Tess was a simple, innocent, guideless and hypersensitive girl, trapped in a traditionally boundsociety. She went to the D’Urbervilles to seek help for her starved family. There she met Alec who seduced her, ruining her life. She came back and narrated the whole story to her mother truly that both Alec and she were seduced. When her mother asked her to make the best of this, she refused. Later, she met Angel who jilted her on learning her of being unchaste. However, later, realizing his own mistake, he came back to her, but, she had started living with Alec as her mistress. The last important incident was Alec’s murder at the hand of Tess.
The critics accuse Tess of impurity on two accounts. Firstly, the seduction scene presupposes Tess’ implied consent. She never showed any sign of disapproval as she did when Alec first tried to kiss her. Secondly, being the wife of Angel and Alec’s being an improper person, Tess-like girl would never have surrendered to Alec, only to provide the family a living.
On the Victorian standard of purity, i.e. the loss of chastity is the loss of purity, Tess would certainly appear to be impious, because, firstly, she lost her chastity, and secondly, with her consent. But, to Hardy, it is the most faulty and narrow concept of morality. To him, chastity is of two types – chastity of the mind and of the body. Chastity of the body is related to virginity, whereas that of mind is the purity of the mind and soul. To Hardy, real chastity is the chastity of the mind and soul. One may be bodily unchaste; still he can be chaste, if he is chaste by his soul and mind. Those who have impure soul and mind are not ‘pure’ despite the chastity of their body. He, therefore, calls Tess pure for, inspite of losing bodily chastity she never lost purity of the soul.
Tess stands as a symbol of unflinching and pure love. She loved for the sake of love only without any consideration. She went on loving Angel inspite of his being unfaithful.
Tess had purity of dealings, and warm feelings for everyone without any personal gain. After losing her chastity, she never tried to deceive anyone. She told her mother and Angel truly about their seduction.
She was a symbol of self-sacrifice and emotional self-control. She never behaved hyper-sentimentally and always kept her passions under control of her intellect. She never raised hue and cry and never shed tears before anyone to get sympathies. She went on sacrificing herself for the sake of Angel, her family or anyone she came across. She virtually proposed to Angle to marry Eza, Heely or Marian for she considered herself inferior to anyone of them.
All this prove the purity of Tess’ soul and mind. Had she been impure, she could have narrated one-sided story to her mother that she was raped by Alec. She could have blamed her mother or her fate. Had she been impious, she could have killed ‘Sorrow’ at its birth to avoid disreputation, but she loved him and baptized him herself after the refusal of clergyman. Had she been immoral, she wouldn’t have resisted Angel’s love for a long time. But, she was a woman, having passion to be loved; so she yielded to Angel’s love, but she had throughout been trying to unveil her secret to Angel. She wrote him a letter, explaining the entire situation, but the letter was misplaced. She came to know this when their marriage had been solemnized. Due to his unchanged behaviour she was satisfied, that he has forgiven her. Yet she had no intention to deceive Angel. Had she been cheap minded and mean, she would have condemned Angel when he left for Brazil deserting her. But she accepted the situation for she knew she was equally responsible. There are many incidents crying at the top of their voice that Tess was a pure woman.
The charges leveled against Tess can be negated promptly. She didn’t have implied consent in the seduction, for seduction is a sort of intoxication. No one is willfully seduced. As Tess fell a victim to seduction, anyone would have been seduced under such romantic circumstances. She was too innocent to judge Alec’s intentions for it was her first contact with any man. Then Alec deliberately rode the horse so fast that throughout the way, she kept feeling the close and warm touches of Alec. When they reached the appointed place, she slept. The romantic atmosphere, darkness and the silence prevailing everywhere also contributed to make her seduced. So we can not blame her for having been seduced with her consent.
The second charge looks, rather, valid and undeniable. Still, before blaming Tess, we must consider the inevitable and bitter conditions, leading Tess to accept such a slur on her fair name. Tess had been suffering throughout her life till the saturation point arrived. She tried her best to contact Angel, but failed; she aimed to get some job, but in vain. Her family was at the edge of starvation after her father’s death and the serious ailment of her mother. Then Alec assured her that Angel wouldn’t return. So she ventured to live with Alec as his mistress. She did it under dire necessity, not for lust or any personal end. But she never accepted Alec from her heart. Alec’s murder proves this fact. It may be an error; yet it alone can never prove her unchaste. Keeping this last incident aside, she is undeniably pure. So pure and honest she was that she didn’t conceal from Angel the fact of her living with Alec as his mistress.
Tess was that perfectly a pure woman who accidentally lost her chastity and kept playing a toy in the hands of fate. Hardy remarks on the death of Tess that:
Justice was done and the President of the Immortals, by Aeschelylian Phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.
This also reflects the innocence and purity of Tess, who, despite prodigious number of sufferings, never lost the purity of her mind and soul, and, therefore, was titled ‘A pure woman’ by Hardy.