Short summary - Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented
Deaf English province of the end of the last century. In the Blackmore Valley (or Blackmoor) lives the family of the carriage driver Jack Darbeyfield. One evening in May, the head of the family meets a priest who, answering the greeting, calls him «Sir John,» Jack is surprised, and the priest explains: Darbeyfield is a direct descendant of the d'Herberville knightly family, descended from Sir Pagan d'Herberville, «which came from Normandy with William the Conqueror. » Unfortunately, the clan has faded away for a long time, he has no castles and estates, but in the neighboring village of Kingsbir-sub-Greenhill there are many family crypts.
A dumbfounded Darbeyfield believes in a priest. Not accustomed to hard work, he easily begins to imitate the manners of the nobility and spends most of his time in taverns. His wife, burdened by numerous young children, is also not averse to breaking out of the house and letting a glass or two pass. The support of the family and younger children, in fact, is the oldest daughter of Tess. A drunken father is not able to take beehives to the fair, and Tess and her younger brother set out before dawn. On the way, they accidentally fall asleep, and a postal gig comes upon their wagon. A sharp deafness pierces the horse’s chest, and the horse falls dead.
After losing a horse, family affairs deteriorate sharply. Suddenly, Mrs. Darbayfield finds out that the rich Mrs. d'Herberville lives nearby, and it immediately occurs to her that this lady is their relative, which means that Tess can be sent to her to tell about their relationship and ask for help.
Tess dislikes the role of a poor relative, however, realizing herself guilty of the death of the horse, she obeys the desire of her mother. In fact, Mrs. d'Herberville is not a relative at all. It's just that her late husband, being a very rich man, decided to add another, more aristocratic, name to his plebeian surname Stoke.
At the estate, Tess meets a fatal young man - Alec, the son of Mrs. d'Herberville. Seeing Tess's unusual beauty for a village girl, Alec decides to hit on her. After convincing her that his mother was ill and therefore could not accept her, he spent the whole day walking with her over his possessions.
At home, the girl talks about everything to her parents, and they decide that their relative fell in love with Tess and wants to marry her. The girl tries to dissuade them, but to no avail. Moreover, a letter arrives a few days later in which Mrs. d'Herberville announces her desire to instruct Tess to look after the house. Tess does not want to leave her home, all the more so since Mr. Alec inspires fear in her. But, mindful of her guilt before her family, she agrees to accept this offer.
On the first day, Alec flirts with her, and she barely avoids his kisses. Wanting to get a girl, he changes tactics: now every day he comes to her in the bird's yard and chatts with her in a friendly manner, talks about the habits of his mother, and gradually Tess stops playing him.
On Saturdays evenings, female workers usually go to a nearby town to dance. Tess also begins to go dancing. Conversely, she is always looking for fellow travelers among her goods. One day, she accidentally ends up in the company of tipsy girls, Alec’s former mistresses, who viciously attack her, accusing them of cohabiting with young d'Erberville. Alec suddenly appears and offers Tess to take her away from the angry women. Tess's desire to run away is so great that she jumps onto the croup of the horse of a young rake, and he takes her away. By deception, he lures her into the forest and dishonors her there.
A few months later, Tess secretly leaves the estate - she can no longer tolerate the love of young d'Herberville. Alec is trying to get her back, but all his persuasion and promises are in vain. At home, parents at first are outraged by her act, blaming her that she could not get a relative to marry her, but soon they calm down. «We are not the first, we are not the last,» the girl’s mother philosophically observes.
At the end of summer, Tess works in the field with other day laborers. During lunch, she, stepping aside, feeds her newborn baby. Soon, the baby falls ill, and Tess wants to christen him, but his father does not let the priest into the house. Then the girl, fearing that the innocent soul will go to hell, herself, in the presence of younger brothers and sisters, performs the rite of baptism. Soon the baby is dying. Touched by Tess's ingenuous tale, the priest nevertheless does not allow her to bury the baby in the sacred land, and she has to be content with a place in the corner of the cemetery, where suicides, drunkards and unbaptized babies lie.
In a short time, a naive girl turns into a serious woman. Sometimes Tess seems that she can still find her happiness, but for this it is necessary to leave the local places connected with such painful memories for her. And she goes to the Talboteys Manor as a miller.
Tess got accustomed to the farm, the owners and other milking girls treat her well. Also on the farm is a certain Mr. Angel Claire, the youngest son of a priest, who decided in practice to study all sectors of the farm, then to go to the colonies or rent a farm in his homeland. This is a modest, educated young man who loves music and has a delicate sense of nature. Noticing the new female worker, Claire suddenly discovers that she is surprisingly beautiful and the movements of her soul are surprisingly in tune with his own soul. Soon, young people begin to meet constantly.
