Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My reading of English literature until this work has almost exclusively been limited to those books by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charlotte Brontë. All of which were not designated "tragedies" and whose heroines' lives, at the conclusion of each novel, alluded to a promising future. Such was not the case with Tess Durbeyfield. Personally, I am partial to happy endings. Knowing the tragic nature of this story is likely why I had not read it before now. I avoided all detailed descriptions, which certainly encouraged my compulsive desire to finish it quickly. I had watched the motion picture, Tess, but that was so long ago (decades) and I recalled nothing of the story based on that one viewing.
I saw Tess as, on one hand, naive, and, on the other, very wise. She was aware of her beauty but she did not use it to make an easier life for herself. She trudged relentlessly through her brief life. She was a diligent and capable laborer, a tolerant daughter, a thoughtful friend, and devoted her heart completely to Angel Clare. Her nature was to be honest; to share her "secret" with him before they married. But no, he would not listen. She was so confident in his love for her (especially after his own post-wedding confession) and even when he essentially turned away from her she blamed only herself. In nearly every action she is thinking of others above herself. The one act she impulsively carries out solely to benefit herself; to bring about her happiness, results in her demise.
The 19th century prose, word usage (British, old, literary), and poor rural dialect certainly hindered my understanding of all that transpired. I used my reading app's dictionary a great deal and re-read many passages. Symbolism and themes abound throughout the book. Thomas Hardy obviously had strong feelings for the character he created. And after reading this treasured classic so do I.