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Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
April 25, 2023
Tess of the d'Urbervilles is not a feel-good book, which sharply sets it apart from the other 19th century novels about young women (think Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, for instance).

No, it's sad and depressing to the point where it almost makes me angry. Because poor Tess, prone to making choices that are invariably the worst for her, just cannot catch a break. Because it's like she has majorly pissed off some higher power(s) that be and they are taking revenge, giving her the most rotten luck. Because Tess seems to have resigned herself to a future with few silver linings, having learned to view herself through the cruel prism of social conventions. Because it lacks any happiness and warm fuzzies that would make you want to reread this book while curled up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate on a cold rainy day¹.
¹ This lack of any feel-good warm fuzzies and Hardy's relentless destruction of anything that can make Tess' life tolerable (and, of course, combined with the fact that this book apparently is on the required reading list for many high-schoolers - and we all know how intolerable the books we have been coerced to read as teens can appear) may be at least partially responsible for why so many of my GR friends dislike it - the same people who apparently have enjoyed other 19th century novels about young women.

And yet I liked it. Maybe because I read it without anyone's coercion, without being forced to see the symbolism or make analyses of the themes and all that bullshit that high school students have to put up with during the endless hours of English classes.
"Never in her life – she could swear it from the bottom of her soul – had she ever intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgments had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently."
Because, all symbolism aside (blah-blah, Tess = Nature destroyed by civilization and all that), Hardy seems to be doing a pretty good job showing the stupidity of rigid morals applied to women in Victorian England - the morals and attitudes that made women inferior and subservient to men. Because quite a few things are wrong when a rapist offering to marry his victim is considered a good resolution to the 'situation' as he must be her 'real' husband because he was the first to claim her vagina with his penis, regardless of whether she wanted him then or wants him now. Because something is wrong when a woman becomes 'damaged goods' in the eyes of the society because of someone else's action - actually, when, regardless of the action, her worth is based on the state of intactness of her hymen¹.
¹ That attitude did not die with Victorian era, of course. It is still perpetuated and fed to the young members of the society. Think, for instance, of all the young adult heroines that are 'pure' by the virtue of their virginity while there always (or almost always) appears to be an evil side character - a 'slut' who dares to be sexually experienced. Guess who is invariably preferred by all the romantic interests? That's right. 'Sluts' are put in their place pretty quickly. Ugh.

Hardy does a great job portraying unhealthy relationships in this book without attempting to convince the reader that those are actually normal. I will not go into details about the unhealthiness of Tess' relationship with her rapist - that's self-evident. But her doomed relationship with Angel Clare is also painted as unhealthy and dangerous - and not alluringly dangerous, like many books are prone to depict such situations. Tess' feelings for him are blinding and obsessive - and the danger of those are clearly shown, as she is ready to lose herself in him and even die for his sake. Angel's feelings are treated equally harshly as instead of respecting and admiring Tess for the person she is he idolizes what he *thinks* she is, he creates an idea of her being who he wants her to be and in that remains completely blind to who she actually is. Hardy's portrayal of that ill-fated relationship definitely does not glamorize the unhealthy aspects of it, and I applaud him for it.

I did enjoy reading a book about a 19th century young woman who does not belong to the privileged class, and whose ideas of poverty are not simply living in a smaller cottage and not being able to attend fancy balls. I liked the idea of a woman who is capable of work and does not shy away from it; I loved how much Hardy tried to emphasize that the stereotypes of peasants as faceless mass of idiots were not true, and how he stayed away from glamorizing money and pedigree. Tess' supposed noble descent brings her nothing but pain, after all.
"She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly - the thought of the world's concern at her situation - was founded on illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides, Tess was only a passing thought."
Overall I enjoyed this book, but I'm not sure I will ever reread it, knowing now the turn the events in Tess' life take. For my pleasure reads I will stick with the happily-ever-after of Lizzy Bennet, thank you very much. But meanwhile I'll be appreciating that Hardy had the perseverance to write a non-feel-good story of bad things happening to good people, with lessons we can learn from it even now.

