Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

As an English classic, the story of Tess of the d'Urbervilles is well known. It is, I acknowledge, not one of my favourite Hardy novels (not that you would guess from the well thumbed copy you see below!) There is an over-riding sense of doom right from the start, and it makes me uneasy. However, that was not what made its original audience uncomfortable. The story draws attention to the hypocrisy of Victorian times and the behaviour of the heroine made it a very controversial story.

To sum the novel up in a few words, Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a romantic tragedy. The central character is shaped by her landscape: her moods and her pleasures are rooted in the countryside and the landscape plays a large part in what befalls her. There is passion and there is pain in Tess' story but - as in most of Hardy's novels – there always seems to be more of the latter.

Tess is the original tragic heroine but a very complex one: simple yet knowing; unspoiled but eventually quite spoiled; sometimes victim sometimes not; innocent yet sensual. What happened to Tess, Hardy shows us, was due to her naivety and looks: a beautiful but good natured, simple woman was at the mercy of those men who had no morals and no forgiveness. This was asking a lot of his readers and not surprisingly the novel was not an instant success.

But it is, for me, in the descriptions of the landscape and of the vanishing rural life that Hardy excels. He was a poet, and his descriptions throughout the novel are testament to this. Those relating to landscape – the countryside of Dorset he loved – are particularly moving and evoke a sense of beauty but also a real understanding of not only the minutiae of nature – the grasses and insects – but also the larger aspect of woods, forests, vales, moors and skies that give the reader of Tess such a true sense of place.

Many find Hardy a bit heavy – I will admit his descriptions are rather long-winded – but I love his work for not only the poetry of his descriptions but also for the realism of his settings: life was hard for the working country man and nature had an over-powering influence.

Walking with Freddie today in the rain, mud underfoot, wind through the trees, I could just imagine what it must have been like to have to battle with such elements everyday. Reading Tess one is aware of the physical discomforts of country folk then and fully appreciative of the mundane things we take for granted such as waterproofs and wellies and the luxury of being able to sit in the warm and read a well written book.

1 comment:

Anishaa Tavag said...

I'm a student of literature and I decided to look for a blog about this book instead of the usual online notes. I quite like how you've described your take on Tess.
I never thought of the comforts I have in comparison to the country folk of those days. Thanks for the insight. :)