Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I’ve been meaning to write this review for several days but I’ve found it has been hard to even get started. The story of Tess leaves me very…emotional, shall we say and it’s kind of hard to even summarize. Hardy writes the book in Phases (7 in all) and it’s hard to give a good analysis without totally spoiling the whole book as there is a lot of critical stuff that goes on in this one. I will, however, try my best.
The novel revolves around Tess Durbeyfield and basically her journey through womanhood. She is a very beautiful young lady, as Hardy makes mention of several times, and seems to catch several fellows’ eyes. Her family is not wealthy by any means. In fact, they are poor and her father is somewhat of a drunk. But one day, in the very beginning of the book, Mr. Durbeyfield learns that he is actually the descendant of one of the noblest families in all of England: the d’Urbervilles. It also seems that they are basically the only ones left in all of England. This inflates Mr. Durbeyfield’s ego to the size of all get out.
They do manage to hear of one other family of d’Urbervilles that is quite well off and it is decided that since they are in dire straights, noble clan name not withstanding, that Tess should be sent to try to make acquaintance and see what might be done to help them out. Little do they know that these people have just usurped the name having moved into the area and are not d’Urbervilles at all. They’re Stokes, whoever those people are! However Tess is just a young lady at this time and is ill prepared for the difficulties that lie at hand when she meets her “cousin” Alec d’Urberville.
He is older and charming but Tess right away is wary of him. He is too keen on her and constantly tries to woo her in one way or another. Her mother thinks this is a grand idea and hopes marriage is in the works. Unfortunately, Alec’s plans are much more sinister. One dark night, on a walk home together alone in The Chase, the two of them get lost and Tess falls asleep. Alec rapes her. She is seen as damaged forever.
I don’t consider any of what I have just told you as a spoiler because it all happens in the very beginning (or Phase the First as Hardy sections the book). The real guts of the novel is what happens in her life afterwards. She sees herself as a woman that can never get married or have true happiness, because that is the way it was in those days for women. The only problem is that she does meet someone that she truly loves (Angel Clare) and then it becomes an intense inner struggle with herself in deciding what to do.
Hardy is a fantastic writer and was incredibly ahead of his time for penning a novel such as this way back in 1891. I would call it feminist because it definitely calls into question the ridiculous double standard of society when it comes to female sexuality. But at the same time the character of Tess was kind of a call back to the ideals of the past. In some ways she was a strong female character (and unfortunately I can’t give example without TRULY spoiling the book) but most of the time she was supporting those awful old ways which said that she was indeed lesser because she was a woman and “unpure.” Yet the book was pushing and pushing against those thoughts the whole time. That’s what I mean when I talk about Tess having this inner struggle with herself. Hardy was truly a master to be able to pull that off. Did it make for an infuriating read though? Oh you betcha! I cannot count the number of times I wanted to throw my Kindle against a wall. For that reason, and the fact that it did start off rather slow, is the reason I give it a lower star rating than I feel it otherwise might deserve.
I do recommend it though. Just try to keep a cool head while reading.