Tess Of The D’Urbervilles
One of the advantages of having signed up for a lending library this last year has been the freedom to experiment with genres and authors, and not feeling compelled to buy something that I know I would definitely like. Given the cost of books, the lack of space for storage as well as the environmental implications of growing numbers of people buying growing amounts of paper products, I have been trying to minimize buying - which tends to make me rather conservative in my choices. Subscribing to the online library Book & Borrow has freed me up from that.
So last month I decided to order a copy of Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, considered to be among the best novels of the Victorian era, and one of Hardy’s best novels too (and he wrote a lot of novels!)
I had read Tess.. when I was in college, but at the time, my interest in a lot of books tended to be purely from a story perspective, and the fatter the book, the more in a rush I would be to get to the ‘ending’. So this time, I wanted to re-read the novel to gain a better appreciation of Thomas Hardy’s writing, and also given the theme of the novel, I thought it would be interesting as an insight into the life of women in the England of that time.
For those who are unfamiliar, the plot of the novel revolves around Tess, a young girl from a rural family, raped by a rich young man and her struggles in a world where ‘purity’ is all important for a young woman, including in her own eyes. That is a very basic description though and the novel addresses many other themes such as mechanization of a rural ecosystem, the courage and survival of young women, faith, and human frailty.
This time, I took my time reading and it was a pleasure reading Hardy’s descriptions of rural life and landscapes, as well as his acute insight into what drives human beings - the lust, vanity and arrogance of the wealthy landowner D’Urberville as well as the superficially moral impulses of Angel Clare, whom Tess loves. More vivid than the black (D’urberville) or the white (Tess) is the grey - Angel, who places Tess on a pedestal, but is unable to look beyond her history once he learns of it.
The cruelty of some kinds of morality is made stark in the contrast between Angel whose cannot think beyond the norms prescribed by ‘good society’ (even though he claims to be a rebel) and the inhabitants of Tess’ village who treat sex and its possible consequences as facts of life.
The novel’s prose is ‘difficult’ by the standards of today’s short awareness spans, but those willing to take some trouble will enjoy the precision with which Hardy crafts descriptions of people and places to make them ‘visible’ to the reader, and the irony and sarcasm woven into the writing - ever so gently.