3.75 stars - rounding up to 4.
Profile Image for Adina .
892 reviews3,554 followers
August 10, 2021
There is a strong debate regarding the introduction of sex education in schools in Romania. I would make all the people opposing this measure read this book. Even if it was written a few centuries ago, not much has change in certain places and families. Widespread ignorance regarding basic knowledge of the reproductive apparatus and of the way babies are made should be our main concern. Not the idiotic fear that all children will turn gay (lesbians are ok) or men will have children or whatever. Romania is the country with most adolescent mothers in Europe. Why? Because nobody told them where the vagina / uterus is and how the whole thing works. I don’t even mention that they have no idea how to use protective measures or are bullied against them by men. It is still a shame to discuss these normal topics in many families, especially in the country. Why do I believe this book should be read by people who are against sex education? All the drama that is Tess life begins from one small mistake that could have been avoided if only someone told her how to protect her innocence. Tess was weak and had no skills to protect herself from men because she was uneducated in the matter and she stood no chance when the predator came.

Tess Durbeyfield is a young, poor woman living in a village in Southern England. However, she is very beautiful and young men start to notice her. One day, her lazy and drunk father is informed by the village minister, Parson Tringham that he is related with an old wealthy family, D'urbervilles. Smelling easy money, Tess’ parents encourage Tess to visit D'urbervilles estate. The house was inhabited only by a blind widow and her son, Alec D'urbervilles. After Tess tells Alec about her relation with him, he mockingly addresses her as cousin and later invites her to work for them. Tess is reluctant to accept, but her mother insists. Tess soon realises they are not actually related and she is trying hard to escape Alec’s insistent advances. One fatidic night she fails in her resolve, without really knowing what happened and from there her life becomes a nightmare. There will be glimpses of happiness but that moment will mark all her ultimately unhappy life.

This book is a drama, there is no doubt about it. However, the writer somehow manages not to overwhelm the reader with despair. There is a bit of humour, some hopeful and happy moments which make the sad parts of the story bearable. There were a bit too many religious in this novel and some repetitive episodes but all in all it was a classic I enjoyed. What made this book extraordinary was that Thomas Hardy, who is a man, managed to write so well the plight of women of his time.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
April 6, 2016
Dear, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

I’m writing you this letter because you pissed me off. I’m angry, Tess. I’ve got a lot to say to you, and I want you to hear it. I will warn you though; I’m not holding anything back. We’re going to talk about everything, everything that happens in your life from beginning to end.

How could you be so silly? How could you be so hapless and so helpless? Why do you seem to be an ill-fated walking disaster of doom trodden woe? Why, oh why, did you never learn anything?

Tess you’re an absolute idiot. It’s okay. I understand. You were young and inexperienced in the beginning. But why were you still by the end? Your only act of courage was nothing but pure stupidity. It could only end one way after that. How could you not see Alec’s wolfish nature in the beginning? The man forced fed you fruit; he made you part your lips whilst he shoved his all too suggestive strawberry in your mouth. How could you not see the nature of such an imposing act?

Read over it Tess. See it from my point of view:

"They are already here." D'Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the "British Queen" variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.

"No--no!" she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. "I would rather take it in my own hand."

"Nonsense!" he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

How could you not see his motives? I understand that your mother didn’t teach you anything. Your parents threw you into the world and let you bare their burdens of responsibility. I understand that was a large task. But, still, how can you not see that this man was sniffing round you and only after one thing? Why didn’t you run? Why didn’t you get as far away as possible form such an insincere degenerate cur as Alec D’Urberville? After that, Tess, I just couldn’t believe in your character. I cannot believe that someone could possibly be as stupid as you Tess. I’m sorry Tess, but you were just badly written.

You just seemed a little bit too fatalistic. It’s like you’d given up on life before you’d even experienced it. You just went from disaster to disaster without realising that most men of your time were pigs. You didn’t learn anything; it’s like you were born with a pre-ordained destiny to take shit from everybody and then die. You just trudged through muck, and then went looking for more afterwards. If you’re characterisation is emblematic of Victorian womanhood, then every Victorian woman has been terrible insulted. I understand that the problems you faced were real. You came across real injustice, Tess. There’s no denying that. What Alec did to you was pure evil. What Angel did you was nothing short of neglect. One rule for men and another for women, eh Tess. You really experienced misogyny and injustice. I know, and I feel sorry for you, but Tess you were just so unbelievably weak.

