Added: November 1, 2014 – Last updated: August 1, 2015


Author: Marcia Baron

Title: Rape Seduction, Purity, and Shame in Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Subtitle: -

In: Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel

Edited by: Martha C. Nussbaum and Alison L. LaCroix

Place: Oxford

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Year: 2013

Pages: 126-149

ISBN-13: 9780199812042 – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: 19th Century | English History | Representations: Literature / Thomas Hardy


Link: Oxford Scholarship Online (Restricted Access)

Link: Google Books (Limited Preview)

Link: Questia (Restricted Access)


Author: Marcia Baron, Department of Philosophy, Indiana University at Bloomington – Wikipedia


»Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a notorious case of female powerlessness in a world of male manipulation and coercive sexual norms. In "Rape, Seduction, Purity, and Shame in Tess of the d'Urbervilles," Marcia Baron argues that the novel is far more complex and nuanced in its account of Tess's agency than is often supposed. Hardy's description of the central rape/seduction is, she argues, deliberately amibguous, so as to force the reader to puzzle about the distinction between the two and to notice to coerciveness of many cases of seduction. More generally, the novel calls norms of female "purity" into question, suggesting that one can be pure without being sexually pure. Intertwined with both of these themes is a third: a challenge to the notion that it is the responsibility of women and teenage girls to guard their "virtue" and that seductions and all but the most violent rapes reflect a personal failing on the part of the victim. These themes continue to haunt the law to this day. Baron shows the novel urging critical examination of some of the most tenacious norms constraining women's lives.« (Alison L. LaCroix and Martha C. Nussbaum. »Introduction.« Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel. Edited by Martha C. Nussbaum et al. Oxfort 2013: 16)

»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.« (Source: Oxford Scholarship Online)


Anon. Harvard Law Review 126(5) (March 2013): 1462-1469. – Full Text: Harvard Law Review (Free Access)

Chavez, Julia M. Studies in the Novel 47(1) (Spring 2015): 129-130. – Full Text: Project MUSE (Restricted Access)

Wikipedia: Thomas Hardy: Tess of the d'Urbervilles