Monday, 17 March 2014

Review/Rant: Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy

Book cover of Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
So it's a little known fact that I write my review notes in the colour I deem most appropriate for that particular book, based on usually nothing more than a passing whim - red for FEED, orange for Mr Penumbra's... and so on. Do you know what colour I chose for Tess of the d'Ubervilles? Black. Blackest black black black black black.

Plot summary: The chance discovery by a young peasant woman that she is a descendant of the noble family of d'Urbervilles is to change the course of her life. Tess Durbeyfield leaves home on the first of her fateful journeys, and meets the ruthless Alec d'Urberville. Thomas Hardy's impassioned story tells of hope and disappointment, rejection and enduring love.

The following review will contain spoilers for Tess of the d'Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy, mainly because I want to rant.

Also contains strong language, for said reason.

This seems to be a complete love it or hate it book. Everybody seems to have an opinion about Tess, whether it's a heart-breaking novel of tragedy and perseverance or a whiny novel about a pathetic protagonist (and some fields). I'm no exception and while I conclude that it does have good points, they were vastly overshadowed by my desperate need to hurl myself out the nearest window.

See? Blackest black black.
Tess of the d'Ubervilles consists of lenghy essays about farming techniques and abstract philosophical ramblings, interspersed with the most depressing story since Les Miserables, and at least the clue is in the name with that one.

Since I've already done a spoiler warning, I figured I'd summarise the plot for y'all:
  • Tess' horse dies a painful death. Tess blames herself.
  • Tess goes to work as a chicken lady, where she gets raped by Alec. Tess blames herself.
  • Tess has a baby, which she dramatically names 'Sorrow,' just before it dies.
  • Tess goes to work on a dairy where she falls in love with a nice man. She is not worthy.
  • He loves her back and so she resolves to kill herself, naturally.
  • He proposes, but after the wedding he confesses that he's not a virgin as he consensually spent a consensual weekend of consensual sin with a consensual woman.
  • Tess confesses she was raped.
  • Angel is shocked and disgusted by her sin. Tess blames herself.
  • Angel eventually runs away to Brazil after a) days of being abusive and b) suggesting to Tess' friend that she be his mistress.
  • Tess blames her fucking self.
  • Tess' father dies and her mother emotionally blackmails her.
  • Tess runs into Alec and becomes his mistress.  
  • Angel changes his mind after a year and comes home, but finds Tess has finally seen sense (debatably).
  • Tess kills Alec.
  • Tess and Angel go on the run... until she is eventually executed after four pages of describing a field.
Now look. I know this all sounds frightfully dramatic - lots of action and suspense and whatnot. Except... no. It's just tedious and miserable. It's a long book to drag out those fifteen bullet points and that's done by tedious essays about morality and the importance of self-reflection.

Tess is the problem, as you may have guessed by my passive-aggressiveness. I just HATED her. She was so mind-numbingly sorry for herself when actually, everything was her own doing (except the rape, obviously). She could have fixed her problems by standing up for herself - even Angel said that he would have respected her more if she stood her ground. She's pathetic. PATHETIC.
So easefully has she delivered her whole being up to him that it pleased her to think that he was regarding her as his absolute possession, to dispose of as he should choose. It was consoling, under the hovering terror of tomorrow's separation, to feel that he really recognised her now as his wife Tess, and did not cast her off, even if in that recognition he went so far as to arrogate to himself the right of harming her.    
No. Just no. She's so pleased that he referred to her as his wife, that she's quite willing for him to harm 'his property.' He sleepwalks, picks her up and carries outside and she's genuinely thrilled at the idea that he's going to drown them both. I'm actually thumping the keys so hard it hurts my fingers right now.

What annoys me most is that she doesn't learn. There's no comeupannce (you know, aside from her eventual execution) and she never understands the importance of self-respect. She just trudges on, sighing dramatically and holding her hand to her head. 

Yes yes, it was a different time period. But the point is, I'm in this period and it aggravates me. I know Hardy was (theoretically) writing from a pro-Tess perspective about all the wrongs men did to her, but it doesn't stop her being the least likeable character in the whole of fiction.

Angel isn't much better - aside from the obvious double standards of 'hey, I spent a weekend with a random woman but I hate you for being raped' asshattery, he morally objects to her (unwilling) lack of virginity but is just fiiiiine when she murders somebody.

The ending doesn't make much sense either. I wasn't traumatised or heart-broken, just slightly bewildered. I mean... why kill him? Yes, he raped you but the time for revenging that was long past. You had a little whine that he lied to you but actually he didn't - he surmised to you that Angel wasn't coming back (a reasonable assumption under the circumstances) and you believed him because you are a fucking moron. You don't have to believe everything everybody suggests to you and then you don't have to kill them when you do.

It's out of character and non-believable. I mean, I understand the point is that she finally 'snapped' after all this hardship and took what she wanted instead of what others desired for her... but it still doesn't fit. The very ending itself is incredibly anti-climactic - there's more focus on a stray field than anything else. 'Oh by the way, Tess was executed... but look at this greenery!'

