Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a classic critique of Victorian society and the position of women, and has lent itself to a number of adaptations over the years. The story spans a number of years as Tess enters womanhood. As rural society is declining her father discovers that her family is actually descended from a noble house, and there’s a branch of the family still using that name. This is how she discovers the first main love interest of her life, Alec. What follows is a tragic story of how she strives to break free of her past and the assumptions people make about her, as all she wants to do is be happy and make the man she loves happy.
I’m usually a bit wary when I read books from this period because sometimes I find the writing style impossible to read and I simply can’t get into the books. However, while Hardy sometimes used phrases that I am unfamiliar with and on occasion his way of phrasing words was a little different to the way modern authors write, I found it easy to read. The only parts I found annoying were the dialogue, because he inserted regional accents and I always find it annoying when authors do this because I have to decipher what the characters are saying. But aside from that I enjoyed it a lot. It was often poetic and I felt that Hardy captured each emotion with flair and flourish. I always like angst and this novel has it in spades, with characters constantly wrestling with themselves.
While this is a critique of society the focus is solely on Tess and her journey. I found her immensely likeable and was totally invested in her journey. I liked that she isn’t a passive character and does make decisions herself, even though they may not be the right ones. She shows incredible fortitude and determination, and I liked how she was battling with how she thought she should be. She suffered a lot of tragedy as well, and the attitudes that are displayed by Alec and Angel, well, it’s impossible not to hate them both. And even though Alec’s crime was unforgivable it’s interesting to wonder whether Angel’s was worse.
Each character was complex and the world they inhabit brings forward the attitudes and morals of the time. I found it to be a riveting read, only getting more and more enjoyable as it went on. An excellent read and well deserving of its status as a classic. It’s one of those works of literature that, while it’s set in a certain place and time and comments on the society from which it was borne, it also transcends those trappings and has points that can be discussed and applied today. I definitely recommend it and I’m looking forward to checking out some of the adaptations.