Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

When I decided I would read 12 classics this year, this is the kind of book I had in mind. Serious heavy classic stuff. Tess has been sitting on my bookshelf for absolutely ages and I’d managed to studiously ignore it for the first 5 months of the year. It just seemed a little too heavyweight. Plus whenever you mention Thomas Hardy people tend to groan and go “Oh my god he’s soooooooooo awful. He’s so depressing. He’s so grim.”

But June came along and I decided it was time to man up. Besides if this resolution has taught me one thing it’s that these classics are never quite what they seem.

It came close to the wire with this one, I finished it on 29th June, meaning that I’m still on track for reading 12 in a year. It wasn’t the easiest read I’ve had in places and there were times when I wanted to sigh and ask “Really? How much more can she take?!” but I love love loved this book.

First up. Hello tragic love story. Heathcliff schmeathcliff. Angel and Tess’s love story is far greater and more powerful than Heathcliff and Kathy. Their love is the kind of all consuming, can’t do without each other love that I was expecting from Wuthering Heights.

But the key word we have to remember here is tragedy. Tragedy all the way. I can see why people think Hardy is depressing, Tess’s story is almost unbearably sad and sometimes the book feels as if it’s one continuous list of shitty things that happen to her. I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you were perhaps feeling a little low (although you could draw comfort from the fact that no matter how bad your life is at least it isn’t as bad as Tess’s). But behind all the awfulness is just beautiful writing. Hardy is descriptive and you able to fully immerse yourself in the scenes he creates for you.

For instance, how about this sentence,

“The drops of logic Tess had let fall into the sea of his enthusiasm served to chill its effervescence to stagnation.”

Or this one,

“The pair were, in truth, but the ashes of their former flames.”


It’s probably not the one to read if you have feminist leanings, you’ll be crawling the walls with temper by the end of it. The subjugation of women is rife in it....or is it? You could also argue that Tess was the original independent woman – carrying on in the face of adversity, not asking for help when she could have done and getting her stiff upper lip in place. But nevertheless, she is nothing without her love, as she writes to him at one point;

“I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your servant, if I may not be your wife; so that I could only be near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.”

Tess seems to lurch from one crisis to the other and just when you think her happiness is finally secured, it is snatched away from her and she is plunged into despair once more.

At times it was a little rough, hence why it took me a whole month to plough through, but towards the end I found myself turning the pages faster and faster as I willed Angel to come back to her and followed him through the countryside on his search to be reunited with his one true love.

Don’t worry, I haven’t just given away the ending. And I won’t. But if you have read Tess of the d’Urbervilles I just need to quickly say something to you,

“Oh my god I did not see that coming!”

I really didn’t. It’s not often that endings catch me unawares but this one sure as hell did, leaving me desperately searching for someone else who’d read it to say “Oh my god. What just happened?!”

Is it a happy ending? I think we know enough about Hardy to know that no it probably isn’t. But is it? All I can say is that Tess is happy at the end.

One word. Beautiful.


  1. I must reread Tess. It's been ages and I don't really remember the details particularly well, other than the overwhelming doom and gloom.

    The first of his books that I read was A Pair Of Blue Eyes. That was back in secondary school and again, I don't remember the details much but it was much easier to get through than Tess.

  2. Ooh so better than Wuthering Heights then? Sigh, another to add to the teetering pile.... :)

  3. I read this last year and I agree with nearly everything you said about it! Except, despite Tess's sentiments, I disliked the ending- because of what happens! I do get the sulks if books don't end the way I want them to! Very beautiful, but yes, did despair!

  4. I hate that book.
    Hate, hate, hate, hate, and English teachers: stop telling me how lovely Dorset is, when am I ever likely to go there? The unfairness just stopped me reading and I've never been near Hardy again.
    Just wanted to share that, now I've finally got back in my account!

  5. I really loved your blog !!!.First, let me say that I knew it was going to be a rough read,but I did it anyways.Why???..for the love of Tess, and Thomas Hardy of course!..This is one of my favorite heroines of all time..worth the pain, if we don't share it with her, then who will?..God Bless


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