Tess is a figure in whom oppositions such as virgin and whore collapse. Although Hardy primarily portrays his protagonist as a "pure woman", her purity is tarnished, in the eyes of her society, by the fact that she has been raped. Thus, it could be argued that Hardy's portrayal is primarily a pessimistic one. However, this is not reflected throughout the novel.
Hardy constantly underlines Tess' purity by relating her closely to her environment. For example, when she leaves home to go and work as a maid at Talbothay's, her feelings seem to be reflected in her picturesque surroundings: "the birds-eye perspective before her was not so luxuriously beautiful, perhaps, as that other one which she knew so well, yet it was more cheering"; and: "Tess had never visited this part of the country before, yet she felt akin to the landscape".
Such references give Tess an almost mystical feel - the idea of a woman being so close to her environment is very paganistic.
Tess' animality, reflected in her realtionship with her surroundings, mirrors her vulnerability, yet highlights her sexuality. Contemporary critics had trouble equating Tess' overt sexuality with the image of purity that Hardy attempted to project. The fact that Hardy refused to condemn Tess for having an illegitimate child flew in the face of victorian values.
With all that Tess goes through in the novel, it is difficult to relate Hardy's portrayal with a sense of optimism. Tess has her purity and virginity brutally taken away and is then condemned by her society and actively discriminated against - for example , she is not allowed to bury her son, Sorrow, in the church grounds.
In conclusion, though, Hardy's portrayal is completely optimistic. His determination to portray Tess as pure despite his society's values remains a testament to the early foundations of modern feminism.