I find it really difficult to review classics, never quite feeling that I do them justice if I like them, and if I don’t like them, fearing that it is just because I’m missing the ‘point’. But hey, I’ll have a go, just to clarify Tess of the D’Urbervilles falls firmly into the category of a classic I liked.
Tess is the eldest daughter of the family Durbeyfield, when her father discovers they are descendants of the great family D’Urbeville who were knights in the time of the conqueror, Mrs Durbeyfield sends Tess off to plead Kinship with what she believes to be distant, rich relatives. But Tess’ ‘cousin’ Alec becomes her downfall and she returns home a few months later in shame.
After leaving her village due to her shame, Tess starts a new life as a dairymaid and meets the kind, considerate Angel Clare. Angel wants to marry Tess but her past haunts her and at first she tries to refuse, before eventually agrees. Prior to the wedding, she tried on many occasions to tell Angel about her past but he doesn’t want to hear it. On their wedding night she finally makes the decision to tell him and everything goes downhill from there.
This book deals with many issues, from Tess’ rape at the hands of Alec D’Urberville to her shame at returning home, to her attempts to make a new life for herself when she becomes an outcast in her village. I found a lot of the issues really interesting particularly when taken in context of the time in which this novel was written. For instance, I thought it was very well done, that on the wedding night, Angel confessed that when in London he had spent two days having sex with a woman (possibly a prostitute) but when Tess confesses she was raped he is disgusted and pulls away from her. Essentially, leaving her to the fate of which she is destined.
Tess is by no means a helpless woman. No, she doesn’t have the fire and drive of Hardy’s other heroine Bathsheba Everdene but she does have a drive to protect herself and her family which I admired and she always has her pride. But what she also does is make a series of bad decisions which made me want to scream at her while still appreciating that at the time the novel is set, she couldn’t have done much else.
Overall, I found the novel engrossing in a way I have never really found With classics, desiring to pick it up and continue reading at every opportunity. It is likely to now join the ranks of my favourite classics in leather bound hardback.