Under the Hood of Tess: Conflicting Reproductive Strategies in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles is analyzed from an evocritical perspective in order to consider evolved human reproductive strategies through the psychology and behavior of the novel’s three principal characters: Tess, Alec and Angel. It is argued that Hardy made the episode of Tess’ and Alec’s sexual contact, as well its interpretation by the characters, ambiguous, thereby suggesting the possibility of seduction rather than rape. In this context, two female mating patterns—inherited from our hominid ancestors—appear in Tess’ behavior: (a) the collection of high quality genes from a genetically fit male (Alec) who is not likely to stay with the female and provide for the offspring and (b) mating with a provider male who is interested in long-term parental investment (Angel). Conversely, Angel and Alec represent two male mating strategies that evolved as possible courses of action in our species: the dad and the cad respectively. The unwillingness of Angel to forgive Tess her sexual past is considered in the context of another evolved feature of the human mind: paternal uncertainty (the fear of the male’s genetic extinction through the possibility of raising another male’s offspring). This is juxtaposed with studies of male jealousy in different cultures and periods. Tess’ decision to tell Angel about her past is viewed in connection with the concept of modularity: an approach to human psychology based on the assumption that the mind is divided into specialized modules (responsible for different cognitive spheres) which can sometimes conflict.