Victorian literature contains many explorations of not just death as an event, but the particularity, idiosyncrasy, and meaning behind material acts of mourning. However, the significance and proliferation of characters in novels misreading or misinterpreting death objects has been left largely unexplored. This article looks at moments of misreading death objects—a repurposed marmalade jar filled with flowers, Tess's deceased father's epitaph, the d'Urberville tombs, Stonehenge—in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles in order to show intriguing vicissitudes of memorials and death objects. Though the Victorian reading public deems Tess morally repugnant, Hardy insists on calling her a “pure woman” in the novel's subtitle. A central project of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles is to reveal the nuances of what it means to be a nineteenth-century woman on the cusp of the modern age: one who would theoretically expand options for women in terms of career, lifestyle, and sexuality. Moments of misreading death objects in Tess of the D'Urbervilles expose the central issue Hardy presents: declaring the humanity of a so-called fallen woman.

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