Tess Durbeyfield: Tess is the main character of the novel. She is beautiful and loyal and lives with her impoverished family in the town of Marlott. She has a strong sense of responsibility and wants nothing more than to do the best for her family that she possibly can, despite her inexperience and naivety. She is left vulnerable many times throughout the novel.
She leads a complicated life, and after her father discovers that they are linked to the noble family, the d’Urbervilles, she is sent to work at their estate. Her ideals are unable to save her from falling further and further into her own misfortune, and she soon falls pregnant by the son of the d’Urberville family, Alec. The truth is that, her family is not related to the d’Urbervilles at all. Alec’s father, a man named Simon Stokes, had changed him name after he retired.
Angel Clare: Angel is a smart and savvy young man, who had decided to become a farmer in order to escape the busy life of the city. Angel’s father and two of his brothers are respected members of the church. His religious doubt has stopped him from following in their footsteps. He meets Tess at the Talbothays Dairy, where she is working as a milkmaid, and soon falls in love with her.
Alec d’Urberville: The good looking and amoral son of Simon Stokes. Alec is not actually a d’Urberville – his family adopted the surname after the retirement of Mr. Stokes. Alec is a manipulative man who does everything in his power to seduce Tess when she comes to work for his family. He soon takes advantage of her in the woods after a fair one evening. He does eventually try to help her, but is unable to make her love him.
Mr. John Durbeyfield: Mr. Durbeyfield is Tess’s father. He is a lazy peddler, who has some smarts about him but hates to work. When he learns that the family comes from a line of nobility, he sends his daughter to the estate of the d’Urbervilles hoping to turn a profit.
Mrs. Joan Durbeyfield: Tess’s mother has high hopes for her daughter, but finds herself disappointed by how her daughter lives her life. She is somewhat dim and a forgiving woman. She is never able to stay angry with Tess – especially after her daughter becomes her only means of support.
Mrs. d’Urberville: Alec’s mother, and the widow Stokes, is blind and sickly. She cares deeply for the animals on the estate, but would sooner have little to do with her maid Elizabeth, her son Alec or Tess. In fact, in her eyes, Tess is never more than an unfortunate.
Marian, Izzy and Retty: The milkmaids that Tess befriends during her time at the Talbothays Dairy. Marian, Izzy, Retty and Tess remain close throughout their lives. The girls all love Angel and are sad when they choose Tess over them. This causes Marian to start drinking, Retty tries to kill herself, and Izzy nearly runs off to Brazil with Angel after he decides to leave Tess. Eventually, they all remain loyal to Tess. Marian assists her in finding employment, while Marian and Izzy write a letter to Angel pleading with him to give her another chance.
Rev. Clare: Angel’s father is a well liked clergyman in Emminster. He believes he has an obligation to convert the townspeople.
Mrs. Clare: Angel’s mother is a loving woman, but she is also very snobbish. She wants her son to marry a woman who comes from an affluent background, and regards Tess as a ‘simple’ and poor girl. However, she soon comes to appreciate her.
Sorrow: The son of Alec and Tess. Sorrow dies in infancy.
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