Page 1. " Sir Pagan D'Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror "
William the Conqueror on the Bayeux Tapestry
Public DomainWilliam the Conqueror on the Bayeux Tapestry
Hardy sets up the opposition between Christian theology and Pantheism on the first page by naming the D'Urberville's fictional ancestor 'Pagan', a term for someone who follows a religion outside Christianity, particularly one that links spirituality with Nature. Hardy later calls Tess a "child of the soil", suggesting that she, like her ancestor, is much more attuned to earth religions than anything found in The Bible.

Unlike Sir Pagan, William the Conqueror was very much a real-life character. He invaded Britain in 1066 and fought the Battle of Hastings, defeating the army of King Harold. The battle was recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Page 2. " a wold graven seal "
An engraved seal possibly like the one John Durbeyfield has at home
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAn engraved seal - Credit: Kozuch

A seal was used to stamp the wax sealing important documents before the days of glue and Sellotape. It usually bore the coat of arms or mark of its owner and was a security device to ensure that the papers weren't opened before they reached their recipient.

Wold is John Durbeyfield's way of saying "old". Throughout the book, Hardy presents the speech of rustic characters phonetically rather than in standard English. If you have trouble making sense of any of it, try reading it out loud.

Page 3. " how are the mighty fallen "

A quotation from the Second Book of Samuel in the Bible (1:19): David says this when Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle.

Page 6. " lived to uphold the Cerealia "
Rossetti's painting of Proserpine - strikingly similar to Hardy's description of Tess
Public DomainRossetti's painting of Proserpine - strikingly similar to Hardy's description of Tess

Cerealia was a Roman festival celebrating the goddess Ceres. Its exact dates aren't known, but it is thought to have taken place over seven days in April.

Sources suggest that one of the rituals involved women clothed in white running with lighted torches to represent the goddess's search for her daughter Proserpina, who was abducted, raped, and taken to the underworld.

Page 8. " The dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the village school "

The first conflict in Tess is between her two languages: the thick, west country dialect her parents speak and the much more standard English she is taught to speak at school. Hardy later tells us that when Tess is with her mother, the Jacobean (the period during the rule of James I) and Victorian ages stand side by side, representing this gap as a time span of over 200 years.

The standardised school system was introduced during the Victorian era. Although education for all children wasn't mandatory until 1871, by the mid-nineteenth century the Church of England had set up a series of National Schools where reading, writing and arithmetic were taught. In out of the way places such as Marlott, these would typically have been overseen by one teacher, with children of all ages learning together in one room.

As you can hear from this 1930s recording of a Dorset accent, thick west country accents could be quite hard for outsiders to understand:


Page 12. " the favourite ditty of 'The Spotted Cow' "

Listen on Spotify: The Spotted Cow


Page 16. " Nature's holy plan "

A quotation from William Wordsworth's 'Lines Written in Early Spring'.

One of the key ideas of late-eighteenth century Romantic poets such as Wordsworth was the pathetic fallacy. This is the belief that the natural world is benevolent to us and responds to our experiences and emotions. For Hardy, thirty years after Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species had rocked the western world, such an idea was untenable.

Page 17. " the magnificent pillars of Solomon's temple "
King Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem by Tissot
Public DomainKing Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem by Tissot
King Solomon's temple is thought to have been completed around 960 BC. To date, no hard archaeological evidence has been found that it existed, and the only real information we have about it is in the Bible. The biblical account suggests it would have been an exceptionally lavish building.