The End of the Fallen Women

Many novels deal with the idea of the fallen woman and her fate. The Mill on the Floss, Lady Audley’s Secret, and Tess of the d’Ubervilles each do just that. While the respectability of the women and their ends differ in each, there is an idea of the woman being replaceable, or at least being unnecessary to the other characters, in all three of the novels. The endings for these fallen women show how they were viewed. While writers garnered sympathy for their characters, in the end they had to be disposed of, and life had to carry on.

In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie is deemed to be a fallen woman after her extended boat ride with Stephen. When she returns, she is rejected by most of society, including her brother. While Phillip, her mother, and others do take her side, most of society sees Maggie as someone to avoid, even though she did not actually do anything with Stephen. However, this is enough not only to gain the ill will of the town she grew up in, but also for her to have to die. When the flood comes, she and her brother Tom die in each other’s arms, their ship sunk by debris in the water. Maggie had to die despite not actually doing anything wrong. In the end, Maggie is dead, and Stephen has moved on to be with Lucy. Life carries on, and while Phillip is sad and alone and Stephen visits her grave, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care about the fate of this fallen woman.

Things are worse in Lady Audley’s Secret, however. When Robert discovers that Lady Audley is the wife of his friend, George Talboys, he exposes her to his uncle Michael Audley. Lady Audley’s fate for marrying two men is not death like Maggie. She instead gets sent off to a sort of mental institution where she cannot bother either of her husbands anymore. She is just shoved out of the story at the end, despite all the sympathy the narrator tries to make the readers feel for her. While she is not replaced by either George or Michael, she is shown to be unnecessary to either. George lives with his sister and Robert, and Michael has his daughter to depend on. Everyone seems to get along fine with Lady Audley out of the picture, almost as though she never existed at all, save for the melancholy of the men who had married her.

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, however, the main character is actually replaced, at her own suggestion. Tess is a fallen woman because of what Alec did to her. She keeps what happened to her a secret, however, and by doing so is able to marry Angel. Once he finds out about Alec, he wants nothing to do with Tess, leaving her to fend for herself and eventually to be drawn back to Alec’s side. When he comes back for her though, Tess longs to be with him, murdering Alec so that she can. She is caught and persecuted for this crime, and interesting change from being punished for being fallen. Lady Audley of course did try to kill people, but Tess here is punished solely for her murder of Alec. She too though is replaced, this time by the younger sister whom she told Angel to be with when she was caught eventually. Tess’s death is in line with getting rid of a fallen woman, but the sister getting with her husband, at her own suggestion, is not. Still, however, to most of society Tess was a fallen woman, so she had to die in the end.

Tess of the d’Ubervilles stands out from other novels about fallen women because Tess is killed for a different, though related, crime and because Tess is replaced by her younger sister. Tess being killed for murder shows that the real crime was that she was influenced into taking such measures after all the terrible things that had happened to make her fallen. Her being replaced by her sister shows a form of sympathy for her, trying to have Angel be with Tess, or the closest thing to her, while still getting rid of the fallen woman who has no place in society. So while all these novels deal with fallen women, giving them bad fates and showing that they are unnecessary to the people in their lives, Tess of the d’Ubervilles goes farther, showing that the fallen women are only criminals because of the extreme situations wrongly forced upon them. It demonstrates that, if the woman had not done the one thing that made her fall, she would have been able to have a good life like readers can presume Tess’s sister can have with Angel. The way this novel deals sympathetically with the fallen woman sets it apart from others and makes it a novel truly worth studying.

Tess, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss: The Endings 

In modern storytelling, the ending is usually wrapped up in a pretty bow with loose ends being tied, generally leaving a satisfied and happy ending for the reader.  However, in Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss, this is not necessarily the case.  All three authors included the tragic deaths of the main characters, with Tess being the only one who had just one protagonist die and not two of them, like Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss.  All the deaths throughout the three books (Tess, Dr. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creation, Maggie, and Tom) serve as the reason for the endings to contain themes of grief and injustice, as the main character usually lives to the end and has a happy ending, especially in modern works. 


In Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Tess is executed for stabbing Alec to death in the end of the novel.  This death can initially be viewed as a justified death, but because Tess is the main character of the book and subject of the title, the reader is inclined to observe her death as unjustified.  The author, Thomas Hardy, intentionally makes Tess the character that the reader focuses on to possibly affect this response to the ending specifically.  Her death, although technically justified because she murders Alec, can be seen as injustice because she is the protagonist, and this is essentially her story being told.  Tess herself is “almost glad – yes, glad” to die, which makes the reader feel sympathy for her because she thinks that dying would be an end to her suffering (580).  This might help pull the reader in the direction of Tess’s side of the story because it pulls on the emotion of sympathy from the reader.  This death in the end is the best ending in Tess’s mind, although it may not be the stereotypical happy ending for the protagonist.     


