A Mercy Chant
The only daughter of a friend and neighbor of the Clares, Mercy Chant, is the girl Angel Clare’s parents hope he will marry. She is religious and holds Bible classes, but appears cold and unyielding. She ends up married to Angel’s brother, Cuthbert.
B Angel Clare
Angel is the youngest son of Rev. James Clare and his wife. He appears in the opening chapters of the book as a young man with upper-class bearings that dances with Tess’s friends as they celebrate their May festival. He demonstrates immediately the differences between him and his brothers; while they hurry home to their studies, he pauses to dance. The two meet again at Talbothays Dairy where Angel is in apprenticeship for being a gentleman farmer. Although his father and his two older brothers are members of the clergy, Angel wants no part of their orthodox Christianity. To Tess, he is “educated, reserved, subtle, sad, [and] differing.” He idealizes Tess as a “fresh, virginal daughter of nature,” and asks her to marry him. When she hesitates, he asks again and again, and when she puts off a wedding date, he insists. At Talbothays he and Tess are portrayed as Adam and Eve where in the early mornings they notice “a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve,” and Angel plays his secondhand harp in a garden complete with an apple tree. Three of the other milkmaids at the farm worship Angel from afar and despair at the thought that Angel will never be theirs. Although he defends his choice of her for a wife before his parents, he seems not really to accept her as she is, and is secretly elated when she tells him she is of the d’Urberville family. His true feelings are revealed when, after their marriage, he confesses to “eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger” which Tess promptly forgives. He, however, is unable to forgive Tess when she confesses what had happened with Alec. He gives her some money but leaves her to seek his fortune in Brazil. His total lack of concern for Tess is seen when he happens upon one of the milkmaids from the farm, Izz Huett, and asks her to go with him to Brazil. He changes his mind, however, when she tells him no one could love him as much as Tess. When he returns to England from Brazil, he is finally able to accept her as his wife. The two enjoy a few days of happiness together before Tess is captured. After her death, he follows her wishes and marries her sister.
C Cuthbert Clare
A classical scholar, and a fellow and dean of his college at Cambridge, Cuthbert Clare is Angel’s eldest brother. He seems to think of nothing but his academic work, and has little patience for those not sharing his interests. He marries Mercy Chant.
D Felix Clare
Felix is the middle boy in the Clare family, being Angel’s older brother, and Cuthbert’s younger brother. As curate at a nearby town, he is as much a churchman as his older brother is an academician. When Tess hears Felix and his brother talking in a derogatory fashion about her and Angel’s marriage, she decides not to try to contact Angel’s parents for help. This, the narrator says, is “the greatest misfortune of her life.”
E Reverend James Clare
Angel’s father, Reverend James Clare, is a respected minister who is known for “his austere and Calvinist tenets.” He and his wife live a frugal existence in Emminster. Although he seems cold, “the kindness of his heart was such that he never resented anything for long.” His compassion is demonstrated when, although he is disappointed that Angel doesn’t want to go into the ministry like the rest of the family, he pledges to help his son financially in whatever he does by giving him the money he had saved to pay his university expenses. He and his wife hope that Angel will marry Mercy Chant, the daughter of their neighbor, but are resigned to Angel’s choosing a wife for himself. He asks only that she be from “a truly Christian family.”
F Mrs. Clare
Angel’s mother, identified only as Mrs. Clare, helps her husband with his duties as a parson. She believes in living a simple, faith-filled life, but unlike her husband, appearances are important to her. When Angel speaks of wanting to marry, Mrs. Clare wants to know if the woman in question is a “lady.”
G Mrs. Crick
Mrs. Crick looks after the help at Talbothays Dairy. She is somewhat snobbish-she considers herself “too respectable” to milk the cows herself. She shows her kind heart when she sends some black pudding and a bottle of mead home with Angel when he visits his parents.
H Richard Crick
A master-dairyman, Dairyman Crick runs Talbothays Dairy and is portrayed as a warm, jovial man who is friendly with his help.
I Car Darch
Described as “a dark virago,” and called “Queen of Spades,” Car Darch was the receiver of Alec d’Urberville’s attentions until Tess appeared. Tess decides to go with Alec the night he seduces her, partially because she is afraid of what the jealous Car Darch might do to her.
J Abraham Durbeyfield
Tess’s nine year old brother, Abraham, accompanies her on her early morning ride delivering the bee hives after her father becomes too drunk to take them. In an important scene, the two look up at the stars and Tess explains that most are “splendid,” but some are “blighted.” Then, Abraham asks, “Which do we live on-a splendid one or a blighted one?” Tess answers, “A blighted one.” Soon after this, Prince, the family horse dies in an accident.
K Eliza-Louisa Durbeyfield
Tess’s sister, Eliza-Louisa, is twelve-and-a-half when the novel opens. Tess describes ‘Liza-Lu as “gentle and sweet, and she is growing so beautiful,” when she asks Angel to marry ‘Liza-Lu after she dies.
L Joan Durbeyfield
Tess’s mother, Joan Durbeyfield, is a simple woman, proud of the beauty that her daughter has inherited from her and anxious to have her “claim kin” at the d’Urberville estate. She has the common peasant attitude of accepting whatever fate comes her way, but is superstitious and consults the Compleat Fortune-Teller for advice. When Tess is distraught over her seduction and pregnancy, Joan tells her daughter. “Well, we must make the best of it, I suppose. ‘Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!”
