Thursday, March 25, 2010

Carolyn Recently Finished {Tess of the D'Urbervilles}:

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy {1891}

I have many, many thoughts on this selection & since I just finished it last night, I'm still trying to process them all. I've talk to some of my friends who have read this {my father included} & people just love it, I know Brittaney on the other hand isn't a fan -I think I fall somewhere in between these two perspectives, but probably closer to Brittaney. Here's why:

This era of writing is hands down my favorite, you just can't beat early 19th century novels. I love the poetic style & the drawn-out descriptions of characters & the plot. Therefore, Tess should have been an easy fit for me, however, I found myself incredibly angry or annoyed throughout the whole experience. For me to be wicked into a book, I really have to be on the same team as the main character, if not relating to them, than at least empathizing with their plight or successes. I was on Tess's team up until she went to work with Alec D'Urberville's mother's chickens. Prior to this, I got the impression that Tess was a simple country girl - sweet, but by no means unintelligent. She was someone who was very connected with her town & would do anything to help out her family, since her parents seemed unable, or unwilling, to put down the bottle & take care of her & her multitude of siblings. Tess lost me when I realized that she was truly simple, but not in the good way - in an ignorant, even pathetic way.

I read reviews of the book online to see what other readers thought & the general concensus seemed to be that Tess was a good girl who bad things happened to - wrong place, wrong time scenario. I found Tess' reactions to the unpleasant, tramatizing one might say, situations to be highly masochistic. It was like the extreme religious notion that greater suffering leads to greater reward.

She didn't have to let Alec walk her home, especially when she was so tired & it was so late. She could have spoken up & asked her friends to stop dancing & walk back with her. I found her meek to the point of consummate vexation. She didn't have to keep her pregnancy a secret from him. She didn't have to be so melancholy {um..sure an unwanted pregnancy is well...unwanted, but did she have to name the baby Sorrow}.

She was not obligated to take the most difficult jobs as a farm laborer that she could locate. She didn't have to be ashamed of her beauty. She didn't have to stand for Clare's abandonment on their wedding night, especially for such hypocritical reasons. She absolutely did not have to beg him to let her commit suicide so as to save him the embarrassment of divorce. She didn't have to do what she did to Alec at the end when he was basically stalking & harrassing her {I'll leave out the details in case you're planning on reading this -wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone}. She didn't have to give every bit of her self & soul to Clare -hoping that if she was good enough he would come back for her. I just found the whole thing rather pathetic. Elizabeth Bennet never would have acted like this. I just wanted to shake her & pull a Cher: "Snap out of it" indeed!!

While I could care less for Tess & her miserable plight, I do feel good that I finished this book. The imagery is simply amazing - you really feel transported into Hardy's Wessex. And while it may sound like I'm being harsh, I did enjoy this book on a certain level. I can put aside my distain for Tess' weakness & put it into the proper context. Hardy was creating a conversation on the hypocrisy of English gender roles. Taken as a message about the absurdity of it all - how rules & social norms can ruin perfectly good people- it can be enjoyable, but taken as the story of a girl living her life - utterly frustrating!


Some peculiar coincidences I have been dying to share since I started this book - I'm a sucker for coincidences, it's like the universe is telling you your going in the right direction. Two terribly odd things occured while I was reading this book, which make me believe that I was supposed to be reading it.

1. During a lecture in my Building Sustainable Communities class, the first quote on the PowerPoint was by Hardy -talking about cities & their design

2. While reading a book on Cultural Tourism {for my thesis, not for fun} dating to 1989, the author uses Hardy & the Wessex of Tess as a case study for literary tourism.

They probably aren't super zany, but early 19th century novels don't usually fit very easily into the field of historic preservation.

A few of my favorite quotes from this selection, either beautiful or infuriating:
  • "And probably the half-unconscious rhapsody was a Fetichistic utterance in a Monotheistic setting; women whose chief companions are the forms and forces of outdoor Nature retain in their souls far more of the Pagan fantasy of their remote forefathers than of the systematized religion taught their race at later date."
  • "So easily had she delivered her whole being up to him that it pleased her to think he was regarding her as his absolute possession, to dispose of as her should choose."
  • "She tried to argue, and tell him that he had mixed in his dull brain two matters, theology and morals, which in the primitive days of mankind had been quite distinct."
  • "With that curious tendency evinced by men, more especially when in distant lands, to entrust to strangers details of their lives which they would on no account mention to friends, Angel admitted to this man as they rode along the sorrowful facts of his marriage."

Now, there are a 2 movies based on this book that I have in my Netflix queue to watch & I promise to review them as soon as they are delivered. This might sound unusual, but I have a feeling that I might enjoy a film version of this tome more than I appreciated actually reading it. The imagery & costumes might turn it into a soap opera, which in my mind, it is more apt to be than a novel. These two films are:

1. Tess {1979} directed by Roman Polanski. It was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in 1981 for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, & Best Actress in a Motion Picture & was also nominated for six Academy Awards that same year {Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Music Score, & Best Picture}. Polanski dedicated the film to his late wife, Sharon Tate {brutally murdered in 1969}, whose favorite novel was Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

2. Tess of the D'Urbervilles {2008} produced by the BBC. This recently played on PBS in January, but, I, unfortunately, missed it. The still-frames from it look exquisite.

1 comment:

  1. Wrote a critical essay about this in 10th grade. Didn't like it and share most of your sentements regarding "Weirdness." The child Sorrow, ugg so emo. I mean why not just pull your hair over your eyes and but on some Green Day, that is if you're not too busy brandishing your copy of J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories for the world to notice. Carpe diem. make your own destiny there Tess.
    I also think this is somewhat of an emergence of the Mary Sue charater type... maybe?


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