I’ve had this book on my shelf for 5 long years. I wasn’t compelled to read any more Hardy after somehow getting through the depressing Jude the Obscure but I’m participating in a banned book challenge, and this is one of many books that haven’t made it past the censorship board at one time or another. If I’d only known how much I would enjoy this book, I wouldn’t have let it sit on my shelf for so long.
I adore classics but it is hard for me to read a lot of them without feeling some indignation of the injustices dealt to women. Hardy presents us with Tess, a young woman who really doesn’t have much control over her life. She is forced to sacrifice herself time and again for her family, including her child-like parents. Poor Tess. My heart really ached for her. Having to go through all she went through and never having any sort of justice handed to her was heartbreaking. Therein lies the problem of that society; the double standards between women and men, the Victorian ideal of purity for women only. Without revealing too much, I think I disliked both the main male characters for their hypocrisy and cowardice.
Now I’ve finished reading the book it’s hard to remember this is actually a love story. I’m still not sure whether I like Tess. I do pity her but I wonder whether she let herself play the victim. Or is it that there was nothing she could do at that time but to accept her lot in life? I guess that hasn’t changed much in many places.
Despite the tragedies in this story, I highly recommend this book. Hardy’s prose is just wonderful. It turns out he was a naturalist and it shows by how well and uniquely he writes about the Wessex countryside where this novel is set. Additionally, his descriptions of people’s feelings was wonderful.
I’ll end with this quote which I believe is a testament to women’s strength through adversity:
“Let the truth be told—women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye. While there’s life, there’s hope is a conviction not as entirely unknown to the “betrayed” as some amiable theorists would have us believe.”