Tess and more often wants what’s best for herself.

Alec d’Urberville: Son of a merchant who took the name, d’Urberville, so that no one would know that their wealthy came from industry. Alec is a womanizer who takes advantage of Tess and then reappears later in her life trying to marry her although she does not care for him at all. He eventually wears her down with his persistence and convinces her to marry him by giving her mother and siblings a place to live when her father dies. Tess stabs him with a carving knife when Angel Clare comes back for her because she feels that Alec has lied to her and betrayed her again because he said that Angel would never come back for her or want her again. He is the catalyst for all the negative things that happen to Tess.

Minor Characters

Abraham Durbeyfield: Tess’s younger brother who is with her when she kills the family horse.

Mrs. d’Urberville: Blind, elderly mother of Alec d’Urberville who never knows that Tess is supposed to be related to her; she thinks Tess is only a servant.

The Queen of Spades: Working class girl who picks a fight with Tess on the way home from a dance because Tess is now Alec d’Urberville’s favorite. She also works at the farm in Flintcomb Ash where Tess is forced to work when she runs out of money after Angel has abandoned her.

Mr. Clare: Angel Clare’s father who is a minister in Emminister. He is the man whose words converted Alec d’Urberville, if only for a short time. Mr. Clare is very disturbed by the fact that Angel does not hold the same religious beliefs he was raised with, and he refuses to send his son to college since Angel is not going into the ministry.

Liza Lu: Tess’s younger sister who is very much like Tess. Tess considers Liza Lu a purer version of herself and asks Angel Clare to marry Liza Lu after Tess is executed.

Sorrow: The child Tess bore and buried after she was seduced by Alec d’Urberville. Tess cared for the child although it was shameful to her as well.

Marian: Dairymaid who is in love with Angel Clare and takes up drinking heavily when he leaves with Tess. She and Tess work together at Flintcomb Ash after Angel has gone to Brazil. She and Izz send Angel an anonymous letter warning him that Tess is in danger when they realize that Alec is after her.

Izz Rheutt: Dairymaid who is in love with Angel Clare. He asks her to go to Brazil with him after he’s married Tess, and she is going to until she tells him that Tess loves him so much. Then he decides to go alone. She works with Marian and Tess at Flintcomb Ash. She and Marian send Angel an anonymous letter warning him that Tess is in danger when they realize that Alec is after her.

Rhetty: Dairymaid who is in love with Angel Clare. She tries to drown herself when he and Tess are married.

Mercy Chant: Daughter of a clergyman; Angel Clare’s parents expect him to marry her, but he does not. Instead, she marries one of Angel’s older brothers.

Man from Tantridge: A farmer who recognizes Tess as the woman who had a fling with Alec d’Urberville. He says it in front of Angel Clare, and Angel hits him for it. He owns the farm where Tess ends up working and he is mean to her.

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