Sunday, March 18, 2012

School Reading: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Publisher: Signet Classics
Date: 2006 (1891)
Format: paperback
Acquired: purchased
Read: for British Lit II
Pages: 405
Reading time: nine days
*spoiler alerts*

Tess Durbeyfield is just another simple country girl at the beginning of this novel. Her father is an alcoholic who, upon discovering he is descended from the once-elite d'Urberville family, sends Tess out to try her fortune with the distant remnant of the family. Come to find out, however, these distant relatives are not blood kin, having recently purchased the name. Tess falls to the lust of Alec d'Urberville and retreats back to the countryside. She falls in love with Angel Clare, a parson's son turned farmer, but can he accept that she is not the innocent maid everyone thinks?

I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the difficult, slow-moving novel I had expected. I found the writing quite easy to read and understand, while the plot was consistent and rarely dragged. The first half of the novel was interesting, and the romance between Tess and Angel was sweet. After that, though, I wasn't a fan of any of the characters. Alec is inconsistent, going from a seducer to a dedicated proselyte and back to a seducer again. Angel is, basically, an idiot. He wants Tess to forgive him for once sleeping with another woman, but he leaves Tess when she tells him what Alec did to her. Instead of moving past these issues, he runs off to Brazil. And almost takes another woman with him. And doesn't bother to write to Tess or make any form of contact with her for about a year. Meanwhile, Tess is being too proud to get help from her in-laws and not having enough spine to stand up to Angel or tell him what's going on before it's too late. And while Hardy could turn all of this into a somewhat pro-feminist tale about how society constrains women and has a double standard of sexuality, the fact of the conclusion remains: Angel forgives Tess, too late, and Tess dies, leaving Angel free to marry her sexually pure younger sister. But wait, I'm not even going into the slightly odd pagan references that Tess' situation is due entirely to fate, not the misdeeds and inaction of certain male characters. Feminist FAIL, Hardy!

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