One day Tess accidentally overhears the conversation of her friends - Marion, Ratty and Izz. The girls confess each other their love for the young Mr. Claire, and complain that he doesn’t even want to look at any of them, because he does not keep his eyes on Tess Darbeyfield. After this, Tess begins to be tormented by the question - does she have the right to Angel Clare's heart? However, life decides everything itself: Claire falls in love with her, and she - with him. Angel specially goes home to inform parents of his decision to marry a simple peasant woman in order to find in her face not only a faithful wife, but also a reliable assistant in his chosen field of life. The father of the young man, a stern Anglican priest, does not approve of the plans, nor the choice of the youngest son, from whom he, like his elder brothers, wanted to make a priest. However, he is not going to resist him, and Claire returns to the farm with the firm intention of marrying Tess. The girl for a long time does not accept his proposals, but then agrees. At the same time, she constantly tries to tell him about her past, but the lover does not want to listen to her. Mother Tess, reporting in a letter about the family’s consent to her marriage, notes that none of the women ever tells grooms about troubles like the one that happened to her.
Tess and Claire are married, they go to the mill to spend their honeymoon there. Unable to stand it, Tess on the first day tells her husband about the misfortune that happened to her in the past. Claire is shocked: not having the strength to condemn the girl, he nevertheless cannot forgive her. As a result, he decides to part with her, relying on the fact that over time, everything will somehow form. He tells Tess that he will go to Brazil and, perhaps, write her to his place - if he can forget everything. After leaving his wife some money, he asks her to contact his father if necessary.
Upon returning, Tess does not linger in her home. Things are going badly, and she is hired by a daygirl on a far farm. Exhausting work prompts her to seek help from Clare's father. Unfortunately, she does not find him at home, but in anticipation hears the conversation of the Angel brothers, in which they condemn the act of his younger brother. An upset girl returns back without having seen her husband’s father. On the way, she meets a Methodist preacher, in which she recognizes her offender Alec d'Herberville. Alec also recognizes her, and his old passion flares up in him with renewed vigor.
D'Herberville begins to pursue the girl, trying to convince her that he repented and embarked on the path of virtue. By deceit, he makes her swear at the place of execution of the robber that she does not want to tempt him. Tess painstakingly avoids meeting with d'Herberville, but he finds her everywhere. He leaves the preachers, stating at the same time to Tess that it is her beauty that he has committed this sinful step.
News comes from home: the mother is seriously ill, and Tess immediately goes home, where all the household, all the household problems immediately fall on her fragile shoulders. Her mother is recovering, but then her father suddenly dies. With his death, the family loses the right to a home, and Mrs. Darbefield is forced to seek refuge where she can live with her youngest children. Tess is in despair. There is still no news from her husband, although she has already written to him more than one letter, begging to allow her to come to him in Brazil and to allow her to at least just live near him.
Upon learning of the misfortunes that have befallen the Tess family, Alec finds the girl and promises her to take care of her relatives, to give their deceased mother the house at their disposal, if only Tess returns to him again. Unable to look further at the torment of his younger brothers and sisters, Tess accepts Alec's offer.
Meanwhile, Tess's husband, who suffered a serious illness in Brazil, decides to return home. The journey taught him a lot: he understands that it is not Tess, but he is guilty that his life did not work out. With the firm intention of returning to Tess and never having to part with her again, Angel arrives home. After reading his wife’s last desperate letter, he goes to look for her, which turns out to be a very difficult matter. Finally he finds the house where the girl’s mother lives. She reluctantly tells him that Tess lives in a nearby town, but she does not know her address. Claire goes to the indicated town and soon finds Tess - she settled with Alec in one of the guesthouses. Seeing her husband, Tess becomes desperate - he reappeared too late. Shocked Angel leaves. Soon he is overtaken by Tess. She says she killed Alec, because she could not endure his ridicule of her husband. Only now does Angel realize how much his wife loves him. For several days they wander through the forests, enjoying freedom and happiness, not thinking about the future. But soon they were overtaken, and the police led Tess away. Saying goodbye, the unfortunate asks her husband after her death to marry her younger sister Lisa Lou, the same beautiful, but innocent girl.
And now Angel and Lisa Lou, «a young girl, a half-child, half-woman, a living likeness of Tess, thinner than her, but with the same wonderful eyes», walk sadly, holding hands, and a black flag slowly rises above the ugly prison building. Justice is done. «Two silent travelers bowed to the ground, as if in prayer, and for a long time remained motionless. <...> As soon as the forces returned to them, they straightened up, again held hands and went on. »