Why did you go running back to Angel after what he did to you? He clearly didn't love you. Why did you wait for him for so long and just accept the negligence that he subjected you to. How could you let yourself down like that? You should have gone on your own and become your own woman; you should have become empowered rather than crawling back to the bastards that mistreated you. Your actions made no sense. Your emotions and love changed with the wind. I blame your creator Tess; I don’t think he knew quite what he wanted when he wrote you. He made a character who was a survivor with a will to keep trudging through life’s shit, but she kept going back to that shit again, and again. Rather than make you hopeless, he should have had you learn from the evils of the world, and become a woman who knew how to deal with it.

Then there’s the ending of your story, Tess. Why Stonehenge? Why did you run there of all places. Why not go to the train station? Why did you let yourself be led along by that prat Angel Clare one more time? Ahh…Tess, why did you waste your life? The men you met were assholes; your family were assholes too, so why didn’t you just get away from it all? Your most tragic mistake Tess, and your doom, was not realising what was inside you. Tess, only if you realised, only if the man who wrote you realised, that women don’t need to rely on men; then the whole tragedy would have been avoided. And I wouldn’t be writing this letter to a fictional corpse.

Yours sincerely,

A very dissatisfied reader.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 23, 2018
there will probably be spoilers here. i will possibly rant. if you don't know what happens in tess, it is better not to read this review, although, frankly, to my way of thinking, hardy has so many superior novels, stories, poems, that you would be better served just avoiding this one and going on to one of the great ones like jude or mayor of casterbridge instead. but there is something sneaking up in me - a bubblingly vague feeling of well-wishing for poor doomed tess, that makes me think i might convince myself of this novel's adequacy, if not greatness, by the end of the review.

there - that should serve as enough blathering to hide any actual spoilers from the feed.

who knew when i woke up this morning that i would be writing a review of my least favorite thomas hardy novels? no one.

but i find myself thinking of this book a lot, lately. having just come off another retail christmas at the book factory, and having had my readers' advisory skills put to the test in such a major way once more, i feel like i should say something about this book. because i am so conflicted about it, and every time i am called upon to suggest a "classic" or "a sad book," i find myself automatically drawn to hardy, and i always say the same thing, "except for tess."

i never suggest tess.

and it is infuriating because i know for a fact that tess was hardy's favorite female character. and i love hardy; i trust him. but, lord


tess is loyal, and passionate, but utterly hopeless. she makes all the wrong decisions, but she just keeps barreling along, blithely. well, not blithely. more like trudging along determinedly.

hardy's whole philosophy, in his books, is that you make a mistake and you never ever stop paying for it. but it is hard to see, in this book, just which mistake is the origin of the misery.if anything, the mistake is not tess' own, but her father's, in getting too drunk to drive, putting tess in the position of accidentally killing their horse as she takes the reins. (ooh, a pun!)

this is of course, shades of mayor of casterbridge. drinking causes all sorts of accidents.

is the accident that of overreaching one's situation in life? can't be, because the fake d'urberville's are doing just fine with their purchased title, while the "real" ones are living in poverty.

is the mistake getting raped? probably. not that it's her fault, obviously, but damn, girl - learn to recognize those wolves. but no - obviously someone in tess' position is not going to recognize a risk when she sees one. sweet dummy. sweet beloved-by-her-creator dummy.

i can only assume that in this book, that is meant to be the origin. because everything that happens after that is just one more kick in the balls.

a ruined reputation, a dead child, falling for a man named angel freaking clare (i mean, honestly - this should really have been another signal - no man named angel clare is ever going to be open-minded, even if he has his own secrets, hypocritical bastard). ugh, and then the rest of it - oh, god - that damned rug! what a terrible way to communicate sensitive information, tess! that is vintage hardy, though, and that plot development i am totally okay with. in fact, i think it is genius. but then - oh god - redemption for an unsavory character and illness and death and forgiveness TOO LATE and murder and then THE WORST ENDING OF ALL TIME!

