Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

After studying the poetry of Hardy 2 years ago for my English literature course it soon became apparent for all taking the course that Victorian literature – particularly that of Hardy – was heavy reading. Unfortunately when we started studying Hardy we focused a lot on the 1912-1913 poems about the death of his wife which were depressing and repetitive and thus Hardy became unpopular. I, however, was interested in this apparently gloomy man – the poetry itself may have been repetitive but he created wonderful images and had a clear love of nature. When we moved on to the other poems in the collection we were studying, my love for Hardy’s writing soon developed; his passion for nature reflected  my own and he was such an open thinker on religion, people, women and the world as whole for a Victorian – especially a Victorian man. I think my passion was truly awakened when I was given the task of analysing the poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ and then presenting it to the rest of my class. In moments, I fell in love with this poem and Hardy became my first favourite poet.

This following year, we have to read his novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles in order to study the types of love found in novel. I have attempted to read this novel before and I barely got beyond the first few chapters. Determined, I tried again and found it much easier perhaps due to the fact I am more accustomed to his style of writing.

The novel begins with a man called John Durbeyfield who, whilst walking home, is greeted by a man on horseback who calls him ‘Sir John’. This not being the first time this man has made such a comment, John enquires after it. The man proceeds to tell him he believes that John is descended from an ancient noble family of the D’Urbervilles – John is astonished and becomes bigheaded about it and remains bigheaded throughout the novel. The first scene we encounter of the region is beautiful rolling hills, rich foliage, intricate details – all typical of a man who stresses so much about nature. We then encounter our Heroine – if she can be called that at all – Tess, who is described as a ‘handsome’ girl even though it becomes much more apparent later in the novel that she is in fact quite beautiful but not so much on account of Hardy’s descriptions more of those from his characters. She is dressed purely in all white and accompanied by a group of girls celebrating the May-day with parading and dancing they are soon joined by a young man, currently unnamed who dances with one of the young ladies after complaining at the lack of men folk. He soon has to leave but before he does he spots Tess and sees her beauty and regrets not dancing with her. Once he has retreated he casts one final glance back to the green where the girls are dancing to see a lone white figure who he knows is his young woman watching him.

On discovering their families apparent roots and learning that there is a large house owned by a woman by the name of D’Urberville miles away, Tess is sent to claim kin. When she arrives at the house she is met by the woman’s son, Alec D’Urberville, who is taken with her beauty. After she has claimed kin he is clearly doubtful but won’t express it to her, after a light lunch he takes her around the large garden and decks her in flowers and feeds her strawberries. When it is time for her to leave again he fills a basket of both the latter and informs her he will tell his mother of her. He does no such thing and instead tells his mother he has found someone to look after her small group of poultry. Alec visits her home one day when Tess is not in and decks gifts upon her family who pester her to marry the young man who is apparently so in love with her. Before long Tess ends up moving to Tantridge to tend the chickens and as Alec makes her nervous she avoids him. From then on, the hardship and troubles of the novel begin as these are what the novel is truly about. No more can really said on the plot without ruining the novel.

I found this novel extremely sad as Tess’ life is filled with naught but hardship and ill treatment when she has done nothing to deserve any of it. I found I wanted her to have a happy life instead of all of this unpleasantness but this is no fairytale for children – it’s a harsh novel about a woman with the world against her. Hardy creates some beautiful natural imagery in this novel as he does with his poems and these I fully appreciated along with the plot due to its unpredictability even though it is extremely frustrating throughout….That said, Hardy seems to be expressing a lot of criticisms of Victorian society in this novel – the mistreatment of woman being the main one but far from the only one. At times the book became borderline dull and difficult to read but it was nevertheless much better than I had previously anticipated. Truly a classic.

A Heartbreaking novel with a plot that is often hard to accept but nevertheless brilliant: Read it!


3 thoughts on “Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

  1. Pingback: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy « Blurb

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  3. Pingback: Classics Month I, or, Well of course this is good! | ThePageBoy

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