Publication Date: 1891
Page Count: 392
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Tess is the oldest of the Durbyfield siblings. She lives a simple life until her father is one day informed that he is one of the last remaining members of the D'urbervilles, a large and wealthy British family. Tess is sent to seek the good fortune of her rich relations, and her life is changed forever as a result.
I'm going to divide this review up into a spoiler free section and another section that discusses plot points. This is a pretty often talked about novel, so you may know the outline of the plot even if you haven't read it, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone.
Hardy's writing is notoriously wordy. His prose is quite dense and there is a lot of extra wording in this novel, which at times can be a little boring and slow down the plot, so if that sort of thing really bothers you, I suggest skipping this one and watching a mini-series version, or listening to it on audiobook, as I did, which really helped. I could kind of tune out the descriptive rampages that Hardy embarked on while I was listening to the audiobook and then tune back in when the characters came into play.
This novel is worth sticking out the wordy-ness for. Tess is such an interesting and tragic character and the book sparks a lot of really interesting thought and discussions on women's rights in the late nineteenth century. When the plot was moving forward, I was really sucked in and wanted to know what was going to happen to Tess next. I knew one of the big plot points in the novel, but the second one was a surprise to me, and I didn't see it coming. So if you are interested in reading this, I say go for it! and skip the spoiler part of this review so you can enjoy all of the plot points. Then of course come back and read my thoughts and tell me what you think!
Contains Discussion of Plot Points
This novel is extremely sad. Tess endures some awful events and society is really the biggest person to let her down in this novel. After Tess is raped by her cousin, she refuses to marry him and returns home to her family to find herself pregnant with his baby. Tess keeps the baby by herself until the baby dies as an infant, and she becomes an outcast in her town. Tess is beautiful and admired by many men, and many times in the novel, her beauty becomes a threat to her safety. Tess is blamed by society, as well as her husband once he finds out, for her attack, and is denied a happy life because of the tragedy that happened to her.
Tess was frustrating at times because of how passive she was and because she would claim she had deserved all of the bad things that happened to her, and that her husband had every right to leave after hearing what had happened to her. But my frustration evolved as the novel went on, and I realized I wasn't frustrated with Tess, but with the time and society she was living in. She had internalized the victim blaming that her society practiced, and one can hardly blame a young teenage girl for that.
Every male character in this novel was scum, and extremely frustrating. It was clear that Tess was more than just a character, but a representation of womankind and feminine beauty and the struggles and prejudices faced by women in Hardy's time, and it is interesting to read this novel now and compare Tess' story to the stories of woman who have face similar tragedies today. One hopes that Tess's tragic story would not end the same way if she were alive today, but that is still not something we can guarantee. I thought the end of the novel was a bit surprising and really thought provoking.
I'm half way through the latest BBC mini-series adaptation of the novel, and I will share my thoughts on that once I have finished it of course. Let me know if you have read Tess or anything else by Hardy and what you think of his writing style.