seriously? stonehenge? you can't think of a subtler location than that for your situation? oh, hardy, you failed me there.

and the ending is what ruins the book for me, at the end of the day. because i am going through this bit by bit now, in writing this review, and that is pretty much my biggest gripe.

tess as a character is fine - she wouldn't be my favorite in all of literature, but she makes sense, as someone in her position. she's no bathsheba everdene, who is obviously hardy's most interesting and complicated female character, but she means well, and she is definitely a survivor, but more of the limping variety than the warrior kind.

and the series of misfortunes is also fine. unlikely, and depressing, but fine. nowhere near as perfectly intricate as mayor, with its amaaaazing resolution, but it is tidy and appropriate, all told.

yup. now that i have actually sat down with this, it is simply the presence of stonehenge that so grates upon me. fuck stonehenge and your sacrificial maidens. it clangs, as an ending. it is like someone letting loose a wombat during a funeral. thomas hardy isn't supposed to be silly, and this ending it unarguably silly.

so, there it is, mes amis - tess redeemed through the power of review-writing.

but no amount of review-writing will ever get me to accept stonehenge.
stupid stonehenge.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,621 reviews991 followers
July 15, 2023
That's it there needs to be a new genre - Dark Classics! Going so much against the grain of the times, this is the story of Tess Durbeyfield trying to live her life in 19th century England; eldest daughter to aspirational educated rural working class parents with their sights on their wealthier 'family' the D'Urberville's. With family tragedies, deaths, sexual harassment and assault(!), gender inequality, eschewed religious values and more, Tess maintains a pretty clear idea of her wants, needs and personal moral compass, balancing them against her struggling family's needs throughout this relentlessly well constructed true classic, a dark Victorian 'romantic' saga with the masks of civility completely ripped off; as this is read, it leaves little to the imagination of how the power of male dominance is used and abused in the day. It's no surprise that this was censored and Hardy castigated. I can see why the so-called religious majority got so up in arms about this ground breaking work.

Many critics see this as a look at the corruption of the rural communities by industrialisation, a few more say that it is a look at the corruption of the innocent and pure (rural) working class by the privileged urban dwellers - but me, maybe because of my 21st century lens would say that this is not only an epic depiction of the flawed gender in-equal (Victorian) society, but also a swipe at the dominant wave of (popular) romanticism of male-female unions of the day. In a thousand years I hope this is still deemed a classic as many others fall by the wayside. An astounding book, in that with the limitations of the world he knew and lived, Hardy managed to tell this story and so well convey Tess' true heroic nature and that her true enemy was Victorian society and its so-called values.

I make no apologies for reading up on this book after completion to ensure that nothing was lost on me, as, like a lot of writing of the day it is overwritten and has maybe too many detailed descriptions of farming life - but it's worth reading through and through. A gem of a read. 8 out of 12 Four Star read.

2022 and 2010 read
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews50 followers
October 19, 2021
(Book 808 from 1001 books) - Tess of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented is a novel by Thomas Hardy.

It initially appeared in a censored and serialized version, published by the British illustrated newspaper The Graphic in 1891 and in book form in 1892.

Though now considered a major nineteenth-century English novel and possibly Hardy's fictional masterpiece.

Tess is the oldest child of John and Joan Durbeyfield, uneducated peasants. However, John is given the impression by Parson Tringham that he may have noble blood, as "Durbeyfield" is a corruption of "D'Urberville", the surname of an extinct noble Norman family.

Knowledge of this immediately goes to John's head.

That same day, Tess participates in the village May Dance, where she meets Angel Clare, youngest son of Reverend James Clare, who is on a walking tour with his two brothers. He stops to join the dance and partners several other girls.

Angel notices Tess too late to dance with her, as he is already late for a promised meeting with his brothers. Tess feels slighted. ...

