In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Tess Durbeyfield is a young, intelligent woman, a cottagers daughter of less fortunate but ancient family, who is wronged by two men...
One man is Alec d'Urberville, the would-be relative she seeks out to "claim kin" with him and his mother, and who for a time becomes her employer. Alec takes a passionate interest in the beautiful, witty Tess. His relentless, obsessive pursuit of her causes her ruin one night when he takes advantage of her against her will. Broken in spirit and body, Tess leaves and returns to her family. A child is born to Tess as a result of the violation against her. Very sadly, the child dies. To help herself and her family, Tess goes off in search of work and finds new life on a dairy farm.
At the dairy farm, Tess meets and falls in love with a gentleman's son, Angel Clare. Angel himself is carving out a new life for himself away from his family's oppressive religious ideals and their wish for him to take religious orders. Instead he is studying to be a farmer and learning the ways of life on a farm. Angel Clare is soon taken with Tess Durbeyfield's fresh sweetness, purity, beauty and agreeable ways. He does not know of her past, and Tess' attempts to share her past with him fail. All the while love blooms between them. It is an idyllic time for them both. Angel and Tess marry with a belief of happily every after. Tess wants to believe her past won't matter, that love is stronger. After the wedding Tess finally is able to confide the secrets of her past to her husband. Angel is devastated and appalled. He claims not to know her at all, and angered refuses to continue to live with her. Tess' pleading, and profusion of love are not enough. With each broken hearted they part...
Everyone is adrift... Alec d'Urberville--a menace with his smooth talk and sinister behavior, can he have found God? Angel Clare--blinded by his own self-righteous opinions, will he forget about Tess forever as he goes off to Brazil? Tess--used and abused by both of these men. Her unconditional love for Angel never dies. She forges a life alone, work of physical labor and hardships.
After an interlude, Tess unhappily encounters Alec d'Urberville again. He claims the word of God has saved him. But how quick he forgets his faith on seeing Tess again. Once again Tess falls prey to him and cannot escape. All hope is lost for Tess, and Angel does not come, so she is faced with a life of privation. She ends up as d'Urberville's wretched mistress, on belief that Angel will never return. But Angel does return. Hunting for Tess, he finds her with d'Urberville at a hotel on the English west coast. Tess is overcome with fury at d'Urberville and how life has come to pass. She commits a terrible crime to save herself from d'Urberville forever. Tess flees in search of Angel. He bears witness to her action and they go off together. They are outlaws on the run. In their escape, Tess and Angel's tender, real love reawakens. It cannot last long, and the forces of law catch up with them in a momentous moment at Stonehenge. Tess again is ruined. But at last, Tess is free.
All of Thomas Hardy's novels are earthy, heavy, compelling, and haunting. He weaves in history, religion, geography, sociology...everything that encompasses the life of mankind. There is such poetry and beauty in his style of writing, ease of plotting and pacing and great character development. There is such grandeur--in all things large and small. And no one writes so sensitively of nature and the natural world as Hardy. For the modern reader though, Hardy's 19th century of high morals, social injustices, etc., can be hard to contemplate as he paints a picture of lives, especially as in Tess, of hardship, tragic loss and little compassion. This story is not for those faint of heart or only wanting a happy ending. But so much can be learned from reading Tess. And one cannot but love Tess--for her excellence of character, her trying to work out why she has been treated so cruelly by men and the world she inhabits. The story of Tess is the story of us all...The story of all humanity--loss of innocence, hope lost and regained, how society's standards shape us as individuals and puts us in a place, where actions have consequences, how a person's inner strength build character, and where faith comes into question. Tess is Thomas Hardy's loveliest heroine, and her story one of the most unforgettable in literature. Beautiful and painful, Tess' journey awakens our compassionate, loving hearts.
Has anyone read Tess... or is maybe revisiting Tess? Just after the New Year, Dear Husband and I saw the excellent new BBC film adaptation of Tess, which prompted me to reread the book. I highly recommend it. Next up in classic reading for March is Middlemarch by George Eliot. And for classical music, Dear Husband and I will be listening to the great Beethoven!