Newest Review: ... as the main character is. I often find male writers nowadays stick to male main characters, and this can sometimes lead to most of the fe... more
The tragic tale of a pure woman
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Member Name: isobelj
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Advantages: Beautifully written, great, well rounded characters, good story
Disadvantages: None, for me
The book was originally published in 1891, to mixed reviews. People were wary because the novel is sexually quite progressive for the late 1800s, and really challenged some of the traditions, customs and mores that were in place at the time. Tess is subject to the double standards thrust on men and women in Victorian society, and this shapes her future. Hardy attacks these double standards vigorously, and I would almost call this a feminist novel, for its time.
The main thing that I admire about the book is how full and complex and flawed Tess as the main character is. I often find male writers nowadays stick to male main characters, and this can sometimes lead to most of the female characters being thin caricatures or stereotypes. (Of course there are many exceptions to this.) You find yourself swept up in Tess' dilemmas and difficulties, and you really do feel for her. You can completely understand why she makes all of the decisions that she does.
Alec D'Urberville is the villain of the piece, and although you don't always fully understand him he is very easy to hate. It's also easy to dismiss him as a cad - or a player, as we might say nowadays - but his motivations are often quite complex.
Angel Clare seems at first to be the perfect man. He's respectful, physically strong, intelligent, funny and devoted. When I imagine him, believe me ladies, he is HOT. However, he makes one fatal decision that changes both his and Tess' fate forever, and this will completely change your opinion of him. He and Tess both change and develop a great deal throughout the novel. Unfortunately Angel's journey brings him to the right place, but at the wrong time. He is too late.
Hardy's writing throughout the book is just beautiful. He describes the scenery of South-West England (where most of the book seems to be set) beautifully. He also describes people in a wonderful way. Although he can be a bit wordy, some of his sentences are just divine. I'm currently reading this book for the second time, and I imagine I'll read it many more times despite knowing the story well, just for the incredible writing.
Religion was a much bigger part of people's lives in those days, and particularly in Angel Clare's life as he comes from a family of parsons. Because of this, there is a bit of religious theology in there that could get quite dry, but it is kept to a minimum and it doesn't bother me too much. Hardy has a lot to say about religion, and his points are interesting ones.
At the moment I've challenged myself to read the top 100 books as voted for by the British public in a poll by world Book Night. (Tess is at number 45.) So far I've read 19 of them, and two of them have mentioned this book. One is A Prayer for Owen Meany, and the narrator is an English teacher, teaching this book. He talks about the foreshadowing in the book, and this time around I noticed that a lot. The other one is the uber popular One Day. David Nicholls credits Hardy with the premise of his novel, which tells the story of two people on St Swithin's Day every year for 20 years. This is inspired by a scene where Tess is contemplating significant days in her life that come around each year, when suddenly she realises that every years comes the pre-anniversary to her death date, but it goes by without her noticing. (Incidentally, David Nicholls also wrote an adaptation of this book for TV a few years ago.) I thought it was wonderful how this book was loved enough to get to the top 100, and how it had also partly inspired two other books that were on this list.
In short, I'm recommending this book wholeheartedly! It's a beautiful, classic novel that is written incredibly well. You really get involved in the characters, and despite it not being the easiest read at first, you still get into things really quickly. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the classics, and I would also say if you read and liked One Day, you would probably really like this as well. I'll definitely be looking out for more Thomas Hardy novels.
Various editions of this book have various extras in - to be honest the main difference is different forewords by Hardy, which didn't especially grab me. This edition is available from the Amazon Marketplace for about a fiver including shipping, but I'd say keep an eye out for the Popular Penguin Classics edition (the bright green ones) which has a cover price of £2.
Summary: A cracking good read