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «باکره دوربراویلز»؛ «تس دوربرویل»؛ «تس»؛ «تس دختری از طایفه دربرویلز»؛ «تس دوربرفیلز»؛ «تس، زنی پاکدامن»؛ نویسنده: تامس هاردی؛ (دنیای نو) ادبیات؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه آگوست سال 1997میلادی

عنوان: تس دوربرویل؛ نویسنده: تامس هاردی؛ مترجم: ابراهیم یونسی؛ تهران، فرهنگ نشر نو، سال1383؛ در543ص؛ چاپ چهارم سال1396؛ در بیست و یک و562ص؛ شابک9876004900423؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 19م

عنوان: تس؛ نویسنده توماس هاردی؛ مترجم: م‍ی‍ن‍ا س‍رابی‌؛ تهران، دنیای نو، سال1363؛ در420ص؛ چاپ دوم ستال1368؛ چاپ سوم سال1370؛ چاپ چهارم سال1376؛ چاپ پنجم سال1382؛

عنوان: باکره دوربراویلز؛ نویسنده: تامس هاردی؛ مترجم: محمدصادق شریعتی؛ تهران، گویش نو، ال1388؛ در244ص؛ شابک9786005084108؛ چاپ دوم 1393؛ در224ص؛ شابک9786006382470؛

عنوان: تس دختری از طایفه‌ی دربرویلز؛ نوشته توماس هاردی؛ برگردان حبیب‌اله رنجبر؛ شیراز، ره آورد، سال1393؛ در104ص؛ شابک9789648596861؛

عنولن: تس دوربرفیلز؛نویسنده توماس هاردی؛ مترجم الهام لطفی؛ خوی؛ قراقوش‏‫، سال1392؛ در214ص؛ شابک9647897586؛‬‬

عنوان: چکیده رمان « تس، زنی پاکدامن»؛ اثر توماس هاردی؛ نویسنده چکیده کلاید نهرنز؛ مترجم سمانه عطا؛ ویراستار مریم هادی‌لوئ‍ی؛ به سفارش موسسه فرهنگی دیجیتال کلید طلایی جهان معاصر؛ تهران، شکیب، سال1399؛ 21ص؛ شابک9786227405644؛

در این داستان، «تس» دختری زیبا�� از خانواده‌ ای تهیدست است؛ او برای کار به خانه ای می‌رود، که نام از خاندان‌های اصیل آن دیار جعل نموده‌ اند؛ پسر خانواده «آلک» به «تس» تجاوز میکند، و او را صاحب فرزندی میکند که پس از چندی می‌میرد؛ «تس» پس از آن رخداد، بدون یاری از کسی در یک گاو‌داری استخدام، و با مردی تحصیل کرده، به نام «انجل کلر» آشنا می‌شود؛ «انجل» ادعا می‌کند که از سنت‌ها بریده، و از تعصب به دور است؛ اما هنگامی که «تس» در حضور وی اعتراف می‌کند که دوشیزه نیست، «انجل» او را ترک کرده به «امریکا» می‌رود؛ و ...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 30/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 26/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Maria.
124 reviews34 followers
December 4, 2013
I hated this passionately, which is perhaps unfair, as the book is really quite admirable for tackling the subject of double standards applied to male and female sexual behaviour. But this is one of the most depressing, pointless novels I’ve ever read in my life. I have loathed this book for ten years and I will not stop.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,949 reviews615 followers
February 10, 2023
Oh, my Lord, what a book!
When you open a book, the occasions are rare not only to feel from the first pages that you will like it like a good wine with a high but also to discover a great author towards whom you will have the pleasure to come back.
Double happiness that I have just experienced with this "Tess d'Urberville," of a tasty richness: tragedy, social novel, painful romance, a novel of terror, psychological novel, political novel also on the condition of women, "Tess" is all of these at the same time.
The narration is extraordinarily fluid and cinematographic, punctuated by the unfolding of the seasons in the English countryside, every scent, every color, and every stone of Tess's paths from valley to valley. By its tragic fate, Tess has a timeless character which marks the memory lastingly, the tour de force of Thomas Hardy being to have avoided with a subtle pen the sentimentality to this young girl who will pay dearly for her first naivety.
Beautifully written, intelligent, and captivating, "Tess d'Urberville" is a great classic!
Profile Image for Colin Baldwin.
Author 1 book244 followers
March 27, 2023
A beautiful, compelling, at times frustrating story. Hardy tackles taboos and consequences in the Victorian era. I admire the symbolism and far-reaching themes.
4.5 stars rounded up to 5.
Profile Image for Matt.
937 reviews28.6k followers
August 22, 2021
“A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who never had any strength to throw away.”
- Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles

