Tess of d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Posted by SK Rajeshwari
I feel ashamed to call myself a lover of classics, having wasted so many years of my life not reading the bewitching tragedies by Hardy. This one is a very evocative and powerful narration of a very sensitive story. However I am not obliged to say that this book got Hardy another fan. Viewing this book in the light of a literature enthusiast, I adore Hardy for “the way” he has portrayed the scenes, and not for “what” he has portrayed.
Nah, however skillfully written it may be, but the story line could have definitely been improved. For a person who prefers tragedies over feel-good novels, Hardy has compelled me to question my love for this genre. Do I have the heart to read more of his works and pretend that I adore him for his powerful yet heart wrenching works? Ummm, I don’t know. Perhaps that’s the thing about classics. You can never enjoy these unless you don’t give a brake to the feminist and idealist inside you.
Far from the madding crowd was Hardy’s first that I read. And I won’t exactly call it my favorite but I was definitely impressed by the subject matter, which was no doubt deep and insightful. Speaking of Tess of d’Urbervilles all I could appreciate is the justice done to the genre. A high tragedy indeed. Even though I am highly disappointed with this gloomy and depressing novel, I would still recommend it to readers who are trying to explore all possible genres. However I am good enough to warn you not to expect even the scantiest rays of sunshine here. All you can expect is knowing about two bastards( I don’t swear this easily. But couldn’t help it this time). Alec d’Urberville (the demon) and Angel Clare(he was no angel btw) and a helpless girl Tess whom the author tortures throughout the story by inflicting pain upon her in the worst ways possible. Hardy has mercilessly destroyed anything and everything that could have possibly made Tess’s life any easier, let alone tolerable. Even though I did not shed a single drop of tear while reading it, I failed miserably in controlling my raging anger. I was frustrated by the prolonged suffering of Tess. No matter what I would still applaud Hardy for daring to create a character such as Tess. Ever since I’ve read her I can’t stop thinking about her. I’ve been reading other books at a reckless speed merely to get my mind off Tess, yet to no avail. I feel like someone (Hardy) has hammered the details of Tess’s life on my (now throbbing)mind. I will never forgive any of the characters in the story for their cruel impact on my naïve emotions. I had not intended to write a review, but now that I have started I feel powerless against the urge of my pen to go on ranting all that I feel and had bottled inside for the fear of cursing or swearing too much.
The idea I had of British women of 19th century was somewhat different than that presented in Hardy’s. Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey, and even Wuthering Heights have presented women of somewhat strong character. Even though they had their own turmoil, none was as helpless as Tess. However she is not the one entirely to be blamed. Circumstances were the cause. Circumstances that were never in her favor.
Tess Durbeyfield is a lovely girl born into an underprivileged family in Victorian England. Even though their family is not well provided she still seems content and merry(only in the first few pages of the book) until the quirk of fate decidedly turns her life to hell. Being beautiful both inside and out, she couldn’t help igniting flames of passion in the eyes of Alec d’Urberville to whom she had approached due to the pressure from her family to establish a connection with the aristocrat in the quest for lineage. The young man is a wolf, even whose ancient name is followed by a question mark. Call their encounter the incident that marked the doom. Just because of the one mistake she made of seeking out help from the d’Urbervilles, Tess is propelled by fate from there on to lead a life of prolonged misery. The course of events that followed sucked out all the innocence and confidence from the 16 year old child, who was naïve to such monsters walking in masks of reputed men. She had gone to the so called d’Urbervilles with a hope to save herself and her family, yet she came back ravaged and ruined. Ruined of her innocence and the belief in humanity. While she herself was a child she gave birth to one who was conceived cunningly by the man of no morals. The bitterness I had acquired by this point did not even allow me to sympathize when the baby died. I sighed. And then I hated myself. Hardy definitely knows how to play with the minds of his readers.
When Tess finally decided to move on and found work as a milkmaid at a happy place some 40 miles away from her home, I took the risk of expecting some happy turns to the story. But alas! Her beau Angel who claimed to be neck deep in her love turned out a hypocrite. On their wedding night both of them decided to confess about their past mistakes. And although Tess forgave him for the drunken nights of debauchery he had committed, the self-righteous and judgmental bastard Clare calls her sins too high to be forgiven. Tess is deserted callously. Even though she survived a few more years with the hope of reuniting with her hypocrite husband I feel that she was more dead than alive. Lived more in hell than on earth. Having taken up cruel manual labor unfitting for her fragile self, she intended to repay for the sins endowed upon her by her ill fate. With every passing day she was breaking down a little more. With herself as well as her family falling apart, and the wolf Alec( who had turned into religion and preaching in these years) who couldn’t keep his monstrous instincts away and kept urging her to come back to him, Tess finally succumbed to the situation and became Alec’s mistress. And lo, it is now that Clare decides to come back to her. Really, it took you so long dumb head to realize your hypocrisy and stupidity? Anyways, now that I was seriously expecting a turn of events I was left dumbstruck when the unexpected happened. Having received Clare at her door she felt nothing but helpless. If she had to reunite with her love, she had to do something. And she did. But I don’t blame Tess for I could empathize with the person whose life was mercilessly snatched from her. Never having got the chance to decide for her own life, I could very well understand the fact that her anger got the better off her and she stabbed Alec( who was mocking her then btw) right at the heart( I hope he died a slow and painful death). She finally lived the life she had always desired. In the arms of her lover. Even if it was for a short period of time. Until she was caught by the police and was hanged till death. Justice served.
And with Tess a part of me died too.
My heart goes out to that unfortunate girl and all those girls in India and worldwide who lose the right to live the life of their desire and dreams, because of such masked wolves who pounce on them fearlessly. Not just the rapists but I endlessly despise the cruel society that tags the victims and ruin their reputation by calling them impure and snatch away their right to live. And there are millions of Tess’s scattered round the world, living this tragedy for real.
About SK RajeshwariI am an incurable bibliophile, dreamer, writer, poet and connoisseur of all things beautiful. This blog 'My Cosmos' is my first love and nothing pleases me more than constructive feedback for my write-ups. My second love is books. I am an insatiable and roly-poly bookworm. Books teach me how to explore the world inside me and the ones that are outcomes of someone else's unadulterated imagination. What beautifies my existence is the endless walk I enjoy putting on those shoes of imagination. Step into my world, feel my poems and allow your wandering soul to be hypnotized by the fragrance of the captivating manifestations of my dreams, experiences and imagination. Allow this feeling to creep into your being and let your nerves speak the language of beauty and artistry. Bienvenido :)
Posted on July 1, 2016, in Book Reviews, Social Issues and tagged book review, classic, death, depression, English literature, hardy, murder, rape, Tess of d'Urbervilles, tragedy. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.