It's suprisingly accessible and easy to read, content aside. There are some marvellous quotes and some beautiful prose, but they were overshadowed by the hugely irritating characters and over-emphasis on farming. I'm quite interested in what Thomas Hardy actually intended this book to say, because I know there's a message here. Either that or he really hated women.
In her misery she rocked herself upon the bed. The clock struck the solemn hour of one, that hour when fancy stalks outside reason, and malignant possibilities stand rock-firm as facts.
We're done here, I think. I'm glad I've read Tess of the d'Ubervilles but I can't particularly say that I enjoyed doing so. I could have dealt with the sad plot, but not with Tess herself. It's a lifeless trainwreck of misery. 

This book was:
So. I know at least one of you that loves it and at least one that hates it. Where do you stand on Tess of the d'Ubervilles?


  1. Oh I do enjoy it when you rant about books.

    I read this at university so I can't really remember much other than that I delivered a speech about the ties between Tess and pastoral England or some such rubbish. I do remember loving the prose and actually really enjoying the pages about fields and I do remember hating EVERYONE. But I think I came away from this one generally think it was alright, it certainly didn't raise my ire in the way Wuthering Heights did.

    1. Believe it or not, I actually toned this one down - I removed the majority of the capital letters, italics and sarcastic gifs, at least!

      Oh god, Wuthering Heights. I didn't like that one either but I don't think it made me AS angry as Tess. It was a while ago, but I don't have much desire to reread it and find out :p

  2. What I loved most was zooming in on your review notebook and finding I HATE THIS BOOK displayed in all its glory right at the top. I can honestly say that I've never felt the slightest urge to read Tess, particularly because even the TV adaptation I saw was dull. Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence are both very much filed under 'boring sods' in my brain, so... no. There are too many awesome books out there to waste my time.

    I wonder if I'd hate Tess more than Emma Bovary? I mean, she's PATHETIC as well (note the capitalisation, that's important), moping around hating people for loving her, even her own child. But she is, at least, an interesting character, and the social detail of that book was fascinating... *ponders for about three seconds*... Nope, still not reading Tess. :)

    1. Haha, it's my notebook, I can rant if I want to!

      I disagree about D.H. Lawrence though. Well, in part. I actually really enjoyed Lady Chatterley's Lover, to the point where I've read it twice. Everything else he's written though... not so much. Very dreary.

      I don't know, I haven't read Emma Bovary. I know the melodrama that was Tess is still fresh and raw in my head, but I can't imagine Emma would be worse. Please read it and tell me? Do it for me :D

    2. Oh, yes, actually, I do want to read Lady Chatterley, if only to imagine a hot gardener doing naughty things like frickin' DOWNTON DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. I read St Mawr, the short one with a horse in it (?) a few years ago and all I remember is that a tiny novella REALLY shouldn't have felt like it took ten years to read. SO boring... And no. I'm still not reading Tess. You should be proud - it means you were particularly persuasive! This time... *waves Hope: A Tragedy around gleefully*

  3. I had to read Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge freshman year in high school. I despise that book. It was boring and convoluted and I resented being made to read something so boring and convoluted as a 14 year old that loved reading and sincerely wished everyone else did too. But every-so-often I hear how good Tess of the d'Ubervilles is and I think maybe I should read it. Thank you for saving me from that further uncertainty. ;)

    1. Haha, you're very welcome! I'd save everybody from the pathetic melodrama that is Tess of the d'Ubervilles if I could!

      I can't believe you had to read THoC when you were fourteen. What's the point in making teenagers associate reading with dry, difficult books that are a chore to read? It makes no sense!

  4. Amazing review. Thank you so so much for sharing :) I had never heard of this before I saw this show thing on the tv. And holy crap. I didn't watch all of it, but most of the spoilery things that you mention. It was just AWFUL. I would never ever enjoy things like that in books that I read :\ so I'm staying far away from this, lol. Thank you for being honest. <3
    Thank you so much for commenting on my blog a while ago. <3
    Love, Carina @ Carina's Books

    1. Never watch the movie Jude. I did, and there was one scene in particular that is LITERALLY the most horrific thing I've ever seen on screen. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and felt physically sick, and once I'd seen it it was too late to UNSEE it. Between that and Tess I've pretty much resolved never to darken my life with Thomas Hardy. :(

  5. Ok, you're really making me want to reread this now because I've read it twice- the first time when I was too young and just like 'wtf is happening?' and the second not *that* long ago where I was like OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK. So... Loggerheads. But not really because I can't specifically remember the things that I loved about it hence the needing to reread it, I think.

    BUT- I would say that I think Angel is MUCH worse than Tess because FFS you absolutely had pre-marital sex but you think it's disgusting that your wife was RAPED? You shouldn't be disgusted with her, you should be out murdering the man who raped her (so she doesn't have to!). I fucking hate Angel even when Eddie Redmayne is playing him.

    But anyway- We'll discuss further when I've reread this, which will be... at some point. But never stop ranting please, Hanna, it's kind of the best.

    1. I think that Angel and Tess are both awful human beings, but for such different reasons that you can't really compare them. I COMPLETELY and beyond all doubt agree that the way Angel behaved was incomprensible and morally bankrupt, but Tess irritated me just as much from general patheticness.

      Do! Reread it! Then me, you and Charlotte can all discuss it because she's reading it at the moment too :)

  6. I had to read this book in high school and I HATED it. It's funny for me to read a review like this years later!


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