On the opening page of Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a semi-impoverished alcoholic and schemer named Jack Durbeyfield is met by a local parson, who calls him “Sir John.” Uncertain as to why he is greeted in such a way, Durbeyfield demands an explanation, whereupon he is told that despite his current position at the bottom of the social hierarchy, he is a descendant of an illustrious and noble family.

With this information at the forefront of his mind, Jack Durbeyfield returns home, where he and his wife quickly hatch a plan to send their beautiful daughter Tess over to a nearby family with the d’Urberville name. The hope is that Tess can make a good impression on her “relatives,” thereby improving the family’s position.

I mention this mainly to point out that Hardy is very quick to set the wheels of his famous novel in motion, starting a sequence of events that will climax (quite abruptly) some 500 pages later. It must be noted, however, that this is just about the only thing that happens quickly in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. While this is a very fine book, and well worth the read, it is also incredibly, sometimes frustratingly slow. In terms of pacing, this is glacial, moving only slightly faster than a three-toed sloth trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis.

Despite its prodigious – even somewhat intimidating – length, not a lot happens in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Unlike Charles Dickens, with whom Hardy shared a serialized style and penchant for inflated word counts, this is very self-contained tale. There are no digressionary storylines, no large gallery of colorful supporting characters. Instead of sprawl, Hardy keeps us on a rather straight path, albeit one that is stretched to its limits, like a child playing with a rubber band.

Because of its paucity of eventful moments, Tess of the d’Urbervilles is difficult to summarize without giving away all its secrets. Suffice to say, the arc that Tess follows passes through two men: Alec Stoke-d’Urberville and Angel Clare. Both are immensely flawed, though for very different reasons.

Following an ambiguous incident with one of those men – a scene that can be read as a seduction but is likely a sexual assault – Tess is left as a “fallen woman,” her reputation tarnished, her prospects destroyed. How she tries to move forward from that moment is Tess of the d’Urbervilles’s central narrative concern.

Since saying anything more threatens to take us into the realm of potential spoilers, it’s probably best to confine the balance of my remarks to general observations.

First, Hardy has a marvelous sense of place. Tess of the d’Urbervilles is set in fictional Wessex, a place closely modeled after the south and southwest of England (those with a better sense of English geography have not found it hard to find the real-life analogues to Hardy’s made-up villages). Over the course of his career, Hardy returned several times to Wessex, and he knows the place well. There is a keen observational talent on display here, as Hardy evocatively describes the rhythms of rural English life in the late 1800s. Whether it’s a May Dance or a summer harvest, a day at a dairy farm or a trip to market on an old wagon, you feel like you are there.

As to characters, there are no more than a handful of important ones. Most of the story – told in the third-person omniscient, with a godlike narrator who likes to issue vague and portentous warnings – flows through Tess, Angel, and Alec. There are numerous secondary roles, but with the exception of Jack and Jane Durbeyfield (immensely flawed yet strangely lovable), they are not super memorable.

Tess is the main attraction, and she is a compellingly frustrating protagonist. At times she is strong, proud, and fiercely independent. At other times, she seems to spontaneously lose her spine, becoming indecisive, self-pitying, and reactionary. About the only consistent thing about Tess is her inability to discern the motives of other people.

Frankly, there were stretches during which I really didn’t like Tess. She often seemed to have selective, plot-contrived stupidity, in which she did something unfathomable simply to keep the dramatic wheels spinning. For instance, Tess’s fluctuating relationship with honesty – first she lies, then decides to tell the truth at the most inopportune moment imaginable – belies all notions of common sense. Yet, as is often the case for me, the very fact that I had such a strong reaction to Tess – even if it was sometimes negative – is a testament to how well she worked as a heroine. Certainly, she holds center stage.

