What the novel is about
When Tess was first published it had an immediate success and it has remained a ‘best-seller’ ever since. To enjoy such popularity with a wide audience requires one particular quality: it must have the ability to entertain. But that in itself would not have ensured its survival over a hundred years. Even if we read it primarily for the pleasure of reading, we cannot fail to be aware that Tess is a serious novel, that is to say, it is packed with ideas about life, and this is one of the elements of its greatness. Hardy wanted to write a novel which would entertain (in fact, he needed to do so if it was to sell well and earn him his living!), but because he was passionately interested in human relationships he poured into his novels impressions of life as he saw it. Thus, he was conscious of the hypocrisy of those who had one moral standard for men and another for women, and this becomes an important aspect of Tess.
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