Friday, 2 August 2013

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

   Continuing with my "Hardy" summer, I finished reading "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" and wish that I could say that I loved it.  But I did not.  The very things that I enjoy about Hardy's writing made this book slow and uninteresting.  He has an amazing ability to describe people and places, animals, crops, buildings, landscape, weather, etc., etc., etc.  But his descriptions went on and on and on.   There was almost no plot for the first half of the novel. 
  The novel began with a detailed description of Tess' family - a peasant father who discovered that he had aristocratic blood, but was completely uninterested in the welfare of his family.  Right at the beginning the scene is set for Tess to be used and abused.  Since she is the oldest, she must visit the relatives to get some assistance.  But, while there, she is raped by her distant cousin.  It took many, many pages of reading to get to this point, and this encounter is barely mentioned so that you are not sure that a rape occurred until she delivers a baby.
  The second half of the book does have a little more plot, when Tess falls in love with "Angel", who seems to be perfect until the wedding night when they decide to disclose their faults.  When Angel hears of the rape, he is unable to continue the marriage. However, Angel also had a past story- he had experienced forty-eight hours 'dissipation with a stranger'. But the double standard sets the tone for the rest of the book as Tess tries to make her own way in the world unsuccessfully.
  The distant cousin, Alec D'Urberville, cannot control himself because of Tess' beauty and he is a constant torment to her throughout the book. In fact, at the end, Tess takes matters into her own hands (a little too late) and the ending is fast and shocking.

   I still can get caught up in the description of the countryside and the lifestyle.  Some sentences cause me to pause and think. e.g. "It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such delicate equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed endowed with two or three senses, if not five."

   Hardy loved this book and many people have also loved it since then.  It made a lot of money for him.  He had been writing for twenty years at this point. But his first three tries to get "Tess" published in serial form were unsuccessful.  Finally, he bowdlerized it and it was accepted.
  When the novel was published in three books the next year, the missing parts were replaced.
  Once again Hardy gave the book a subtitle that was problematic to the public.  "Tess of the D'Urbervilles: a pure woman".

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