Stories behind Hardy’s controversial heroine Tess revealed

A new guide uncovers stories of Tess

Thomas Hardy’s fascination with his controversial heroine Tess of the d’Urbervilles is brought to life in a new installation at Max Gate.

In the study where the famous author wrote what many believe to be his greatest novel, discover some of the stories behind the book and Hardy’s inspiration for it.

Hardy used Tess to deliberately challenge the norms and conventions of Victorian morality and challenge it he certainly did. Initially published in 1891 as a serialisation in The Graphic magazine, the novel attracted some vitriolic reviews. The author Robert Louis Stevenson described Tess as ‘one of the worst, weakest, least sane, most voulu books I have yet to read’. Newspaper reviews from the time said it threatened ‘the moral fibre of young readers’.

Feeling the need to defend Tess from his critics, when the novel was published in book form Hardy added the subtitle A Pure Woman, an act his biographer Claire Tomalin describes as ‘undoubtedly intended to be a red rag to the delicate-minded, and they complained bitterly’.

Hardy admitted to being obsessed with his heroine. In a letter to a friend, he wrote: ‘I am so truly glad that Tess the Woman has won your affections. I, too, lost my heart to her as I went on with her history.'

Hardy’s first wife Emma also mentioned his obsession with Tess as a character in her letters, saying that ‘he understands only the women he invents – the others not at all’.

The installation is open in the study at Max Gate where Hardy wrote both Tess and Jude the Obscure – the public reception of which led Hardy to finally give up novel writing for good. As well as discovering the stories and inspiration behind Tess, visitors will also be able to listen to sound recordings of excerpts from the novel.