Tess of D'Urbervilles and Wife of Bath Essay

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Thomas Hardy’s main character, Tess, in Tess of D’Urbervilles, and Chaucer’s main character, Alisoun, in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, have both been portrayed as women ‘behaving badly’ in society’s point of view and these portrayals have been greatly influenced by the values and attitudes towards women in each of the composer’s contexts. The representation of women behaving badly in these two texts has been achieved through the use of strong characterisation and literary techniques.

The values and attitudes towards women in the Victorian Era have greatly influenced the representation of Tess in Hardy’s novel. During this period, married women had limited rights and they were valued by their husbands if they were obedient and submissive. Also, purity was a characteristic much sought after by males. Females, who were classified as ‘fallen women,’ as they have misbehaved sexually and were not pure, were shunned from society. In Tess of D’Urbervilles, Angel Clare initially viewed Tess as being pure and chaste as he described her as being “a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature”, however when she finally confessed to him that she was raped by Alec and had an illegitimate child who died at infancy, his opinion of her has changed drastically. He now thinks of Tess as an “impostor” and that the woman he has “been loving” is not Tess but rather “another woman in [her] shape.” Angel’s radical change in his opinion of Tess revealed that according to the strict Victorian moral code, Tess’ rape by Alec coupled with her departure is viewed as her “behaving badly” as she should have stayed with Alec instead of “slipping away by stealth.” Her mother’s remarks, that she should have “got him to marry ‘ee”, further emphasised that Tess should have stayed and married Alec, and in not doing so, she was viewed by society as a woman behaving badly.

This concept of the characteristics of women which were valued was also evident in the 14th century, the period when Chaucer’s poem...
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