Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess Durbeyfield is beset by guilt over the accidental death of one of her family's horses – a main source of family income. In an attempt to create a social connection and to gain financial assistance for her family, she entreats the d'Urbervilles to acknowledge an ancient familial connection. Unfortunately, Alec d'Urberville is taken with Tess and rapes her. Her life is haunted by his sexual assault from that point forward. Eventually, Tess begins to recuperate and finds employment elsewhere as a dairymaid. Her days as a dairymaid are happy and peaceful until she falls in love with Angel Clare. She agonizes over telling him of her tainted past, and when she confesses the truth on her wedding night, Angel is repulsed over her past and her deception of waiting to tell him. Tess is parted from her true love and never fully recovers, even when he returns to her.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles is more than a sad story. It pays homage to the type of unhealthy family atmospheres that many children are raised in. The death of the horse is a direct result of her father's drunkenness and irresponsibility, though Tess never realizes this. When her parents hear of her misfortune, her mother reprimands her for not seeking marriage to the very man who raped her. The story also explores the mental effects that sexual assault can have on a person. Tess experiences extreme guilt, depression and feelings of unworthiness – common feelings for victims of sexual assault. In the end, as she is continually subjected to Alec d'Urberville, she experiences insanity which results in extreme actions.

This particular edition included an introduction and notes about the text which I found helpful. However, I thought the girl on the cover did not resemble the maiden of the book. The girl on the front is plain and unremarkable, whereas, Tess, according to the text, is remarkable.

I can see why this book is considered a literary classic, but I can't say I enjoyed it. That being said, I think everyone should read this book once. Tess is a memorable character that one can not help being fascinated with.