Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Masterpiece Classic

by Heather Carroll

Now, I'm not some crazy feminist who constantly preaches about the double standards of society, but when I watch a film such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles it boils my blood!  Men can be such jerks!  Of course, at this point many of my guy-friends would kindly remind me that my sex is not without guilt.  Yes true, but in the Victorian era, we had few chances to hone our skills of making men miserable.  Victorian society bred women to be something out of the Stepford Wives; robots, if you will.  The rigid fears about venereal diseases made sex a very scary thing, and women were even scarier. 



Lovers are known to come and go, but there should always be someone at the dairy barn to bitch to about it!

Women were all Eves and succubi just dying to get their claws on innocent young men, therefore they had to be controlled.  This crazy viewpoint is what Thomas Hardy tried to point out when he wrote Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  But I noticed something else important that Hardy may not have necessarily intended to point out: the essential aspect of having quality friends in your life.  Life pretty-much stinks for Tess throughout the whole movie but the blow is lessened when she finds friends at the dairy farm.  I think each one of her friends has the qualities everyone could use in a friend.

marion.jpgMarion is the bodyguard friend.  Always the most fun to hit the bars with, and always there to defend you even if you both very well know you're in the wrong.  She would definitely take a punch for you.  You know the phrase, a good friend bails you out of jail, best friends are in there with you?  Well, Marion is sitting next to you on the cot, laughing about how it was all worthwhile.

Retty.jpgRetty is the friend that needs a lot of TLC.  For those who have a nurturing nature, Retty fulfills your need to be needed.  She may seem meek, but she is loyal and always someone to go to when you're feeling down because you were there for her when she needed it.

Izz.jpgIzzy is the neutral friend.  At first meeting you may not know where you stand with her but once you get to know each other, a deep friendship develops.  You have a gentle understanding with each other so disagreements are unusual but she is no fair weather friend; she is a timeless one.   

The Darch Girls, or whatever their name is, are not worth knowing; but somewhere down the line you are bound to meet them.  They are the mean girls.  You join their little clique as a social survival technique but soon learn of your error.  There is no loyalty, and your "friendship" only brings trouble.  Some people are just miserable.

Tess herself is also a neutral friend, which is why she is a good main character.  She is an example of how bad things happen to good people. All the dairy maids share the same important aspect of friendship: forgiveness.  You know they all wanted to tear Tess' hair out for stealing their man, but instead forgave her and were happy for her instead. 


Angel-and-Tess.jpgBecause men had free reign in the nineteenth century, friends were a vital part of survival.  Seeing as we are still being jerked around by lovers (see, I was PC and didn't say "men") in a century when women have an equal say, we can say that this is not a fixable error.  It's something that is part of life.  Tess learns that both the "bad boy" and the "sensitive guy" can be cruel.  I could have told you that Tess!  Alec-and-Tess.jpgTherefore it's a given that history will repeat itself in the dating department.  To live in Victorian England, just as to live now, you need good friends to support you in both the good and bad times.  Lovers are known to come and go, but there should always be someone at the dairy barn to bitch to about it!


You called it, the girls were the bright spots in Tess' life that really kept her moving. This is a great post!! Marian even had my not-too-happy-to-be-watching boyfriend laughing!

With all the went wrong for Tess, and all the boys in her life leaving her, even being unkind to her (I am thinking of the farmer at Flintcomb Ash Farm) she was fortunate, that her friends were so true. I mean what are the chances that Izzy, Marian and Tess all end up together at that horrid place? They were there helping each other. Marian letting herself fall to drink a bit, Izzy clearly hurt by life and the actions of Angel and Retty, and of course Tess who was just pain stricken. They were a social support system like no other, for each other!

Yes, as much as we romanticize the Victorian era, the women of that time had little to no opportunities. But I love your point: " To live in Victorian England, just as to live now, you need good friends to support you in both the good and bad times."

Tess sorely needed the milkmaids' frienship, which was heartwarming to see. Their support of Tess was the one bright spot in an otherwise unrelentingly bleak tale. Until now I preferred Roman Polanski's Tess, but Gemma Arterton shines as this naive but fallen woman. What a great way to start the Classics series this year!

where has tess gone????

First I just love the Master Piece Program! I see so many shows I enjoying watching! I truly appreciate PBS and have watched this station for many years and will continue!

In this film this is true about behavior of any standard of society then and now..that man ruined a young woman thru his lustful behavior...Obviously he fooled around with the other woman but had to continue on with other woman and when she did find RESPECT from a young man Angel,and true love how a men would be loved by being respectful first and then all things after but NO it's about their sexual feelings first and then they miss the true meaning of love. Sex is the result of love..lust is not love and is temporary and lust will never be love... Sad ending how a woman was ruined by her family needs and an individual in desperation. Then again we are either justified or condemned by are words and our actions!

The rigid fears about venereal diseases made sex a very scary thing,

Not only that, but 25% of women died in child birth and i never read anything about male remorse or doubt. They seemed to think it god's curse on Eve and didn't give it a moments thought.

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