Back in September on this blog I confessed that I had never read any Thomas Hardy. As this admission coincided with the recent BBC adaptation I chose Tess of the D’Urbervilles to read. I only watched the first two episodes on TV though, and can honestly say I didn’t know the second half of the story at all.
Although the book is verbose and overlong, I couldn’t deny it five stars because it made me cry a little, not once, but twice! The big theme is social injustice, with the pastoral idyll ever present in the Wessex background. Tess herself is innocence and vulnerability personified, (a friend of mine said she has ‘victim’ written all over her).
Without spending too long on the story’s details, Tess’s once-noble family is now impoverished and they have to work hard for a living. Tess meets and is unwillingly deflowered by a bad but rich ‘cousin’ Alec, then meets a good man, Angel and is allowed to be happy for a while – the scene where Angel carries the farm-girls across the ford was lovely. But it doesn’t last and Angel rejects her when she tells him her shameful secret on their wedding night – I was reading this in bed with tears rolling down my cheeks. Angel leaves her to go to the Americas and Tess, too proud to ask his family for help, goes back to toiling on farms, where Alec finds her again and pursues her with a vengeance, leading to such a sad ending upon Angel’s return that I cried again, not believing that it could end this way.
The Wessex countryside was beguiling, and the influence of the industrial revolution is just beginning to make some inroads with the railways in the distant towns, and inventions like the steam-powered threshing machine. For families such as the D’Urbeyfields, life is hard and mobility is limited; but when Tess throws away the opportunity of moving up the ladder by making Alec marry her, she reinforces the class divide from her side too.
Result! I’m definitely a Hardy convert.