M John Durbeyfield
Tess’s father, John Durbeyfield, works as a peddler and a wagon driver. He is greatly impressed with the news that he is the last descendant of the once noble d’Urbervilles. He immediately orders a carriage to take him home and proceeds to celebrate for the rest of the evening, bringing about the scene of Prince’s death. Durbeyfield seems to do as little work as possible, and the news that he is connected with nobility seems like a good reason to do even less. When Tess returns to Marlott to look after her sick mother, she finds her father ready to send all antiquarians in England a letter asking for a donation to keep the family going as a national treasure. He suffers a heart attack, and dies soon afterwards.
N Tess Durbeyfield
Hardy’s heroine is the daughter of John and Joan Durbeyfield of Marlott in Wessex, the eldest of seven children. The subtitle to the novel, “A Pure Woman” emphasizes her purity, but critics debate whether a woman who is seduced by one man, marries another one who abandons her, and then kills the first, could be considered “pure.” But, purity aside, she is, with rare exception, praised by critics who admire her steadfast hope under adversity. To some, like Donald Davidson in the Southern Review, she is like a figure from a folk ballad “the deserted maiden who murders her seducer with a knife,” while to others, including Irving Howe in Thomas Hardy, she is “a girl who is at once a simple milkmaid and an archetype of feminine strength.” To Angel she is “a regular churchgoer of simple faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent, graceful to a degree, chaste as a vestal, and, in personal appearance, exceptionally beautiful.” She has “passed the Sixth Standard in the National School,” and thinks about becoming a teacher. While she is unimpressed with the news that she has noble ancestors, she feels so much guilt when she unwittingly causes the death of the family horse, that she follows her parents’ wish that she “claim kin” at the nearby d’Urberville estate. She is shown as a hard worker, working in the fields after her baby is born, working at the dairy, and, later, working in the rutabaga fields at Flintcomb-Ash. But for all her strength, she is like a trapped bird. In her simplicity, she tries to do what is right, but her well-meaning actions often are futile. Her effort to help her family by going to the d’Urberville estate, ends with her seduction; when she tries to tell Angel about what happened between her and Alec, she is unable to until after the wedding. When Alec keeps pursuing her she tells him, “Whip me, crush me…. I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim-that’s the law.” Later, she murders Alec in desperation, knowing that if he had only gone away when she told him to, she could have been happy with Angel. Before she is taken away by the police, she asks Angel to marry her sister, ‘Liza Lu. As the book ends, she is hanged for Alec’s murder.
O Farmer Groby
Farmer Groby is the owner of Flintcomb-Ash farm, where Tess finds work after Angel leaves her. A cruel man, he is particularly harsh with Tess because of an incident in which Angel punched him because he thought the farmer had insulted her. Groby’s temperament seems to match the harshness of the land he keeps and serves as a contrast to the joviality of Talbothays Dairy.
P Izz Huett
“The pale, dark-eyed” Izz Huett is one of the three other milkmaids besides Tess who fall in love with Angel Clare at Talbothays Dairy. After Angel leaves Tess, he asks Izz to go with him to Brazil, but her honesty betrays her when she tells Angel that Tess loved him more than anyone else. Hearing this, Angel tells her he can no longer take her with him.
The “jolly-faced” Marian is the eldest of the three milkmaids besides Tess who fall in love with Angel at Talbothays Dairy. She is despondent when Angel and Tess marry, and soon afterward loses her job at the dairy because she starts drinking heavily. Her friendship with Tess is strong, however, and when she finds out that Tess is separated from her husband, she asks her to come and work with her at Flintcomb-Ash.
R Retty Priddle
The “auburn-haired” Retty Priddle is the youngest of the three milkmaids besides Tess who fall in love with Angel at Talbothays Dairy. When Tess and Angel get married, she tries to drown herself but is rescued.
S Alexander Stoke-d’Urberville
In his early twenties when he first appears in the novel, Alec is the son of the late Mr. Simon Stoke, who added “d’Urberville” to his name to conceal his real identity when the family moved from southern England. He seems immediately taken with his pretty “Coz,” when she comes to the estate to “claim kin,” and after she leaves, he sends a letter purported to be from his invalid mother to Tess’s mother asking that Tess come to work for her. Tess tries to avoid him, but one night he follows her when she goes to a fair and market at a neighboring town. He cajoles her into accepting his offer of a ride in his buggy, because she fears to be out so late by herself. Taking advantage of the lateness of the hour and her fatigued condition, Alec seduces her. The next time he appears in the novel, he is a preacher, converted by Angel’s father. When he and Tess accidentally meet, Alec’s softer side is revealed as he seems to be particularly touched when Tess tells him for the first time of their child. Alec becomes once again obsessed by her and pursues Tess to Flintcomb-Ash where she reveals to him that she is married. She refuses to have anything to do with him, but when she sees him again he no longer wears his parson’s frock. Instead he is described as a villain from a melodrama, twirling a “gay walking cane.” He belittles Tess for being faithful to her absent husband. Infuriated, she hits him in the face with a leather glove. Although they part, when she returns to Marlott to care for her ailing mother Alec pursues her again. As she works in the family garden, in the light of fires of burning weeds, he appears as a devil with a pitchfork in hand and says to her, “You are Eve, and I am the old Other One come up to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior animal.” His constant reproaching her for believing in Angel, his bestowal of gifts upon her family, and the family’s desperate situation when Tess’s father dies and the family is forced to leave their home, all contribute to Tess’s final agreement to live with him as his wife. The pair go to Sandbourne, a fashionable resort area, where Tess finally kills him by stabbing him with a knife.
T Mrs. Stoke-d’Urberville
A blind invalid, Mrs. Stoke-d’Urberville is Alec’s mother and lives with him at the estate at Tantridge. A note written by Alec in her name, asking for someone to help her with her birds, brings Tess to work at the family’s estate.