|Cover to go with the BBC adaptation|
Seventeen year old Tess Durbeyfield is the eldest daughter of an impoverished country haggler whose fortunes turn for the better when he discovers they are the last surviving branch of an ancient and distinguished family called the D'urbivilles. Sent off her family to work on the estate of their new relations, Tess is manipulated by her cousin Alec and is haunted by the implications of her encounter there for long afterwards. Then she meets another man called Angel Clare who seems to offer her an escape from her past but only if she can tell him her shameful secret....
Tess Of The D'urbivilles was my first Hardy read (I was encouraged to read it by my English teacher) and I was interested to see what I made of this famous author and one of his most well known works. I wasn't quite sure what to expect because a lot of the descriptions online were unclear but I'm glad I chose to read it.
It is such a tragic and sorrowful tale that left me saddened as I turned the last page after the unfolding of dramatic events. However, I found Hardy’s writing turns it into a beautiful and poignant story and it helps to evoke the emotions in the book. From the beginning imagery of the English countryside of Tess’s home village in the last chapter to that of the rugged rocks of Stonehenge, the personification throughout really brings the English countryside to life and makes it an important part of the book. However, it took me a while to get used to the hard-going lyrical and descriptive writing and I found that parts of the writing in the book was unnecessary and too long winded, for example Angel’s courtship of Tess at the dairy seemed long and worn out. This sometimes caused me to get distracted from the story and lose interest in it but I did come to appreciate the beauty of the language eventually.
One of my favourite things about the book is the very human and believable flaws of the characters and the way that I was able to sympathise with them so deeply. Tess is a heroine that can show bravery and courage at times whilst sometimes appearing to be weak, ignorant and foolish. This was sometimes a little frustrating but I kept in mind that Tess was a Victorian young women and that is why she is portrayed that way. Though, most of all Tess keeps true to herself and learns from the mistakes she has made. Also, even at the most testing times when she had to make difficult decisions, she goes through life without making a fuss, remaining a loyal friend, making an honest living and staying true to her one love. That is why I found myself feeling Tess’s pain, love, anguish, hope, joy and despair.
Angel Clare was a character that I had very mixed feelings about because I liked him at first when he seemed to offer Tess an escape from her troubled past and he seemed to be a caring, thoughtful and faithful young man. My opinion of him changed later for the worse and you can highlight the text below to find out more if you know the story because it's very spoliery (sorry, the white shows up on the pink a bit so just skip over): Angel's betrayal of Tess after she told him her terrible secret after they were married came as a shock to me because I thought he would understand and forgive her after an initial shock, especially since he also did the same thing when he was drunk.
Despite this, I still believe him to be an honest and good man at heart who just made a big mistake.
The situations that Tess finds herself in are often devestating but there are moments of warm heartedness and hope that shine through the darker scenes such as her friendship with the other girls at the dairy and the brief time of blissful and complete happiness that she spent with Clare. I found the other's girls working at the dairy's constant mooning over Tess' love was amusing and bought a lighter touch to the novel.
Verdict: Tess’s fateful journey is infused with raw human emotion that tugged at my heartstrings and left me with a lot to think about.