Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

It's been quite a while since I posted any book reviews (mostly just because I've been lazy with writing them, not because I haven't been reading), and I am definitely jumping ahead in my queue of books read (I'm up to 41 this year so far, lol) but I recently finished this book and I had thoughts about it, so I decided I really should post the review. So hopefully you can expect to see more posts like this again :)
I put off reading this book for quite some time. I would always see it on the lists of "classics to read in your lifetime" yet every time I read the synopsis I just couldn't get on board with reading it. It sounded very much like the cliché dramatic romance style I avoid, yet one day I was finally willing to give it a try. And the book affected me.

Tess Durbeyfield is a lower class girl from a poor family in England in the 1880s. She's smart for her class and very pretty, therefor she seems like she could be going places. In an unfortunate accident resulting in the death of her family's horse, Tess agrees to "claim kin" when her family is told that they descend from the great D'Urberville family in hopes of getting money to support them in their time of need. Tess is 17 when she meets her "cousin", Alec D'Urberville, and he arranges a job for her in his house taking care of his mother's chickens and birds. He is very touchy with her and always trying to kiss her, which causes her to avoid him whenever possible. One night she is out with the other workers and gets into a fight with two other girls when Alec takes her away from them (a "lesser of two evils" situation). He takes her off into the woods where he rapes her and leaves her to find her own way home. Tess goes back home only to find her parents have spread around her town that she is going to marry the rich relation she was visiting. Tess lives through the shame of having a baby out of wedlock only to have the baby die shortly after birth. After a little time passes, she gets a job at a dairy farm where no one knows her past in an effort to move on with her life. There she meets Angel Clare, a farming student studying on the dairy farm. He soon falls in love with Tess, and after many times refusing him and much inner turmoil about whether she should tell him her secret, she finally gives in and the two get married. Angel insist on not telling each other their faults until after they are married, so on their wedding night she is finally allowed to tell all. Angel is disgusted and wants nothing to do with Tess on the spot. Tess still loves him and is willing to do whatever he wishes, so she returns to her parents home with some money he gives her. Realizing she can't bring more sham eon her family by staying with them now that she his supposed to be married to a rich gentleman, she gives them the money Angel gave her and she leaves to find work for herself. The only place she can find is a notoriously hard farm where she meets back up with a few other girls from the dairy. She is too proud to go to Angel's parents for money, so she works in horrible conditions for over a year. Eventually, she runs into Alec D'Urberville again who has now reformed his ways and spends his days preaching. Seeing Tess again causes Alec to revert to his old ways, chasing after her and trying to win her affections. Tess's circumstances become dire when her father dies and her family is turned out of their home, forcing Tess to go back to Alec for support since her husband has not contacted her in over a year.

Man, just typing that was depressing. Every time I explain the story to others it just further drives home how this is not the type of book I would typically read. Yet the book resonates with me, and I believe I understand why it is considered a book you must read in your life. Alec D'Urberville was an evil man who ruined Tess's young life, yet when she finds someone who truly loves her (Angel Clare) and swears he will love her no matter what, she is still left in misery due to his selfish actions. Alec was sleazy, to be sure, but personally I found Angel to be equally disgusting. He admits that he had a 48 hour romp with a "woman of ill repute" in London when he was younger, only to be told Tess's past and treat her like a whore even though he admits that she was "more sinned against than sinned herself". The book forces you to look at your own views of morality and think about the anguish we have caused others simply because we could not "get over" something that was really no worse than things we have done in our own past. Angel judges Tess, and it leads to her absolute misery, destitution, and eventual early death. At least Alec makes no pretenses about his behavior. So which man was worse? The immoral or the moral one? It's been something interesting to think of ever since finishing the book, and for that reason I feel it deserves its classic status. This is definitely a book everyone should read. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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