Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

I feel almost positive that we read this book when I was in high school at some point. The plot seemed slightly familiar to me but at no point in time did I really know what was going to happen, so I guess if I did read it, I did not comprehend or remember it very well at all!

This novel, by Thomas Hardy, is a tragedy. Not as much of a depressing and chaotic tragedy as Wuthering Heights, but just sad. The difference is that this book has many more happy parts than Wuthering Heights, so it isn't just one crazy thing after another, but one unfortunate thing after another, if that makes any sense.

Tess is the oldest daughter of the "Durbeyfield" family, who find out that they are actually descendants of an old knighted family by the name of "d'Uberville." The family reminds me a little of the family in Pride and Prejudice in that they have all these ideals after they find out what they used to be and try to get what they can out of it. Not that they are the same, but it just made me think of them a little but with the dad in this novel being like the mom in that novel in some ways.

Tess is sent to see if she can claim relations with some of their better off distant relatives and ask for help because their finances are in ruins. She is embarrassed but does it anyway because she is a very dutiful and obedient daughter. This begins the (for lack of a better word) Series of Unfortunate Events in the life of poor Tess. The novel follows her through many circumstances, acquaintances, and places.
Her job for most of the book is that of a milkmaid. I found that interesting to hear all about the culture and the lives of milkmaids. It was a refreshing change after so many governesses in the Bronte books, ha ha. She is a very interesting girl and we watch her grow in many ways, but stay immature in some. I can't say much without giving away the plot, but I very highly recommend this book. I found it to be a little easier to stay interested in for myself than it was to stay interested in Bronte's Wuthering Heights or many other novels of the time that I have read. I think it is because of the shocking and extreme plot involved and to see how she handles it and how it plays out throughout her entire life. Thomas Hardy writes about sin and religion, including very unheard of views of marriage and divorce (for the time). It is frustrating to see the way Tess is treated and how unfair it is for her. If the Bronte sisters were shocking, then Thomas Hardy is appalling! I guess maybe it has to do with the fact that he lived all the way into the 1920s, so he lived to see the ushering in of an entire new generation of thoughts concerning what exactly should be tolerated and accepted concerning women and marriage.

I do wish that I had been able to get a copy of one with footnotes because there were expressions and some dialect that I didn't completely understand, but it didn't ruin the story or anything.

This is definitely a sad story with a tragic ending, but it wasn't depressing to me. I can't explain why it wasn't depressing without giving away the plot, but I would love to be able to discuss it with someone who has read it. It is just a good sad ending. I found the spark notes page helpful in enjoying some of the themes and symbols used in the novel. I linked to the spark notes page from the photo of the book above.

I was thinking of adding another Thomas Hardy to my list, but after reading about a few of his other novels, I think I will not. (they are all very tragic) I think I will go for more variety.

Overall: Read it. It's a good one.

My favorite quote from the book:

"When sorrow ceases to be speculative sleep sees her opportunity."
Ch. 35