The rape/seduction of Hardy's Tess has been the subject of critical debate for a century. Recent commentary focuses on the ambiguity of the Chase scene in Phase the First and on how Hardy's presentation of the scene prevents a final interpretation of rape or seduction. Study of the novel's background and earliest versions-specifically Hardy's legal notebook entries from the 1880s, the manuscript version of the Chase scene, the 1891 first edition, and English rape law-suggests that Hardy conceived of the event as a rape/assault. Key passages from later chapters support this interpretation, while others add a subsequent event-a seduction-to the history of Tess's relationship with Alec. Possible sources for the Chase scene as it was written in the manuscript and in the 1891 first edition include two nineteenth-century law cases, summarized in Hardy's notebook, involving the application of spirits or liquor to onsuspecting women. Hardy was probably likewise aware of the provision in English rape law that a sleeping woman was incapable of consenting to a sexual relationship. Hardy removed the reference to spirits after the first edition of the novel. The fact that Tess is asleep when Alec approaches her in the Chase, together with subsequent references to the use of force, suggests that the event in the Chase should be read as a case of rape just as actual Victorian cases were interpreted.
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