Thursday, 3 October 2013
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Author: Thomas Hardy
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 592 (Hardback)
Buy: Amazon UK / Amazon US
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When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D'Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her 'cousin' Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future. With its sensitive depiction of the wronged Tess and powerful criticism of social convention, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is one of the most moving and poetic of Hardy's novels.
I haven't been posting a lot on the blog lately. Why? Blame this book. I've recently started my English Literature A-Level course, and this is the first required reading book we were set. At first, I didn't think I'd enjoy it - for those of you who don't know, Victorian literature language is quite different from modern novels, and Hardy especially loves this circumlocutory style which means he can sometimes go off on tangents for ages until he actually gets to the point. Long story short, it took me a while to read. But I've finally finished it, and actually, I rather enjoyed it.
Thomas Hardy was a typically pessimistic man, and in Tess, it's like he went out of his way to aggravate the entire human race living in the Victorian era. For this, I've got to take my hat off to him. Who would have the guts to rise up against an entire culture and point out the flaws they so desperately try to hide? Publishing both Tess and Jude the Obscure ruined Hardy's reputation, but he makes such an important point. It's easy to romanticise the Victorian era, and although he does that a lot in Tess, you also get an insight into the cold, harsh reality of the late nineteenth century. My eyes have been opened, for both better and for worse.
Admittedly, Tess is difficult to get into. As I briefly touched on earlier, Victorian literature is quite long-winded, and Hardy goes off on tangents for ages before he actually gets to the point. To begin with, I had to force myself to read it. However, as I read further into the phases, I actually began to - wait for it - read it for pleasure. I read a required reading book for pleasure - shouldn't Tess receive an award for that? When I finally got into Hardy's style of writing, it became intensely enjoyable, so much so that I found it really difficult to put down at times.
If I compared this to modern novels, then the character of Tess would annoy me to no end. But in this setting, with Hardy's romanticism of her character, you can't help but love her. He champions this girl - places her up high on a pedestal and dares anyone to judge her. For all her whining and silly mistakes, you are behind Tess the entire way, so much so that you begin to champion her, too. Tess becomes someone you can to protect - someone you want to shield from the likes of Alec D'Urberville and Angel Clare. In the sense of getting the reader to like the protagonist, Hardy did an incredible job.
The main topic everyone associates with Tess is rape - that is the word that defines this classic, especially if you haven't read it. However, from reading and studying it, I know for a fact that Hardy deals with a lot more issues than just that - but this is the one that sticks in your mind, purely because it's so out of character for a Victorian novel. A bit of background information, but the Victorian's loved romantic, idealistic stories - ever read Charles Dickens? If you have, you'll know that each of his stories has a lovely, happy ending. Hardy is the exact opposite of Dickens - he just couldn't write a happy ending, because he didn't feel comfortable with it. Hardy wanted to make a point with his writing, and his implication of rape really hit home for a lot of his target audience. It was even more of a taboo subject than it is nowadays; in their eyes, rape simply didn't happen. A man taking a woman, with or without her consent, was completely legitimate, and wasn't even questioned. It was natural but not spoken of. Hardy writing about this and implying that it was a bad thing was seen as horrendous. Nowadays, we can fully appreciate the message he was trying to bring about.
Overall, I really did enjoy this book. Admittedly it isn't for everyone, but I think that can be said for every book in existence. If you like classics or just like the sound of this, then I think you should try it. As some wise person once said, you never know until you try, right? Fingers crossed that the rest of my required reading is as good as this!