In Frankenstein, both Victor Frankenstein and the creature tragically die in the end, Victor succumbing to illness and the creature committing suicide after the death of Victor.  These untimely deaths serve as the loose ends being tied up in the novel, but this does not instantly mean that the ending is a happy one.  The gothic novel starts and ends with misery and dismal themes, with Victor feeling the “thirst of knowledge”, which resulted in him attempting to create life and then the dread that followed his success (Ch. 2).  This ending may have been created by Mary Shelley to correct the initial wrong done by Victor, creating an unnatural life, by forcing Victor to die a natural death and then killing off the creature to show the reader that it should not have been given life in the first place.  The reader might feel grief and sorrow for the two main characters because Victor is trying to correct the wrong that he made by creating the monster, and because the creature shows true love for his creator in the end by killing himself out of pain. 


Mill on the Floss, written by George Eliot, is similar to Frankenstein in regard to having two of the main characters dying tragic and untimely deaths in the end of the novel.  However, the reader feels the most sympathy for Maggie and Tom, as they die in a horrific flooding accident and were not executed for a crime, like Tess of the d’Ubervilles.  One reason for this ending would be that Maggie and Tom, who had been apart emotionally and physically, would be finally reunited by Maggie attempting to save Tom.  However, this reunion is cut short by the debris crashing into their small rowboat, effectively killing the two.  The reader, not expecting this ending, may be shocked by the deaths but could also take comfort in the possibility that Maggie and Tom “had gone down in an embrace never to be parted” (Ch. 5).  This is the only comfort that the reader can have regarding these deaths because the incident was so sudden and unjustified, and this theme of being together eternally shows that they at least were reunited in the end, both in life and in death.   


Tess of the d’Ubervilles is similar to these two novels, Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss, because all of the deaths were not fully expected by the reader and seemed to be very tragic events.  Tess’s death can be seen as unjustified to the reader because of the use of sympathy because of the rape, much like the deaths of Maggie and Tom pulling on the same emotion because they are finally reunited in order to convey the deaths as unfair.  While Frankenstein’s ending may have been more predictable than the others, all three novels did not explicitly hint at the turn of events at each ending, with both Victor and the creature dying, Tess being executed for the murder of her rapist, and Maggie and Tom being suddenly crushed by flood debris.  Tess is different in the sense that it is a more singular death in the end, even though Alec is killed somewhat close to the end.  The reader may not be inclined to include his death as a tragic one because of the rape and his overall character presentation in the novel.  Overall, the deaths in these three novels are similar in many ways, with a few exceptions.   


How setting is applied with a different purpose in Frankenstein, Lady Audley’s secret and Tess of the D’urbervilles.

In every novel setting is one of the key aspects. Not only because it gives us a picture of where the action is taking place on the story, but it also contributes to the narrative in other aspects the author wishes for the reader to take in account. In Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein for example the setting is mainly used as an escape; a place of conflict and reflection for the character. In Lady Audley’s secret the setting establishes the mood of the story; and on Tess of D’urbevilles the author unites the setting with Tess, who is the main character, to discuss societal and human notions of nature, industry and the essence of humanity.

I must mention that Frankenstein, Lady Audley and Tess of D’ubervilles share a characteristic of their setting, and that is the foreshadowing quality they have. In Frankenstein as Victor went home for the first time in ages after the death of his little brother, there is a description of a terrible storm in which Frankenstein narrates the feeling of being stalked, specifically by the monster. Later on we discover that this storm not only demonstrates that the monster was actually there, but it foreshadows the first talk Frankenstein has with his creation. Not only does the monster acts like the storm itself, by bringing with him a terrible fate for Frankenstein, but he also explain the storm of bitterness that resides within him. Lady Audley’s secret also features a storm, and in its aftermath George Talboy’s mysteriously disappears. There Robert’s life is turned upside down, and now he must assume the role of detective to solve the storm that later we see Lady Audley has caused. In Tess, the dark foggy night when she and Alec where lost in the wood was enough to warn us, of course with previous evidence in earlier pages, that something bad was going to happen, and quite effectively we learned that Tess is pregnant in the next book.

However, there is a main difference with Frankenstein, Lady Audley and Tess D’urbevilles, and said difference is that they share a separate goal aside from foreshadowing and event. In Frankenstein, the author seems to use the setting as a place of self-reflection: “ I looked on the valley beneath; vast mists were rising from the rivers which ran through it, and curling in thick wreaths around the opposite mountains, whose summits were hid in the uniform clouds, while rain poured from the dark sky, and added to the melancholy impression I received from the objects around me. Alas! Why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparently in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings.”(p.124) In this paragraph we see that the natural scenery brought Frankenstein an assessment of himself, which we had not seen earlier in the book. Now that  the setting has changed from the confinement of his quarters, Victor was able to meditate before the monster appeared. The setting, particularly the natural settings, tend to go hand in hand with conflict. It was in nature that the monster felt and also reflected of the meaning of his life for the first time, and it was in nature that he was rejected by the humble family of the cabin. It’s also in the glaciers that Frankenstein begins his story and also where he dies.

