first impressions of tess

Although a busy weekend did not leave much time for actually sitting down to read, some driving time did allow me to get a ways into a new audiobook.  I’m currently working on Tess of the d’Urbervilles (by Thomas Hardy), yet another classic that’s on my “I-really-probably-should-have-read-this-by-now” list. 

I’ve learned with classics that patience is sometimes the key.  Maybe it was not having to compete with TV or the internet, or maybe there were just fewer books to choose from at the Ye Olde Barnes and Noble, but authors from the 18th and 19th centuries didn’t seem as concerned with hooking the reader from page 1. 

But Tess is different, perhaps because it was initially written as a serial in a newspaper.  I suppose in that circumstance,  your goal is to get the reader to come back, so the first installment has to be pretty attention-getting.  And the beginning of Tessis just that.  Hardy opens the novel with Tess’s ridiculous father hearing news that proceeds to make him even more ridiculous — that he, Jack Durbeyfield, is descended of the great d’Urberville family.  We soon meet Tess, the earnest, pretty protagonist, and her dreamy mother as well.  The family’s discovery of their “position” sets a series of events in motion that drastically alter Tess’s immediate future (and her long-term one as well, I imagine, although I’m not that far along yet). 

The novel is certainly not a comedic one, but Hardy does interject bits of humor through the ludicrousness of certain characters (Tess’s father, for one).  As all good protagonists are, Tess is far more complex.  She is mature, yet childlike; responsible, yet naive; cautious, yet impulsive.  As a reader, these contradictions can be frustrating; though her intelligence is obvious, she falls into situations that would appear to have clear consequences.  It’s kind of like wanting to yell at a movie character to warn them something bad is obviously about to happen. 

But frustrations aside, I plan on sticking with Tess.   With some classics, I’m already somewhat familiar with the basic plot when I begin reading them, but this time that isn’t the case.  And I’m looking forward to discovering the story one section at a time, just as its first readers did.


~ by Molly on February 2, 2009.

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