Monday, 8 July 2013

Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess, Tess, Tess...! What can I say. What a miserable story this is. I recently read the wonderful 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' and earlier I re-read 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. I loved the two books and started with Tess with a very positive mind. What a gruesome story! Misery, misery, misery. Here we have poor Tess who is the daughter of a poor farmer. Their name is Durbeyfield and someone put in the head of the father that they are descendants from the noble family of d'Urberville. Since there is a family with such a name nearby the mother arrange for Tess to go there to work for the widow of the d'Uberville. It turns out that the son  Alec arranged everything and did not tell his mother of the possible relationship. So Tess come to work for the mother and all is well until Alec one evening takes advantage of Tess. She immediately quits her job and goes back to her family. It is soon discovered that she is pregnant and she gives birth to a son who soon dies. She does not inform Alec of the events.

After the death of her son she seeks another job as a dairy maid. Here she has a comparatively wonderful time and she meets the love of her life, the righteous Angel Clare. He is a character too good to be true and of course she falls in love. He wants to marry her and she refuses since she thinks she is not good enough for him considering her past (as if that was that unusual in those days). However, he is the son of a priest and to her he is above everything. In the end she agrees to marry him. She wants to tell him her story before the wedding but he reveals that he has also something to tell her and that they should wait until the wedding. Her wise mother tells her not to tell anything at all and she should have followed this advice.

Once back from church they have rented a house to spend their honeymoon in. They start with the revelations although it would have been good if they had consummated the marriage before! Angel tells her of a woman he met in London and that he was intimate with. She is very happy because she thinks than that he will understand her mistake. However, when she tells of her same mistake as his he has no understanding what so ever! Just figures...!

To make a long, dreadful story short he leaves her and goes to Brazil to see if he can buy land and settle down there, possibly with Tess. In the meantime she spends the money he left her and did not ask for more although he had anticipated it. However, a girl has some pride or...? After a terrible year when she has to work very hard to survive, her father dies and the family has to find new quarters Alec turns up again. He gets to know about the baby and is upset that she did not tell him. He wants to marry her which is not possible since she is already married to the righteous Angel.

About the same time when Angel realises that Tess loves him above everything else and he comes home to seek her up, she has finally given in to Alec and is living with him. When Angel comes and after all the misery she has been through she kills Alec and runs away with Angel. The police catch them and she is executed!

Well, who is to blame if anyone? The nasty Alec who turns out to care more about Tess than the loveable and hypocrite Angel or Tess who threw away her love for some kind of stupid honour that makes no one happy? I have a problem seeing Tess as a believable character in those days and circumstances. I don't mean that you can not have honour when you are poor but there is a thin line between honour and stupidity in this story.

Of course Thomas Hardy has written a very skilful novel to emphasise  the morality of the time. It is ok for a man to have sexual experience before marriage but not for a young girl. The nobility can treat poor people badly without consequences. Like in a Greek tragedy the suffering of Tess is far too high considering the offence and the final punishment seems to harsh. Nevertheless, at least I look at Tess with a certain irritation.

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