‘Young Tess Durbeyfield attempts to restore her family’s fortunes by claiming their connection with the aristocratic d’Urbervilles. But Alec d’Urberville is a rich wastrel who seduces her and makes her life miserable. When Tess meets Angel Clare, she is offered true love and happiness, but her past catches up with her and she faces an agonizing moral choice.’
For some reason, there’s nothing I love quite as much as a book that is tragic and completely and utterly breaks my heart. A book that I’m left thinking about weeks, months and even years later. A book that makes me think, oh why did it have to end like that? And yet if the ending were different, it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact on me. I guess that’s why I love a tragic story, because it stays with me and the outcome of the characters’ lives evokes emotions in me and makes them more embedded in my memory. A memorable book; that’s what Tess of the D’urbervilles is.
I fell in love with this book almost straight away and I know sometimes love is blind and I know Tess gets quite a mixed reaction at times so please bare in mind whilst reading my review that I love this book and I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way.
The style of writing was exquisite and has that rich feeling you get when you are reading a classic. Writing just isn’t quite the same anymore. I also felt attached to Tess very quickly; her tender yet passionate nature, her never-ending loyalty and her sincere kindness all appealed to me. Not forgetting, her naivety and her innocence which would become the bane of her existence.
Another aspect of this story that was interesting, and what was controversial at the time of its original publishing, was the way Hardy portrays Tess as innocent and pure throughout her ordeal even after that incident. He places the blame where it belongs on the shoulders of the scandalous gentleman and the way Tess blames herself even years later, Hardy in his narration explicitly disagreed with this.
There was one part of the book, fairly early on, which struck me:
‘Being graceful and interesting, standing moreover on the momentary threshold of womanhood, her [Tess] appearance drew down upon her some sly regards from loungers in the streets of Chaseborough; hence, though sometimes her journey to the town was made independently, she always searched for her fellows at nightfall, to have the protection of their companionship homeward.’
(And I thought I wrote long sentences!)
It really disheartened me that even all those years ago, women had to be careful of going by themselves at night or in certain places, for fear of being harassed in some way. The fact that Hardy, a gentleman, was even aware of it (which a lot of men even now are not) suggested that it must have been a widespread and well known issue. I was glad that he included this from the perspective of Tess even though it made me a bit dazzled that it is still, and even more so, a major issue in society. Makes you wonder if it will ever get better… Anyway back to the review!
There were many different stages of this novel in which Tess is going through a different phase of her life and quite literally a different chapter. No matter how dull or depressing her circumstances were at the time, Hardy managed to make it compelling and riveting. The ending was… quite a surprise. I would have liked more detail around the effects after the big event but it still worked in its vague way.
I loved this book; it’s one I’m sure I’ll read again and again in the future and I recommend it to all.