Chapter

Rape, Seduction, Purity, and Shame in <i>Tess of the d’Urbervilles</i>

Marcia Baron

in Subversion and Sympathy

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199812042
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315888 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812042.003.0007
Rape, Seduction, Purity, and Shame in Tess of the d’Urbervilles

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The seduction/rape of Tess Durbeyfield in Tess of the d'Urbervilles is carefully presented so as to have an ambiguous character. Hardy not only places a veil over the pivotal incident but also tosses us clues that point in opposing directions, some suggesting it was a rape, others that it was a seduction, some leaving considerable room for debate as to which way they point. This chapter brings into relief the effects of the ambiguity and suggests that Hardy deliberately put roadblocks in the way of answering the “What happened?” question in order to achieve these effects. It suggests that by prompting in the reader the question of whether Tess was raped or seduced and withholding an answer, Hardy draws attention to the aspects of her character and her relationship to Alec that are in evidence. This in turn prompts reflection on just how that happened, on what counts as seduction, and thus on just what we should take to be evidence that she was—or that she was not—raped; on sexual consent and what vitiates it; and on purity and its relation to sexual purity.

Keywords: rape; seduction; Tess Durbeyfield; sexual consent; purity

Chapter.  12481 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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