In Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the character Liza-Lu (Tess's sister) plays a very minor background role throughout most of the novel, until near the very end when Tess says she wants Angel to marry her after she, Tess, is gone. Angel and Liza-Lu are seen together in the very final scene, although it's left open whether or not he does end up marrying her after mourning Tess.

Why was this twist added to the end? What does it add to the story, mostly a tragedy of lust and love? I always found it weird that Tess would be matchmaking for Angel at that point, especially her own sister. Is it meant to convey the idea that there is always hope for new love, or what?

3 Answers 3


The twist of Liza-Lu and Angel together at the end of Tess of the d'Urbervilles is odd, like you say, and does seem somewhat unnecessary. However, there are some points which can explain why Hardy added it.

Firstly, it contributed some sort of resolvement to the ending. Tess is given the death penalty for her murder of Alec. We see this almost through Liza-Lu and Angel's eyes as they wait in Wintoncester for Tess's death to be signalled:

Upon the cornice of the tower a tall staff was fixed. Their eyes were riveted on it. A few minutes after the hour had struck something moved slowly up the staff, and extended itself upon the breeze. It was a black flag.

"Justice" was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.

Ch. 59

The finality of these sentences is crushing to the reader and really defines the tragedy of the novel. But there is no dénouement (or narrative closure) yet, nor the necessary catharsis (a key part of tragedy, the release of tension and anxiety) that this stage should induce. Yes, Tess is dead and that is somewhat a closure in itself, but there is no emotional closure; the short sentence "It was a black flag." is flat, emotionless and provides no release for the reader from the tragedy so Liza-Lu and Angel's union and subsequent reaction to Tess's death aimed to induce the necessary catharsis. Helena Michie's Sororophobia: Differences Among Women in Literature and Culture notes that the fulfillment of emotional satisfaction was essential to the Victorian reader and hence explains Liza-Lu's role:

By embodying principles of literary closure, Liza-Lu forces herself awkwardly, absurdly, onto the novel, undercutting the tragic dignity of Hardy's ending.

This 'closure' was a contemporary 'principle', and although tragedy is often viewed now as heartbreaking but also in many cases a fitting ending to a narrative, in Hardy's day, readers liked warm and fuzzy endings more; although classics were still appreciated, with the birth of the novel, audiences generally wanted satisfying happy endings. There could also be an element of irony in this resolution as in his book, The Descent of the Imagination: Post-Romantic Culture in the Later Novels of Thomas Hardy, Kevin Z. Moore claims:

Angel and Liza-Lu evoke only to mock the redemptive possibilities of the romantic epic.

Secondly, Hardy has made Liza-Lu symbolically act as the person Tess could have been had Alec not violated and consequently disgraced her. Tess's ideal life would have been to never have met Alec, marry Angel when she first met him and lived a simple but happy life together. Interestingly, Liza-Lu's original name was Tess in the earlier drafts of the novel before Hardy renamed her. Tess describes Liza-Lu thus when she asks Angel to marry Liza-Lu:

"She is so good and simple and pure. O, Angel--I wish you would marry her if you lose me, as you will do shortly. O, if you would!"

"If I lose you I lose all! And she is my sister-in-law."

"That's nothing, dearest. People marry sister-laws continually about Marlott; and 'Liza-Lu is so gentle and sweet, and she is growing so beautiful. O, I could share you with her willingly when we are spirits! If you would train her and teach her, Angel, and bring her up for your own self! ... She had all the best of me without the bad of me; and if she were to become yours it would almost seem as if death had not divided us.... Well, I have said it. I won't mention it again."


Tess views herself as "good and simple" but not pure like her sister; she is the 'unblemished', 'unsullied' version of Tess:

"a spiritualized image of Tess, slighter than she, but with the same beautiful eyes"

(As a side note, the irony of the Angel and Liza-Lu match is that in the Victorian era, it was forbidden to marry your sister-in law as she was considered to be like a sister by blood, hence Angel's comment "And she is my sister-in-law"; this does make their prospective marriage even more bizarre. So perhaps the match was also included to exude shock from contemporary readers.)

Liza-Lu is known to be nearly sixteen (4 years younger than Tess), the age Tess was when she went to the Chase with Alec, and so Tess sees their union as a chance for Liza-Lu to achieve Tess's own aspirations, marry Angel, and not fall prey to disgrace.


"Why didn't you stay and love me when I--was sixteen; living with my little sisters and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn't you, why didn't you!" she said, impetuously clasping her hands.

Ch. 31

So, Angel and Liza-Lu's union is essentially the embodiment and fulfillment of Tess's last wish.

  • "although tragedy is often viewed now as heartbreaking but also in many cases a fitting ending to a narrative, in Hardy's day, readers liked warm and fuzzy endings more" - very interesting. Certainly in ancient Greek times, and in Shakespeare's day, there was nothing 'unfashionable' about tragic endings. I wonder when and how this changed?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:06
  • Also, the idea that Hardy avoided a fully tragic ending in order to play up to readers' expectations ... doesn't seem to fit very well with what I know about him: writing not only tragedies but also stories which shocked readers and even got burned in the streets. In fact, it doesn't even fit well with your own later sentence "perhaps the match was included to exude shock from contemporary readers". Some doublethink here on Hardy's part, perhaps?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:08
  • @Randal'Thor Hmm, yes, it is rather strange that he softened the ending maybe to satisfy the audience (or maybe himself?) especially due to how controversial the novel was. The legal issues with Angel and Liza-Lu's match would have fitted in more with the general controversiality of the novel, but I think the general consensus is that the episode is rather incongruous.
    – Fabjaja
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:15
  • @Randal'Thor Cliffsnotes, a really good book format note publisher, states this: Although overly happy endings were typical of some of Hardy's contemporaries, such as the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen, with Tess, Hardy attempted to infuse into the literature more earthy characters and a story that belies the notion of a happy ending. So I suppose it is still a very tragic ending after all?
    – Fabjaja
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:20
  • 1
    Yeah, it's certainly a tragic ending, and the Liza-Lu angle is an almost horrific way of trying to soften the blow. "Your wife is dead, but here, she has a sister who's also pretty and innocent" - it's pretty awful when you think about it. In fact, maybe this was even intentional? Perhaps it wasn't so much a sop to those who preferred happy endings as an extra punch in the face for them: "you want a happy ending? here, have this fake-happy angle which leaves you feeling even worse than before!"
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:49

What would the novel's ending have been like if there was no Liza-Lu? I think she is unnecessarily thrust upon the readers' sympathy. Without Liza-Lu marrying Angel the story would be more elevating and intense.

What I can read under the surface is that Tess never got rid of the idea that she is impure, and, therefore, unfit for Angel. Hence, before she disappears forever, a pure Liza is tied up with pure Angel.

But from artistic point of view I regard this final part as a serious flaw in the novel. Perhaps, like Charles Dickens, Hardy had the readers' response in mind, for the novel was serialized for a magazine in 1891.

  • It seems odd, given the emotional intensity of this novel (and many others by Hardy), that he would even try to "soften the blow".
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 15:39

I would add that with Alec dead Tess’ family is again homeless and destitute, however, if Liza-Lu marries Angel this problem is solved. Since Tess’ motives are always a mix of desires, she may have been thinking of her family as well.

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