Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Title: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Author: Thomas Hardy
ISBN-10: 0141439599
Publisher: Penguin Classics/ 592 pages

Tess of the D’Uerbervilles is a very poignant novel. I re-read it recently after 25 years gap. Hardy's usual pastoral idyll is present here but this is thrown into powerful contrast by the increasingly bleak events that overtake the hopeless Tess as she progresses.

Hardy focuses on many themes throughout the book, mostly on the feminine role and social class. Tess Durbeyfield realizes her social struggle when she caused an accident to happen sending her family into financial need. With the recent discovery of their family's lineage to be that of the once very prominent D'Urbervilles, Tess is sent off to her wealthy relatives. The relatives in reality are not D'Urbervilles, only a family that had taken the name because questionable activity was attached to their old name. Alec D'Urberville realizes Tess's financial need and uses it against her to join him at his mother's estate. He holds the blackmail of economic need over Tess's head until he eventually takes advantage of her. The pregnant Tess, as an unmarried woman isolated from others, escapes home to have her baby.

Tess's baby dies, leaving her to start over at Talbothay's Dairy. Finding real love in Angel Clare, he convinces Tess to marry him. She tries to tell him of her past only to have him refuse to hear her each time. After their wedding, Clare admits his previous sexual experience asking for forgiveness and receiving it. When Tess relates her story, he can no longer be with her. Men's double standards are shown. Clare leaves her for Brazil to decide if they could fix matters. During his long extended absence, Tess is reduced to farm labour. Her father dies and her family is evicted from their home. Her economic welfare falls again into Alec D'Urberville’s hands. He persuades Tess to be his wife because her real husband was never going to coming back.

Clare comes back to find his wife living with D'Urberville. Tess, in a moment of revelation, avenges the wrongs of D'Urberville by killing him. Clare for all his faults takes on the now fugitive Tess. They have a few days of paradise together before she is taken away for D'Urbervilles murder. Tess understands that this is how it has to be. She will be able to die before Clare can despise her again. She dies a fulfilled woman, "'I am ready,' she said quietly"

Tess grows up fast, having to deal with the wrongs of humanity, her social class, a noble lineage, and the renewal of her true self. Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a novel that can surpass the ages as a heartbreaking tale for any reader who believes in redemption and compassion for the all-encompassing heroine.

Gender roles and social class issues are unashamedly raised with no subtlity. Love story or social issue awareness, the beloved heroine, innocent, strong, loving, and pure will reach into one's heart and capture it forever in the world of fairy tales and happy conclusions despite its tragic end.