Tess of the d’Urbervilles was my first introduction to Thomas Hardy; it was my first introduction to the county of Wessex; and it was the first book, in a long time, that truly captivated me. I was asked to re-read it for my Realism seminar this week (today actually at 5pm). At first, I was hesitant. Would I like it as much as the first time? What if my perception of it wasn’t really accurate? I was scared of the answers.
…but, in the end, I’m glad that I did re-visit it.
I will admit that I didn’t like it as much as the first time. I think it was the perfect book for me in that particular moment, and I can no longer relate to April 2017 me. However, it’s still a fantastic book that I wanted to discuss today. Stuck in a difficult financial position, the Durbeyfield family send Tess, their daughter, to claim kin with the rich d’Urberville family. She travels to a rural mansion in Trantridge, hoping the family can eliminate their poverty, but it takes a turn for the worse. It’s here she meets her cousin, Alec, who is conceited and entitled. And it’s here the novel takes a darker turn…
First off, I want to say that Hardy exploration of the fallen woman is brilliant. He gives a voice to these women (well, an omniscient narrator talks for her, but you know what I mean) who otherwise must suffer alone. Tess isn’t made to redeem herself for the reader, nor is she held accountable for by the narrator. Hardy takes a sympathetic and sensitive approach to dealing with this situation. The subtitle, ‘A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented by Thomas Hardy’, tells you all you need to know. He doesn’t condemn ‘impure’ women, but instead explicitly and truthfully depicts their reality.
Passivity, labour, grief, punishment and death. There is no happiness for a fallen woman of this century.
The defining quality of the novel was, without a doubt, Hardy’s denouncement of men’s fickleness. Alec changed his mind constantly. He had control over his desires, but then lost them. He changed through religion, but then neglected his morality. He promised to leave Tess alone, but then stayed. Angel was the same. He’s the biggest hypocrite of them all. Punishing Tess for having the same sins as him – yet she had no choice in her’s. He left her just to come back. The constant changing of minds highlighted how fickle men really are. It’s like Hardy is encouraging us not to trust them.
Lastly, I just wanted to mention how utterly brilliant the ending was. It was a mixture of relief and grief. You were happy for a brief second, and then it was gone. Hardy is brilliant at manipulating your emotions. Tess reclaimed her power through her final actions towards Alec – it was powerful and emotive. But, as a fallen woman, she cannot possibly live happy. I think Hardy really hit home with that. He couldn’t let the story end happy – it would have been a lie. Instead, he did was expected. It was a brilliant end to a brilliant novel.
Have you read Tess? What do you think of it? I’d love to discuss it with you!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X