11 worst couples in literature: Angel & Tess and Alec & Tess from Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Illustrations from early additions of Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Alec and Tess plus Angel and Tess

No.2. Angel & Tess and Alec & Tess from Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy)

We continue our worst couples run down with Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman. It is a remarkable novel, full of interesting things and wonderful writing. And no less than two rotten relationships.

Spoiler alert!

Angel and Tess: This relationship had a lot of promise, the couple are in love and marry. But those we love can hurt us the most. Tess is moved to tell Angel about her rape by Alec. Angel is appalled by the revelation and spends the wedding night on a sofa. What a heal! Shortly after, Angel encounters Tess’s milkmaid friend Izz and impulsively asks her to go to Brazil with him as his mistress. Even more of a heal! At least Angel later gives Tess a few days happiness before she is hanged at a local prison. But the novel ends with Angel walking away from a nearby hill over-looking the prison, holding hands with his newly deceased wife’s sister. At least let poor Tess’s body get cold, please. What a triple heal!

Alec and Tess: The words ‘cad‘ and  ‘bounder‘ could have been invented to describe Alec d’Urberville (in reality, plain Alec Stoke). This is a man who will never be happy for long, because he’s not at peace with himself. It’s a relationship that starts when Alec at first harasses and then rapes Tess. The resultant baby dies without a baptism and Tess is forced to live in gruelling poverty and hardship. Eventually Tess is so desperate that she gets together with Alec, but then stabs him to death for destroying her life. She is hanged for murder.

The injustice and misery Tess suffers in two relationships is brilliantly and relentlessly described by Hardy, occasionally giving us relief, only to then take us down further. How Tess suffers. And how we suffer with the ill-fated Wessex lass.

A scene from Tess of the d’Urbervilles, 1998 TV version (below) – 4m 24s.



Worst couples in literature – The complete list

No. 11.  Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

No. 10.  Rosamund Vincy and Dr Lydgate from Middlemarch (George Eliot)

No. 9.  Lydia and George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

No. 8.  Dorothea and Edward Casaubon from Middlemarch (George Eliot)

No. 7.  Arabella Donn and Jude Fawley from Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)

No. 6.  Anna Karenina and Alexei Vronsky from Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

No. 5.  Bertha and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)

No. 4.  Madeline Bray and Arthur Gride from Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens)

No.3.  Laura Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde from The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)

No.2.  Angel & Tess and Alec & Tess from Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy)

No.1  Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

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