Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Classical Studies

Thesis Advisor

Dr. Alisa DeBorde

Committee Professor

Dr. Melissa McCrory Hatcher


In his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the naturalist author Thomas Hardy attempts to critique the 19th-century Christian perspective on sexual abuse. Instead, he inadvertently critiques legalism, exposing it as the antithesis of true Christianity. Secular scholars believe that Hardy’s novel is blaming the Victorian era’s sexual ignorance for the stigma and shame surrounding sexual abuse. Christian scholars believe that Hardy’s naturalistic worldview simply lacks a moral standard. However, I believe that Hardy’s novel exposes an issue far deeper than sexual ignorance and lacks something far more substantive than a moral standard; his novel addresses the devastating consequences of legalism and mankind’s desperate need for a Savior. Because sexual abuse is one of the greatest distortions of God’s unconditional love, the assault that Tess experiences forces her to wrestle intensely with the existence and character of God. Far from exposing Christianity as a farce, Thomas Hardy’s critique of the shame-inducing Victorian era unintentionally affirms the venerable gospel of grace.