The final thing worth noting is Tess of the d’Urbervilles’s modernity, at least in relation to its 1891 publication date. Railing against the conventional ethics of the Victorian Era, Hardy presents Tess not as a sinner, but as sinned against, not simply by men, but by a society that is almost pathologically obsessed with the sexual histories of women. He attacks – sometimes a bit pedantically – the uneven morality that allowed men such as the libertine Alec to do as they pleased, but then sentenced Tess to a purgatorial existence for having transgressed the communal code of conduct. Hardy is also scathing towards the hypocrisies of organized religion, devoting several well-constructed scenes to showing men-of-the-cloth choosing the abstract dogmas of theology over basic human compassion.

One of the important things I have learned when reading brick-sized works of English literature is to have patience. If you start something like Tess of the d’Urbervilles expecting – or even hoping – to breeze through it, you will likely be disappointed. This is an incredibly slow burn, unfolding at an unhurried, even languid rate. A twenty-first century editor would undoubtedly have pared Hardy’s manuscript down to three hundred pages, having everything coalesce around five or six crucial scenes, and excising the long passages in which Tess is doing nothing more than walking from one place to another. This would have made Tess of the d’Urbervilles more concise, more efficient, but it also would have greatly reduced the novel’s impact. The emotional punch that comes at the conclusion of Tess’s journey ultimately derives from following her for so long, and from spending so much time at her side.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
November 11, 2022
“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"
"All like ours?"
"I don't know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound - a few blighted."
"Which do we live on - a splendid one or a blighted one?"
"A blighted one.”

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is the 1896 masterpiece by Thomas Hardy of Tess Durbeyville, her family bloodline long fallen from aristocratic heights. The central themes are critiques of class and blood distinctions and of the sexual mores of the Victorian era, but it’s a novel, not a tract, as Tess becomes real for us from the very beginning. The book was published more than 120 years ago, and it has been reviewed thousands of times, so, while I won’t reveal every major plot point, I’ll also drop a spoiler here and there. For instance, entwined themes about gender and class unite in the instance that Tess, whose family has fallen on hard times, approaches at her family’s urging whom she thinks are the more affluent d’Urbervilles for help. She is hired by them as a dairy maid and because she needs the money she stays there and is taken advantage of by Alec d’Urberville.

“’But I don't want anybody to kiss me, sir!' she implored, a big tear beginning to roll down her face, and the corners of her mouth trembling in her attempts not to cry.”

She is but sixteen, needs the money for her family, is confused about what she should do about this guy’s advances, and then is raped by him, which, in keeping with some of the history of men’s treatment of women in the workplace, (and as one chapter title makes clear) Tess “pays for” in the loss of her job and reputation.

Not that Hardy makes this a mere victim story, though: “Let 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 so entirely unknown to the ‘betrayed’ as some amiable theorists would have us believe.”

She’s traumatized by this experience, but she's strong, Tess is, and she continues her honest work as a dairy maid. And yes, there’s a touch of nineteenth-century melodrama in the book, but Tess is admirable, most of the time, at least, and Hardy doesn’t sentimentalize the real challenges of poverty. Tess meets a(n again) wealthy son of another dairyman, Angel Clare, who seems like a good and liberal man for the times with respect to issues of class, who seems to really love her, and they marry, but he soon finds out she is not in fact a virgin, something many men (but, in general, not women?) in the world seem to require (or required?) for their marriages, and though he agrees that she is in the act “more sinned against than sinning” he worries her "want of firmness" in confronting Alec may indicate a flaw in her character and that she may no longer be the woman he thought she was. Ugh, fail, Angel. Jerk! When he runs off to Brazil to brood about the situation, he leaves his wife destitute as her father dies soon after and they lose their home. She writes to Angel:

"O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you - why have you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands!"

We agree heartily with Tess here but in our present moment, more than a hundred years later, and completely and angrily disagree that she should keep committed to Angel. He’s no Angel, in short, though in the end he does return, and while I won’t reveal specifically what happens to them, and her, Hardy’s narrator says of them at the very end:

“'Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess.”

If there is a moral to the story, it might be this, as Angel at one point observes:

“Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report--as you are, my Tess.”

