In this 1891 book, a poor young woman discovers she may be descended from nobility and goes in search of a better life
❚ “Tess Durbeyfield is a complex character considered by some a hopeless victim and by others an archetype of feminine strength. Either way her actions and those forced upon her act as a make or break for many readers who over the years have either loved or despised Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
“Tess is the eldest of seven children with peddlers for parents. News that they may be descendants of nobility causes her parents to send Tess off to the D’Urberville Estate in hope of financial aid. Herein begins the spate of ill-fortunes bestowed on our eponymous protagonist.
“She is betrayed by the callousness of religion, by social convention and by men who exploit her. Her virtue is destroyed and her life is shaped by a continual suffering for crimes that are not her own. She is cast out by a morally hypocritical society but remains loyal, hardworking and has steadfast hope under adversity. She is expertly written, so much so it is impossible to not feel anguish and frustration at the unfairness of her life.
“Early critics attacked Hardy for the novel’s subtitle A Pure Woman arguing that Tess could not possibly be considered pure. They also denounced his frank, for the time, depiction of sex, criticism of organised religion and dark pessimism. Today the novel is praised as a courageous call for righting many of the ills Hardy found in Victorian society and as a link between the late Victorian literature of the end of the nineteenth century and that of the modem era.”
A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.
❚ “For such an aged novel, this contains very contemporary ideas. Tess is presented as the ultimate victim, and each turn of events against her is bleak and frustrating. However she makes for a fascinating character study and grows in moral stature as each page turns. She kind of lives beyond the page and she is the reason for reading this book – if you can bear it.” – Rachel