Sunday, 30 May 2010

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

GENRE: classical novel

When it is discovered that the low-class Durbeyfield family is in reality the d'Urbervilles, the last of a famous bloodline that dates back hundreds of years, the mother sends her eldest daughter, Tess, to beg money from relations with the obvious desire that Tess wed the rich Mr. D'Urberville. Thus begins a tale of woe in which a wealthy man cruelly mistreats a poor girl. Tess is taken advantage of by Mr. D'Urberville and leaves his house. Throughout the rest of this fascinating novel, Tess is tormented by guilt at the thought of her impurity and vows to never marry. She is tested when she meets Angel, the clever son of a priest, and falls in love with him.

I really love reviewing the English classics. I think it has something to do with the fact that the classics are so well established in our minds and it’s believed by some people that you have to like a classical novel because it belongs to the classics. I disagree with this. Also, everyone (or almost everyone) knows the major classics of Anglo-American literature and I love to hear or read what people think about the renowned authors and their works of fiction. So, here’s my take on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Call me morbid, but I really like Hardy’s work. In general, I like him better than Dickens, or maybe I only feel this way because I have read more Hardy novels than Dickens novels. In any event, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is my favourite novel by Hardy. It’s a tragic piece of fiction, even morbid at times, but it explores justice and hypocrisy so well, and tragedy aside, it’s a very beautiful novel.


The story features the cruel passage from innocence to experience, love, shattered dreams, seduction, betrayal and even murder. It has everything you need for a good, engrossing read, I think. It all starts with false information and naivety. Mr Durbeyfield finds out that their family is connected to the ancient line of the D’Urbervilles, which is not true, but the family is poor and they see a great opportunity in this. The eldest daughter, Tess, is sent to the D’Urberville manor, to ask for employment and bring home money. In the manor, there live Mrs D’Urberville and her son Alec. Tess gets a job and Alec flirts with her from day one. I think that eventually, he actually genuinely falls in love with her, but he’s a cocky young man used to seducing women all the time, and when he falls in love with a decent girl, he has no idea what to do. Also, he is used to getting his way no matter the consequences, and since he rarely hears a no come from a woman’s lips, he ignores Tess’s rejection and has his way with her regardless.

Tess leaves afterwards and has his child. She really has a hard time; she’s a single mother in the Victorian era, which was a no go for the oh so important Victorians, and she also feels guilty. Somehow, she thinks it’s all her fault. After some more trials and sad moments, she finally gets a job in a good place and she meets a great man – enter Angel Clare. She likes him, but she feels guilty, impure and unworthy of his love. But he’s really such an angel to her and eventually, she gives in and marries him. Here comes the best part.

On their wedding night, the newlyweds decide to share their secrets with each other. Angel confesses to Tess that he had a mistress when he was a youth and Tess accepts that. It’s all in the past. Now, when Tess confesses her past to Angel (and mind you, none of it is her fault, as she was taken by force), Angel rejects her. He rejects her. He is worse than Alec. I find Alec to be an absolute bastard, but he actually cared about Tess. At least, he’s an honest bastard – he knows he’s a bastard and he doesn’t hide it. What you see is what you get with Alec. Angel, on the other hand, kept preaching about goodness and acceptance. He convinced me that he was the sort of man who would genuinely accept Tess as she was and save her with his acceptance and true love. But he turned out to be an even bigger idiot than Alec. When you’re worse than a rapist, you should really do something about yourself.

Naturally, Tess is devastated, and from then on, Tess’s life begins to spiral downwards very drastically. She experiences great hardships and in the end, she swallows her pride because she is so devastated. That really is the final blow for her, I think. The novel unfolds with murder. The ending is sad, but very unjust and some undeserving people actually benefit from it. Although I find the ending unjust, it’s great. It serves the purpose of the novel – to expose the injustices of Victorian social conventions. It is also great how Hardy showed that a person who is good on the outside may not be so on the inside. This goes for Angel and his hypocrisy. In Angel’s case, it is also shown how society was unjust to women. A woman could commit the same crime as a man did, and she was judged and punished very severely, whereas the man might have gotten away with it. In Tess’s case, the injustice was even greater, as she was completely innocent.

This novel is a great example of criticism of the injustices in Victorian times, especially in rural England, as the story takes place in rural areas. I loved the story, and the characters were really well written. They serve the purpose of the story. I recommend that you read this novel. You may not like it, but you will definitely learn something from it.

My only actual complaint about the novel is that there are too many descriptions of farming. I know perfectly well that descriptions of rural life are extremely important in Hardy's work, but I suppose I prefer city action. But apart from this, I really liked the novel.



Bethany said...

Rural life a flaw?! Oh my goodness! Perhaps Hardy likes to run off a bit when he's talking about farming but OH MY GOOD LORD is it justified!

Hardy is a rural man, had a rural upbringing and yet is competing against the better classes from the city. What Hardy is doing here is showing how clever, how important, how beautiful agriculture is. Making it picturesque, rather than dirty and disgusting (as it would have been perceived by his readers).

So yes, maybe to modern readers it might seem like he goes on a bit but what he's doing is very important. It's a kind of EFF YOU to the middle classes.

Wow, I love the man. And Tess is my favourite book in the whole wide world. Hence this very long comment. I could right about it and defend it to the ends of the earth.

So glad you enjoyed it!
But if you don't like farming, maybe it's best to shy away from Far From the Madding Crowd!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Thanks for the reply! Yeah, I confess, farming was kind of off for me. Not farming per se, just lengthy descriptions of farming processes. I still enjoyed the novel, I have read it several times, in fact. And, I do love Far From the Madding Crowd.;) Despite the farming, the story is just too good.

Ordinary Reader said...

Finally somebody who isn't afraid to label Angel the jerk that he is. I love Hardy too(even the farming stuff) but in reviews no one seems to feel the fury I feel toward Angel. He's a poor excuse for a human being, all talk and no character. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to read your review. We can hate him together!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Dianne, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only Angel hater, too!;)