Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know what happens in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, stop reading.
Whew, so last night I finally wrapped up Tess, a novel considered to be one of Thomas Hardy’s best works (with Jude the Obscure generally getting top billing from critics). The novel tells a pathetically tragic story of young Tess, who is by any standard a seriously unlucky girl. I mean, this girl cannot catch a break — poverty, rape, teenage pregnancy, family deaths, social condemnation, betrayal, you name it. Despite all the downer moments, I did like the story and found Tess to be a really beautiful character — her troubles, frustrations, bouts of sadness were balanced by her vitality, fortitude, and passionately good intentions.
Reading this novel with a mindset so far removed from the Victorian era made Tess’ situation seem even more tragic (if that’s possible). The overall sense I had was of watching a small animal caught in a trap. The poor thing just didn’t stand a chance. The novel was quite shocking when it was published, especially for the focus on Tess’ sexuality and the role it plays in her downfall, but today what seemed more shocking to me than Tess’ rape was Angel’s change of feelings after discovering she isn’t a virgin. That Angel, for all his liberal ideas, can’t separate Tess’ past from her present, was the saddest piece of the entire story for me.
Overall, I liked this story more than I thought I would. Not one of my favorites, but still a good one.