Hardy’s harrowing novel of seduction and abandonment introduced his most memorable tragic heroine, Tess, whose vivid, breathing life was remarkable even for the author: “I have not been able to put on paper all that she is, or was, to me.”
On her morning journey to earn money for her impoverished family, Tess’s horse has an accident, forcing to go to some newly-rich relatives to seek assistance. There, she is vigorously pursued by Alec, who corners her in a field one night and takes advantage of her. After bearing a child who quickly dies, Tess meets and falls is love with Angel, a minister’s son who is infatuated with the image of Tess as the pure country maid. But when he learns the truth of her past, he shuns his new bride and leaves Tess once again to fend for herself in a world where she is only valued for her uses to others.