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The Question of Rape in Tess of the D’Urbervilles
In chapter XI and XII of Phase the Second in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy introduces an interesting question concerning the course of the plot: does the text allude to a rape of Tess Durbeyfield by Alec D’Urberville? The evidence in the text of chapter XII seems to preclude the occurrence of rape, but the question is not so easily resolved and dismissed.
There are a number of points in the text that indicate that, while a rape did not occur, Tess and Alec did have sexual intercourse at The Chase. Before the events that occurred in chapter XI can be clearly illuminated, a distinction must be made between modern conceptions of rape and those that are contemporaries of the story. While the current delineation between rape and consensual intercourse depends solely on clear verbal consent, the prevailing notions in the time of the novel were somewhat different. It would seem logical to the modern reader that consent would comprise the only relevant issue, but in contemporary time, a quiet acquiescence would presumably have indicated that the intercourse was consensual. This discussion of consent, however, is not useful in determining whether a rape is committed, in this case, because the text does not afford the reader the luxury of omniscience during the scene in question. The behavior of Alec and Tess, along with Hardy’s narrative after the fact, are the only windows through which the truth can be observed.
The question of intercourse is quickly resolved at the beginning of chapter XII, which is subtitled “Maiden No More” (presumably a reference to Tess’ newfound condition), and later in the novel, when Tess becomes noticeably pregnant and has a child. The question of rape, however, remains. “…She had learnt that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sang, and her views of life had been totally changed for her by her lesson” (pp. 58-59). In this line, the narrative begins to s.............
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