February 24, 2008

Tess of the D'Ubervilles: Review

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Thomas Hardy probably wasn't the life of party, if his writing is any indication. Still, he is one of my favorite authors.

Tess of the D'Ubervilles
is filled with vivid descriptions of the diary lands of England and the melodramas of a few inhabitants. Tess Durbeyfield is a naive 16 year old girl, the only sensible member of a poor family. After an accident which takes their livelihood from them, her parents send her to a wealthy family whom they believe are distant relatives. Instead of the answer to their prayers, they push her into the lecherous arms of Alec D'Uberville. Tess returns home changed and scandalized.

Tess realizes she can't stay with her parents but must go out into the world alone. She finds work as a diarymaid in a nearby town and falls in love with the son of a minister, Angel Clare. Knowing nothing of her past, Angel begs her to marry him. Tess, so close to happiness, avoids telling Angel her secret until it is too late. Things go from bad to worse...

I think the main message of Hardy's novel is that, at this time, it sucks to be a woman, especially a poor woman. Especially telling is the title of Phase 5: The Woman Pays. And she pays, and pays, and pays... What Tess pays for mostly is what nature gives her: a pretty face and a sexy body. At sixteen, Tess is a child with a woman's body. Tess could use her body to get what she needs, but she knows that in this society 'purity' is a big deal. When she loses it anyway, she has little left to which to bargain. No money, no property, and no great family connections. She's damaged goods, no matter how pretty. Women she meets are a little more willing to accept her, it could easily be themselves in her position, but the men who know her story feel inclined to make her feel like dirt. Angel is the worst for withdrawing his love.

I was often frustrated with the guilt Tess carried. She punished herself unnecessarily. After all, there were plenty of other people willing to do that. Towards the end she finally started standing up for herself. However, Hardy just won't let us have a happy ending. I found the melodramatic ending overkill. I don't have a problem with happy or sad endings if they fit the story, but this ending went over the top.

Although I enjoyed the story, the descriptions and the writing, the end takes a full point off my rating:


Oxford Bookworms Library, New Edition: Level 6 (2,500 headwords) Tess of the d'Ubervilles


  1. I can't comment on the ending as I never made it that far. It's the one and only book I didn't finish.

  2. Hardy is another of those classic writers that I've somehow missed. I have always wanted to read something by him but it seems that all of his stories are sad aren't they? One of these days I'll have to check out one of his books.

  3. did you dislike the ending just because she died? an english teacher once told me that fallen women in the nineteenth century had two option in literature: death and the nunnery. now that i think about it, i can't think of too many that opted for the latter.

    that being said, i have to agree with you. i think i prefer return of the native to this one.

  4. This gives me an idea for a blog entry...characters I'd like to slap so hard their cousins fall down! I'm putting Angel Clare on that list, of course.

  5. John- What was it about it you didn't like?

    Iliana- Yes, someone always dies at the end, I think.

    Luvpumkins- No, I expected her to die, it's Hardy ;) But I felt what happened was over the top and out of character for Tess. I don't want to say what happened and give it away to other readers. It surprised me. I felt like Hardy said, "Okay, an unhappy ending, hmmm, what can I do this time? Oh, I got it."

    Bybee- I totally agree!

  6. I've never made it through one of Hardy's book - have only attempted it twice, though to be fair. Did watch Jude, the film, with Kate Winslet which is horribly depressing.

  7. hmmm... well, maybe you can try reading the mayor of castorbridge --- if i remember right, i think no one died there :) (well, i'm not so sure as i've read it some time ago)...

    i think hardy might be a bit melodramatic, but i think in the end, what he is showing is the harsh reality of his time, especially for the lower class... and i find the ending poignant... well, that's just my opinion :)

    hope you're having a nice day there:)

  8. i'm sorry... please allow me to correct myself... "the mayor of casterbridge" is as dark as the rest of his works... i confused it with something else...

    well, what i can say is that after reading some austen novels, "tess" is quite a change:)

  9. Tara- No, I didn't even know about the movie. I do have the book on my TBR list.

    Lareine- I read The Mayor of Casterbridge a couple of years ago. I enjoyed that too. The death wasn't quite as dramatic (I thought). The ending is being debated by my book club. The group seems to be split down the middle. I do understand what you and the others are saying, definitely, but there was just something that bothered me. Oh well, it was still very good! Thanks for visiting!

  10. This is a book that has always stuck with me since I read it in high school...it comes to my mind fairly often. I was struck with the double standard that Angel had, it was ok for him to sleep with a woman before he was married, but not ok for Tess to be raped. Unfortunately, that is still an all too common issue in today's society.

  11. I had to giggle at the thought of Hardy saying, "it sucks to be a woman." I have this one on my TBR list for the year (my official challenge list!). All I've read of Hardy is some poetry, but I've heard great things about this book.

  12. I read and re-read it. A must read. You know, nothing has changed. In some places in India, a girl faces what Tess did.

    Good review.

  13. I think I will steer clear of this one. If I'm not mistaken, it's fairly large and I can't spend that much time with an annoying character.

  14. Iliana- did you realize you gave a spoiler away? I geuss it isn't a huge spoiler for those of us that have read simular classics as it always seems to end that way.

    Thanks for the review Chris. This is one I kind of wanted to join in reading and discussing at Classics Club, but didn't have the time.

  15. Teddy- I think that was luvpumpkins but Hardy seems famous for offing people. Too bad you couldn't join in for Tess. You should definitely read it on your own.

  16. I can't stop crying after reading this book! And yet...I want to read more Hardy. What do you suggest as a palette cleanser?

  17. Persephone- I really enjoyed The Mayor of Casterbridge. It was sad but not too sad. I'm definitely going to read more from him.

  18. It was a good review but you missed the point that Hardy was trying to make. Sometimes as an author you have to over emphasis to prove a point. Tess had to die in order to portay to the reader what the cost is when we don't forgive others for the sins that we ourselves commit. She went on a path of destruction that led to Alec but Angel was unwilling to forgive her for a sin he himself had committed. Hardy's point is that a lack of forgiveness kills relationships and he took it to a literal level with Tess' death.


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