Marshall Neilan may not have been the best director for this Thomas Hardy tragedy; he was better with subject matter that wasn't quite so heavy. But he and his then-wife Blanche Sweet still made a good and financially successful film. Tess (Sweet) comes from a poor family. When her father, the town drunk, finds out that they are distant relatives of the aristocratic D'Urbervilles, he sends Tess to them to find work. She is hired as a maid by Alec D'Urberville (Stuart Holmes), who betrays her. She leaves and has a child that dies soon after it is born. After she gets work as a milkmaid, she meets Angel Clare (Conrad Nagel) and they fall in love. Although she writes a letter confessing her past to Angel, he never gets it -- a fact that Tess doesn't realize until their wedding night. She proceeds to tell him the truth, and, disillusioned, he leaves her and goes to Brazil. In the meantime, Alec D'Urberville decides to atone for his mistreatment of Tess and offers to marry her. She accepts and begins making plans to divorce Angel.
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