Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

I decided that my most recent classic read would be Tess of the d'Ubervilles.  This stemmed from the whole 50 Shades of Grey hoopla.  Like many modern novels, 50 Shades likes to refer to a classic work of literature...this time Tess of the d'Ubervilles.

I knew that this wasn't going to be a happy-go-lucky story going in, so I was prepared for some disappointing feelings.  However, I always have that little nagging voice in the back of my mind that's always rooting for the heroine of the novel...even if it's hopeless.

This novel could be called a coming-of-age story for Tess Durbeyfield (could you guess that from the title?).  The story begins with her father (the town drunkard) walking along a road meeting a pastor who informs him that he is a descendant of the noble family d'Uberville.  Her father is ecstatic and goes off to inform his wife and celebrate (by drinking, of course). 

While the parents are celebrating their new-found good luck, they plot to have Tess visit a nearby wealthy widow of the d'Uberville name, to claim kin.  After accidentally killing the family horse, Tess agrees to her parents' wishes-against her better judgement.  Unfortunately, Tess does not get to meet the widow...rather she meets her son, Alec.  A scoundrel if I ever read about one.  He convinces her to come back and care for his mother's pet chickens in order to pay for a new horse.  Tess' parents are thrilled; they are sure Alec will want to marry Tess and the Durbeyfields will be restored to their former glory.

This does not occur.  Alec gives Tess much unwanted attention.  One night on the way back from a town party, Tess accidentally antagonizes Alec's most recently discarded sexual conquest.  Alec comes to Tess' "rescue" and takes her off in the woods.  He gets "lost" and leaves her to rest while he finds his bearings in the dark.  Tess falls asleep while Alec is away, but wakes to him raping her.  She leaves for home the next day.

What would make this situation worse?  Tess gets pregnant, of course.  While at home, she gives birth to a baby boy that only lives a few weeks.  After this sobering period in her life, Tess decides to become a milkmaid at a local dairy where she befriends the other milkmaids.  There is also an apprentice, Angel, at the dairy who takes an immediate liking to Tess.

Angel pursues Tess incessantly, but in a truly honorable way.  He knows no other way, since he was born into a pastoral family.  Tess just as regularly encourages him to stop looking to her, but to choose one of the other milkmaids.  She informs him that she is not good enough for him and that he must focus his attentions elsewhere.  After months of perusal, in which time Tess' past does not spread through gossip to this local area just a mere 20 miles from her hometown, Tess finally relents and agrees to marry Angel.

On the night of their wedding, Angel confesses that his is not a virgin.  This, in turn, convinces Tess that he will forgive her past as well...and she confesses.  From here, things do not go well. 

I'll stop case anyone wants to actually read the book.  I won't ruin it for you.  If you'd like to read how the book ends, Wikipedia has an excellent synopsis that you can read by clicking here.

How did I like this book?  There were a lot of things I liked about this book and there were a lot of things I didn't like about this book.  And I struggled for the first day or two on how I felt about it.  I love Thomas Hardy's writing style.  I also loved the vocabulary he used, but I also like looking up new words while I'm reading books.  And it's especially easy when you're reading on your iPad or another reader where all you have to do is tap on the word twice to get the definition.  Best feature ever.  Hands down.

I also liked Tess.  She was school-educated, though never went to advanced schooling.  She was the only person in her family that I feel had a straight head on her shoulders, except for maybe some of her younger siblings who weren't discussed as much.  I feel that she was an innocent who was ignorant of her position until it was too late.  She was also a hard worker; she was hands-down the most efficient milkmaid and everyone who met her liked her.  She did have a couple of moments where I got really irritated with her, but it didn't happen often.  For example, she offered to drown herself for Angel after confessing her history on their wedding night.  This would have given him an easy out from their marriage.  I mean, really? 

Now, things I didn't like...  Both male main characters were very two-dimensional for me.  One was very lewd, scoundrel-esque and the other was very sweet, wholesome and goody-two-shoes-esque.  Both had major flaws that horribly affected Tess and her life.  Seriously, she would have been better off to have never met either.  Even if Tess hadn't been "spoiled goods" when she met Angel, I'm not sure she would have ever met up to his high expectations in the end.

Also, I didn't like the ending.  The ending was the only the way it could have unfolded with how the storyline unraveled itself.  However, I didn't like it.  That's it. ::shrug::

Would I recommend this book...ummm, I don't know.  Probably not, but I wouldn't say definitely no.  It depends on the person asking.  I am curious to read more Thomas Hardy after this, simply because I liked his writing style.  One of my good friends told me her husband's favorite author of all time is Thomas Hardy, so maybe I'll ask him what my next read by Hardy should be.

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