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Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles:


Please be aware this review contains spoilers; read at your own risk.

After having recently read some of Thomas Hardy’s short stories, and after having Tess of the D’Urbervilles sitting on my TBR shelf for so long, I finally decided to pick it up and read it. And I am so glad that I did because it now firmly sits on my ‘favourite books’ shelf, and will remain there indefinitely. It has been such a long time since I was last mesmerised by a book so much so that I couldn’t stop reading or thinking about it, that is until Tess came along.

This is the tale of Tess Durbeyfield, a country girl whose family are stuck in a difficult financial position. After recently finding out she has the same blood as the rich D’Urberville family, she travels to a rural mansion in the town of Trantridge to claim her kin, hoping the family will help eliminate the Durbeyfield’s poverty. It’s here she meets her cousin, Alec, who is conceited and a little too forward with his feelings for Tess. Unfortunately, this is where the novel takes a darker turn – her cousin takes advantage of Tess. She becomes the infamous 19th century fallen woman.

What makes Tess of the D’urbervilles so different is how Hardy explores this portrayal. In a century where these women are at the bottom of society, Hardy takes a different approach, which is illuminated by the subtitle of the novel: ‘A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented by Thomas Hardy’. Instead of succumbing to typical portrayals of an impure women, he sympathises with her. The rest of the story details her life after her rape, illuminating how it is to be a woman in this century who is no longer pure. She works as a milkmaid on Talbothays farm where she meets the ever-so-charming Angel Clare, before moving on to another farm, and so on.

In the grand scheme of things Tess is a brilliant novel, but my favourite thing about it was the characters, in particular Tess and Angel. To start of with, Tess is a wonderful and beautiful character. She was such a lovely protagonist for such a tragic story. It’s upsetting to know she never once got a break from life; it was like the gods wanted her to be miserable, only allowing her small doses of happiness every now and then. This harsh treatment of Tess was an interesting route to take. Hardy was a Realist writer, so he wasn’t going to sugar-coat her hardships or allow her a happy ending – that’s not how life works. Tess is the embodiment of real life. She reflects the consequences that come when you deter from society’s (very restrictive) norms. She was the face of tragedy, and I thought she handled it remarkably.

Another interesting character was Angel, who was a hit or miss for me. Sometimes I loved him, other times I hated him. At the beginning, he was loveable, sweet and an all round caring guy (basically everything you wanted him to be). He was independent; he never gave in to the pressure his father placed on him about going to Cambridge, instead he did what he wanted to do, which was to work on a farm. But, unfortunately, my appreciation for him faded fast. After their union, he reveals a secret to Tess – basically, he had sex before their marriage. Tess thinks this is an appropriate time to tell him about her past, but it goes disastrously wrong. He thinks her foul, misleading and wrong for having sex before marriage, even though it wasn’t her fault and he did the exact same thing. He leaves Tess poor and unhappy whilst he jets off to Brazil in order to cope with his wife’s “dishonourable” secret. Angel transformed from this wonderful guy to someone who I hated with every fibre of my being.

That was not the end of Angel Clare, though. He eventually came back from England and decided he wanted to be with Tess, regardless of her impurity. He goes on a manhunt for her before they finally reunite. Unfortunately, I did a loop here. Suddenly, I started to like him again (reluctantly, may I add). It’s like nothing happened; everything was forgotten about. I just swooned over him all over again (I blame his charming personality). He was a complex character, but he was never predictable. Hardy took unexpected turns which kept me interested, and this was done best through Angel Clare.

The ending of Tess truly destroyed me. Hardy really hit home on the fact fallen women, especially in the 19th century and regardless of how they became impure, will be punished. Society deems them as unworthy, which Hardy illuminates in a harsh, yet truly moving way. Although I’ve seen the fallen woman in many 19th century novels, Hardy did something different with it. The whole 400 page novel constantly pulled me in. I never once got bored. My ultimate favourite thing about Tess of D’Urbervilles was the pastoral scenery. When I read the descriptions of the barren countryside, full of workers and animals, I felt so at home. It reminded me of home in the summer, which I appreciated considering I’m currently an hour and a half away from my family.

I’d definitely recommend this book to those interested in either Hardy, 19th century literature or the conventions of womanhood in Victorian England. I just had to give this book 5 stars.

Thanks for reading. Lauren Xx


10 thoughts on “Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles:

  1. This one is on my list. I haven’t read it yet, but a friend of mine HATES it, because he says Hardy throws Tess under the bus. I have a hunch Hardy meant to do the exact opposite, so I’m curious about it. 🙂


      1. That’s exactly what I guessed he was doing. I’ll have to journal out my thoughts when I read it. I’ve read the Claire Tomalin biography on Hardy & I think I’ll like him a lot.

        The friend who dislikes Tess of the D’Urbervilles says Jude the Obscure is excellent…


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