Article Expert: “Rumor, Reputation, and Sensation in Tess of the d’Urbervilles” by Daniel Williams

Article Expert: Rumor, Reputation, and Sensation

Allyson Herkowski


Goal: Consider the role of rumor as it relates to the reputations of characters and the sensations felt by said characters in Tess of the D’ubervilles


  1. How does rumor affect one’s reputation?
    1. As it moves through social spaces, rumor is able to change and bend into pure fiction. It can either benefit reputation or damage it.
      1. Rumor thereby becomes part of reputation. In such a world that Tess lives in, for example, rumor becomes something of a first impression, giving her a reputation that she may or may not deserve.
      2. Consider the reasons for why Tess moves away from Martlott in the first place (to save the reputation of her and her family), and how the change of space affects her reputation and even the view she has of herself.
  • Consider how rumor can transcend boundaries, and how that affects reputation as well. Example found on pg. 97 of the article concerning Alec’s former relationship with Angel is a perfect instance of how rumor goes on to affect reputations boundlessly.
  1. How does Hardy address rumor and social spaces?
    1. As seen on page 98 of the article, rumor transcends boundaries and is ingrained within one’s reputation. Hardy recognizes that rumor and reputation (the spoken word), knows no bounds. Regardless of Tess’s move to either Stoke-d’Uberville’s estate or the southern dairies, for example, rumor is what follows her. She cannot escape it, because it is ingrained within her reputation.
    2. Rumor does not allow one to hide. There is no hiding as far as rumor is concerned.
  2. How is rumor characterized by sensation in the novel?
    1. Consider the following examples of sensation as it intersects with how rumor is presented:
      1. Tess constantly feels the pressure of being watched
      2. Tess feels that people are constantly scrutinizing her and inspecting her
  • Occasionally, hope is visually represented (such as through the description of sunlight) when Tess is in a ‘safe’ situation (safe from rumor)
    1. How are her visual perceptions affected by this hope?
  1. When rumor comes up, physiology begins to change
    1. Pulse quickens
    2. Temperature changes
    3. Breathing patterns become different
    4. Consider the significance of this within Hardy’s writing?!



This article forces us to contemplate the presence of rumor in Hardy’s novel, and consider it as the driving force behind Tess’s actions. While it is not the only reading of the text, this article provides a lens which helps us to appreciate the more subtle effects of rumor in the book.


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