Like many other male Victorian authors of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, Thomas Hardy tended to portray his male and female characters differently, instilling a sense of helplessness and overall lesser value in the women based on his real-life experiences with the female gender, as can be examined in two of his most renowned works, Return of the Native and Tess of the d"Urbervilles.
The typical Thomas Hardy plot places a female protagonist in a love triangle with two male protagonists who are portrayed as opposites. Hardy's female characters are repeatedly depicted as the center of their novel's fictional world (Daleski 19). Although the woman is always granted the freedom of choice of exactly which man she will end up with, she is generally viewed as a tragic character, that is, a victim. She consistently makes the wrong choice, which leads to a bad marriage and disastrous sexual relationships. It may seem that Hardy was a sexist and had little regard for the importance of women, while in actuality, just the opposite is true. When writing women, Hardy took a keener interest and created beloved, tender characters, such as Tess Durbeyfield and Eustacia Vye (Marquez 1560). If he didn't hold women in such high regard, Hardy may not have continually created such complex female characters. .
To understand exactly why Hardy wrote his female characters as he did, one must examine the main female influences in his life. Due to a childhood illness, Hardy was forced to stay home until the age of eight. During this time, his mother, Jemima, a bibliophile herself, was Hardy's first teacher. It was this ongoing contact with his mother that led Hardy to instill a powerful presence in his female protagonists. Young Hardy's first formal schooling in the small farming village of Bockhampton introduced him to the grimmer facts of village life. This experience would prove to be an important factor in the way Hardy created fictional worlds for his tragic females.