Abstract

Reconsidering Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman in view of newly discovered textual discrepancies between editions and critical scholarship, this essay makes a necessary intervention in the reading tradition of the rape-fall-punishment triad by shifting the central event of the novel to the murder as it relates to aspects of the novel's religious framework. It argues that Tess's actions are contingent on a critical phrase, “a shining light,” that has been suppressed through the novel's complicated publication history and reconnects sections of the plot to restore the significance of tragedy in the novel without explaining that tragedy through her violation. By recovering the religious significance of conversion in the text as crucial to a structure of extralegal justice on which the events of the novel hinge, the essay argues that Tess's crime, rather than serving as mere irony, is motivated by faith and an understanding of justice that illuminates the problem of the uncanny God of the nineteenth century, present through absence. As the salvation plot is brought back into relevance with the marriage plot, the concept of Tess's love as a powerful force that should be able to overcome all is reduced to a failed attempt at epistemic reform. Through her failure, the novel raises questions about the possibilities of radical world-making that have historically been overlooked by Hardy's critics.

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