tess of the d’urbervilles

Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the story of a beautiful girl who is sent away by her parents to claim what they believe is their family’s birthright, but is taken advantage of by a man of power and position. The resulting shame taints the rest of Tess’s short life.

Thomas Hardy was an astounding writer. I’ve rarely read a classic that has brought me so fully into the time period, into the world inhabited by the characters. I’ve hardly ever felt the shame and embarassment or the tumult of emotions with such cringing empathy. And I don’t know when a novel has put into such harsh light the conventional beliefs of a society.

And so I admire the book very much. But it was an incredibly difficult one to enjoy. The hardships faced by the character of Tess are exhausting, and though her constant misery is brought upon her by the decisions of those around her, rather than herself, I couldn’t help but grow frustrated with her seeming lack of self-worth.

On some level, I know what this is what I’m supposed to feel — or at least something like what I’m supposed to feel. I’m supposed to be disgusted at a society in which a young woman is essentially taught that her worth is dependent upon her beauty and her virginity, and I am. But I also was annoyed with Tess and her seeming willingness to put herself in positions with such potentially heartbreaking consequences. She does choose to act toward the end, but even her actions seem to contradict each other and result in further tragedy.

In spite of all the sadness, Tess’s story is one that is beautifully told. And it’s for the beauty that it is a book worth reading.

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~ by Molly on March 30, 2009.

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