In Lady Audley the setting is used more to set the feeling of the story. For example, from the beginning the Audley Mansion is described as “sheltered”, “hidden” (p.44) “a place in which a conspiracy might have been planned”, “a house in which no one room had any sympathy with another” (p.45), “The principal door was  squeezed into a corner of a turret at one angle of the building, as if it was hiding from danger and wished to keep itself secret” (p.44). As one reads phrases like these used to describe the place in which all of the story will unfold, one perceives from the start that this will not be a happy story. The setting gives a sense of mystery and horror to the reader, and sets the stage for a story about murder and madness.

And finally, in Tess D’urbeville, the setting is often used parallel with the character’s journey of life to give the reader a chance to reflect on societal topics that the author is trying to convey. For example, on Phase the first. The Maiden, there is a portion in which Tess begins to criticize her mother for her child-like intelligence and for bearing so many kids, then we see that Tess left school to help with her little brothers and quickly learned to do many farm tasks in which she is excellent. Then we have a description of the property of Alec’s mother: “It was more, far more; a country-house built for enjoyment  pure and simple, with no acre of troublesome land attached to it beyond what was required for residential purposes, and for a little fancy farm kept in hand by the owner, and tended by a bailiff.” Further along the description continues with “Everything on this snug property was bright, thriving and well kept, acres of glass-houses  stretched down the inclines to the copses at their feet. Everything looked like money” In a way this description is parallel to the way Tess’s parents were treating her. The part in the description that alludes to a place “built for pure enjoyment” talks about Tess’s mother because everything was happy though they were struggling to maintain all their kids healthy and alive. Then the description in which they allude to money, talks about how the financial burden of Tess’s household was now placed upon Tess. Furthermore these contrast between the lifestyle of the poor and the setting used for the rich, conveys how farmer must struggle to get something out of nature, while the rich subdue nature and take it all purely for pleasure. This would moreover be a parallel with industrialism and naturalism, in which the rich mold nature to their own desire.

Tess Takes Control

Throughout Tess of the D’Uberville’s, Tess Durbeyfield is a victim. From the very beginning of the novel, when we meet Tess and her drunkard parents, Tess is presented at fate’s punching bag. However, despite her perpetual victimhood, Tess presents a significant amount of agency at different times in her life. At first, Tess is a capable farm girl. Even after Alec takes advantage of her, Tess still shows that she can take care of herself. It isn’t until Tess falls in love with Angel that she becomes an (almost) totally passive protagonist. In these scenes, we can track how Tess has changed in a way that illuminates themes femininity and power.

Soon after meeting Tess Durbyfield, the audience learns that the young lady serves often as her sibling’s primary caretaker. Tess’ parents go off to drink and dream, and Tess is the one who must stay at home and finish the work. After her drunk father sleeps in, Tess takes it on herself to take the bees to market. Even after she accidentally kills the family horse, Tess is responsible for earning the extra income to supplant the loss. Throughout the first phase of the novel, Tess shows that she is capable of acting decisively and independently. Even when faced with Alec D’Uberville, Tess shows agency. The narrator describes Tess’ “eye lit in defiant triumph” after she escapes Alec’s speeding trap wagon (84). In these scenes with Alec, the narrator shows us that Tess has confidence in her decisions and is ready to make decisions on her own terms.

Perhaps the best indicator of Tess’ early agency is the christening of Sorrow. Tess, in great anxiety and fear for her baby’s soul, chooses to christen the baby herself, rather than waiting for an ordained minister to perform the holy act. (123). In this, Tess shows herself to be capable and confident enough to perform one of the Church’s most holy sacraments.

This capable and decisive Tess all but disappears when she falls in love with Angel Claire. Suddenly, Tess begins to listen to and obey everything she is told. Tess totally accepts Angel’s theology, his likes and dislikes, and even his mannerisms (222). In Chapter 35, Tess is absolutely passive as she allows Angel to wrap her like the dead, carry her (in the snow) across a river, and place her in a coffin. Tess appears to have lost all agency. While she’s in love with Angel, Tess seems to have lost the capable farm girl attitude that so defined her in the early chapters.

