I thought it’s time for a classic since I was not present here in a long time. So, I approached Thomas Hardy’s Tess d’Urberville.
Even though it’s a famous novel, I did not have the chance to read it so far, so here are my thoughts about it.
Tess is a sad novel, a depressing novel, somehow a Prometheus novel, a novel where life and ethics and society imposes enough restrictions to fully condition one’s life.
Tess starts from a young girl of coming age, a soft, uneducated, naive girl who is faced with far greater problems than she can handle, also fed by a pair of irresponsible parents, who sometimes look even more naive than her. Tess is not afraid of the world, but she doesn’t impose anything to herself, mostly because of her missing knowledge and lack of interest.
First, she is faced with the problem of obtaining the most of her ancient name, which is one thing that brings her worse things than better ones. Her name becomes a stain on her face, something that attracts people to take advantage of it, or run away of her. Her encounter with the so called cousin only brings her trouble: she is daydreaming, young, and one could say even stupid. She is eagerly punished by the following events, but her pride is one thing that she never loses until her very end. She gets pregnant and the death of her offspring makes her enter a period of denial, of self-punishment, of despair, of a world with no end and no light at the other side of the tunnel.
Life offers her a good chance in the person of Angel Clare and an idyllic job in a rich farmhouse. Her old ways of thinking, her self-punishment and oath never to marry, prevent her for being honest with her new romance. Even though Tess appears innocent, she makes several mistakes that nobody can be blamed for, not even herself, but these mistakes bring her only pain. Her wedding night scene is marvelously depicted, where the eternal love of one man melts away at a sorrow past, and love blindness uncovered makes Angel realize he does not know the woman in front of him.
Tess is torn apart, but her pride is again winning: she accepts being denied, thrown away, put back into a life of misery. Her admiration for Angel’s intelligence makes her overbelieve in him, altough Angel is only driven by ethic and society values, which destroy their relationship. In these scenes, Tess becomes more mature, and regrets not respecting her old oath, but still not strong enough to become a woman. Tess never uses her feminine side, she never shows weakness in front of others. Tess is like a statue of a warrior although inside she is full of tears, misery, pity and weakness. All the men in her life are attracted by her, although she denies herself, never loves herself and always refuses everything thrown at her.
The life of misery is depressing, grey, and full of hardfeelings. Her old seducer, raper, and mischievous man reappears in her life, and again, takes advantage of her weakness, the death of her father, the lose of their home, and forces her to become his woman again.
Angel returns too late, at a place where Tess only lives in resignation, just taking her existence from one day to another. The last scene is epic, and makes one really feel sorry for Tess. The author successfully achieves the highest dramatic point of the novel, where Tess’s only purpose in life, her only hope, reappears after a very long time, but it’s too late, in her own words. Her morality has been destroyed. Her pride has been stepped over. Her self esteem as a woman has been vanquished. Her last spark of will is concentrated in a desperate gesture to destroy the one man that has destroyed her life.
Her wedding with Angel is finally consumed in a five day hideout from authorities, where she feels complete, loved, cared for, and finally together with the one man she really loved. Some feelings many people have for long time, but never really appreciated, nor realized they have. The happiness is very bitter though, as the punishment draws near. Tess ends her life regaining part of her pride, at a sacrifice of their couple and their love.
The book depicts the destruction of a human being, by society and evil people, starting from young age to maturity. Tess is the model of the naive who expected so much more from people, and given so much less. Angel is the model of the man who made mistakes, regrets them, but doesn’t learn anything from it, sacrificing the life of maybe one single person he really loved for his own pride and society’s ethical values. Alec, the “cousin”, is the model of the decadent, the man without any remorse or moral values, who undergoes different stages in his development, but in the end showing his true evil face to the bitter end. Alec is punished for all his sins though, because the author punished almost everyone in this novel. Angel though gets a new wife in the person of Tess’ sister, this time unstained and full of pure virtue as he pleased. But is this what he really wanted? Pure virtue in a person he doesn’t care for? Or maybe he could be willing to forgive the person he really loved, for some sins that she actually never commit ?
Tess d’Urberville is bitter, really bitter.