This is an attempt to move away from the clichéd/ somewhat hackneyed and simplistic interpretation of the characters

One thing that emerges from the novel is the romantic impulse to travel back in time to the time of knights and castles which would provide a counter-point to the somewhat mundane, dull existence of a post industrial revolution England when the full impact of modernity (with its ability to blend the modern advances in science and technology with the best in traditional culture) has not yet been felt.
This should be familiar to us from the Cold War / millennial generation when we are just about getting the hang of “having the cake and eating it too” in the sense of harnessing science and technology to bring back/recreate the aura/atmosphere of bygone times while still retaining the benefits of modern life.
At first glance, the whole pre-occupation with guilt at what would seem to us innocuous almost innocent transgressions strikes as somewhat silly and making a mountain of a molehill.
But when looked at the perspective of transcendence, the novel captures the pathos of a family , rather a generation’s attempts to transcend its circumstances degenerate into the sordid.

Tess’s complexity has not been fully appreciated by critics. Hardy seems to look to women such as Tess hailing from a rural background and accustomed to all forms of Hard / Physical work (Poverty without loss of self respect) and yet possessing a keen desire to improve herself intellectually , spiritually etc as the inspiration of the “Modern Woman” who would be a modern version of the “Amazon”.
Tess ‘s guilt is not that of a traditional, Victorian woman but that of a woman who attempts to live up to her ideal and live life on her own terms and not her despair on her failures
In fact, Tess with her attempts at resisting “Alec” seems more true to the feminist credo because as she always maintains, he did take advantage of her initially and now, she loves Angel more than Alec if at all she possesses any love for Alec. Her rebuffs / resistance to Alec’s overtures stem from the above and not from a conventional morality.
At the same time, Tess is not fully modern in the sense that she continues to pine for Angel

This is a character who is actually the most complex. His initial attempts to seduce Tess seem callow to our modern sensibilities.
On deeper analysis, rather than a person who has come into the aristocracy ,he seems like a somewhat decadent aristocrat whose days of power are numbered and who is in the process of losing all that he had. He also seems to be somewhat effete. Actually, his wooing of Tess seems to be a classic case of attraction of opposites , the “effete / soft Alec attracted to the strong / independent Tess”, the case of a degenerate / jaded aristocrat wooing a member of the rural lower middle class , albeit of a distant aristocratic lineage. To modern sensibilities, his initial interactions with Tess seem somewhat insensitive and reminiscent of a bully, though this may be an attempt to mask his true feelings. Unfortunately, instead of just making Alec a somewhat self-indulgent playboy, Hardy resorts to the device of potraying him as an aggressor.
In a different social milieu, possibly, he may have been the “Knight”,/possibly an Asiatic version to “tess , the Amazon warrior”. Hardy seems to hint at that when potraying Alec with a “swarthy complexion” The interactions between Alec and Tess seem more real rather than that between Tess and Angel which seem somewhat idealized. Tess fights with Alec and is on much more equal terms with him than with Angel.
Were it not for the first seduction, Alec could have been a much more interesting character. In the final analysis, he seems to be a misfit in his time and actually, the real tragedy of the novel in human terms.

Angel Clare
Angel Clare is a hardworking, progressive member of the middleclass. He is modern in outlook, an atheist though his father is a member of the clergy. In spite of his atheism, he is idealistic. In fact, his views of love are almost ethereal. The real question is whether his love for Tess is actually worshipping an Idea of Tess as the epitome of “Pure Rural Womanhood” (links to “Spartan Women” ?) and when she reveals her story, the falling of the scales from his eyes is due to her falling into the role of the victim or her being involved in something so sordid as “Sex/Rape” .

Possibly, Thomas Hardy bemoans the conventional rigid views of morality and even relationships love and evokes the following questions :
- What would have happened if Alec had not seduced or bullied Tess ? Would she have been able to at least like him / be friends with him while still loving Angel ? Why should she not be able to love both ?