Near the end of the novel, Tess takes charge once again. After seeing Angel in Sandbourne, Tess takes the carving knife from a breakfast tray, and kills her rapist-turned-husband (383). Let’s talk about power moves. In killing Alec D’Uberville, Tess shows that she is once again in control of her fate, and she has accepted herself as a capable and decisive woman. It’s interesting to note that in almost all scenes where Tess acts out her will, she does so in a taboo or criminal way. Christening a child without the help of the ordained, marrying a man without telling him that you had a baby who died, and most obviously, murdering a wealthy man in a hotel, are all acts that society views as abhorrent. In showing Tess’ agency, Hardy also shows the difficulties working class woman face when attempting to take control over their own lives.

Rape Culture in the 19th Century

“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?” cried Tess, our protagonist, desperately trying to blame someone for her rape (112). Even if it was Alec’s actions, Tess absolutely believes that there was some fault in her for it, even if we know she’s not to blame for Alec’s actions. Did the 19th century audience believe the same, though? How could they, when Tess herself is trying to explain to her mother why she ‘hadn’t been more careful’? And later, to Angel, she repeats that she was “a child when it happened” (246), with no knowledge of men and their awful ways, as if she’s trying to excuse herself of blame. Because men are naturally awful, apparently, and women have to be smart or else it’s their fault. (125 years later, and I can recall arguments I’ve had where the other side argued the same. If I had a mind to be cynical, I could have a field day.) This is what Tess believes, and this is what pretty much all characters in the novel believe, so presumably our 19th century audience thinks the same.

Our author and narrator make their stance on Tess quite clear: she is a pure woman, and stays so throughout the novel (even after she murders someone (383), which is a totally questionable move, but okay, sure). Pretty much everyone else in the novel, however, including Tess herself, disagrees. The tension between narrator and characters plays into the author’s commentary on society and societal expectations, which he thinks are narrow and incorrect. He doesn’t outright attack the rape culture of the time (as our protagonist herself is a part of it), but he does try to undermine it by making the audience empathize with Tess and her unfortunate situation. If they don’t believe she deserved her lot in life, then how could they think her impure? When Angel adopts this way of thinking (343), and agrees that Tess is still a pure woman at the end of the novel, we’re meant to be happy that the couple can get back together. Of course, they can’t be, because tragedy societal expectations say Tess has to be with Alec now that he’s ‘won her back’ (379). Alec says Tess and he were meant to be together by natural law in the first place (336), and Tess herself has had the same thought many a time (162; 195; 252). How can the true love couple be together now? Murder, obviously They can’t, and the novel ends with Tess executed and Angel mourning her – but also with him moving on and leaving her behind (398), because this is the tragedy of Tess, not of Tess-and-Angel.

Angel is depicted as a completely stand-up kind of guy – he’s obviously never someone who would rape anyone, which already puts him ahead of Alec and apparently a lot of other men. Angel is “a man with a conscience” – meaning he sees Tess as a person, with a life as “great a dimension” as his own (177), an unfortunately rare quality for the time since our narrator makes the point of remarking upon it. I’d say this puts him in the same league as Jane Austen’s heroes, who are all pretty much wonderfully moral human beings and end up marrying the heroines of her novels. Of course, he also “plunged into eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger” (241), so he’s not actually as perfect as an Austen hero. Maybe that’s why Austen’s novels end with weddings and this novel ended in death. And maybe that’s also why it takes Angel so long to figure out that Tess’s ‘actions’ (like she had any choice) didn’t actually taint her, because beauty is in the “aims and impulses” of a person (343). Meaning, I think, that Angel’s finally reached the point in his life where he can say ‘she meant well’, and judge her on that (I believe this is stage 3 of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development). I’d definitely rather have a Darcy or Knightly any day, but Tess is stuck in love with a guy named Angel (a name I think is meant to be unironic), who tragically takes too long to get his act together.

The last corner of this awful love triangle is Alec, who was way too creepy in Phase 1 than I’m comfortable spelling out. No one else seemed to notice, except maybe his ma, who did nothing. He’s still creepy in Phase 6, when we meet him again. He literally asks her to swear to him that she “will never tempt [him] – by [her] charms of ways” (317). ‘It’s all on you, for making sure I behave’ is what he’s actually saying. And Tess, poor Tess, swears, and then tries to get him to leave her alone. (I’d like to take this moment to say that, when she slapped him with her “warrior’s” gauntlet and he started bleeding (335)? That was really, really satisfying. I was very proud.) When he ‘won her back,’ she actually liked him at that point. She didn’t hate him until Angel came, and she realized that Alec had her trapped. She was happy with him before that, though, and. It’s a very awful situation, being told you should be with your rapist and believing it. She probably shouldn’t have murdered him (not just because murder is wrong but also because he wasn’t worth losing her life to), but I can see how a woman in a culture like that could have felt desperate enough to do it. (Still murder, though.)