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