Fiction — print. Modern Library, 1999. Originally published 1891. 451 pgs. Library copy.
Etched against the background of a dying rural society, Tess of the d’Urbervilles was Thomas Hardy’s “bestseller,” and Tess Durbeyfield remains his most striking and tragic heroine. Hopelessly torn between two men — Alec d’Urberville, a wealthy, dissolute man who secudes her in a lonely wood, and Angel Clare, her provincial, moralist, and unforgiving husband — Tess escapes from her predictament through a horrible, desperate act.
“She was Mrs Angel Clare, indeed, but had she any moral right to the name? Was she not more truly Mrs Alexander d’Urberville? Could intensity of love justify what might be considered in upright souls as culpable reticence?” (pg. 245)
Surprisingly modern for when it was written, Tess of the d’Urbervilles is full of contradictions and a pure honesty that is at times heart wrenching to read, but immediately placed it on my favorite books list. It’s bleak and heartbreaking, but a fantastic read. No sentence is wasted, and Hardy’s character development is especially refreshing after reading several books where that is not the case. I just simply fell in love with his writing style.
“Walking among the sleeping birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren, or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the while she was making a distinction where there was no difference. Feeling herself in antagonism she was quite in accord. She had been made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly.” (pg. 103)
I understand why Hardy had such an affection for Tess. Her story is so tragic, so heartbreaking that at times I had to look away. But Tess is such a wonderful character, and so well-written that I fell in love with her and wanted to be her friend.
“The past was past; whatever it had been it was no mare hand. Whatever its consequences, time would close over them; they would all in a few years be as if they had never been, and she herself grassed down and forgotten. Meanwhile the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.” (pg. 109)
It’s disgusting how much Tess paid for another person’s crime, which probably inspired the title of Phase Five “The Woman Pays”. And while Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the bleakest book I have probably ever read, but it’s also lovely too. Hardy’s writing was full of beautiful imagery, and does an undeniably good job of pointing injustice in society.