Some people think of the current #metoo movement as the moment in history where some men seem to be finally “getting it” about women and equality/self-efficacy/assault but as you can see, feminist Thomas Hardy makes this point clear more than a century ago in his angry castigation of the Victorian period on issues of sex (and class). But if this seems to you from my retelling like just a feminist morality tale, you miss the way Tessie comes to life. True, you can’t stand how she refuses to give up on Angel Clare, who was a jerk to her, but she is a rich and complex and powerful character, in the main. Her tale is a rich tragedy of a modest young working-class woman, and the working-class are the people Hardy wants to write about:

“The impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic life than the pachydermatous king.”
Profile Image for Amit Mishra.
234 reviews671 followers
July 10, 2019
The novel subtitles 'A pure woman faithfully presented', the novel expresses Hardy's rejection of the conventional heroine of the Victorian novel. He provoked the cntroversies in that period.
However, coming to the novel it is slightly different than the usual Hardy's fiction. The novel is from the perspective of a girl and how she comes out of poverty-ridden life.
Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
October 19, 2020
So I finished Tess of the d'Urbervilles, my first encounter with Thomas Hardy. But will it ever leave me?

The Justice of Society has done its duty on a young woman and The Injustice of Life is safely secured for the predators of the next generation. A Dark Angel is left alone on the stage, holding in his hand a new and even more vulnerable victim, and the reader is scarred to the bone.

I loved Tess so much!

How could I not love her, even though I angrily tried to persuade her at every step to let go of her fixation on her own worthlessness which rendered her a perfect victim to the gigantic egos of men who can't see women as anything but their toys and possessions to be used and discarded according to whim and mood and current state of attraction?

How could I not despise the men who made her fear humiliation and hatred and sin in herself while it was always a projection of their own haughty crime against nature and love?

Her father, her rapist, her "principled" husband, the Angel of No Mercy, they all share in the crime which led to Tess' undoing. It is an act of symbolical perfection in its brutal awfulness that Tess is the only one facing Eternal Injustice in the name of the law. Her life was like so many others that it is hard not to be bitter. Divinely kind and terribly abused, she tried to fight from time to time, but she could not save herself.

Lashing out against the cruel hypocrisy of Church and Patriarchy in the brilliant scene where she baptises her dying infant, she still fears the powers that work to keep her in a position of guilt and shame and weakness. The one moment of sublime anger she displays at the climax of her pain settles her fate.

Tess, I won't forget you! For a week, you kept me in your spell, and I cried with you! I only wish you hadn't handed your sweet sister to the hands of the brutal man you loved... but I guess that closed the circle of abuse.

Hardy! A masterpiece. Bravo!
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
469 reviews3,258 followers
December 25, 2018
This novel is really about timing, it effects us all, meet someone at the wrong time or go north instead of south, your life can end badly. Ordinary events, can change our destiny. Timing is everything... Tess Durbeyfield is born into a poor, rural, southern English family of eight, in the village of Marlott, Wessex. A lazy father, John, with a taste for the bottle, and a mother, Joan, who would rather sing the latest songs, than do the necessary chores, at home. But she grows up a very attractive woman and everyone notices, especially young men. Informed by a minister, Parson Tringham, an antiquarian, that he, Mr. John Durbeyfield, real name is the ancient one of D'urbervilles, a honored wealthy family, of the past. They originated with a Norman knight, of that name, who came over with William the Conqueror, but now have lost all their lands and mansions, just another destitute family, in the late, Victorian age. John proudly boasts about it, at the local watering hole, getting drunk and his wife Joan, has to fetch him, which she is delighted to do. The only fun she has, outside the cottage. Tess being the eldest child, helps out her mother with the work of taking care of her brothers and sisters. Her mother finds out, that there is a very rich family of D'urbervilles, not far away, and urges her daughter to make a friendly visit. Hesitating, but finally decides to obey and go. Arriving, after a long walk, Tess discoverers that the relatives are not. Having changed their names from Stokes, for the prestige! But meeting Alec D'urbervilles, the only son of a blind widow, he calls her cousin, in a mocking way. A lecherous man of 23, Tess is only 16. Offered a job taking care of the eccentric old lady's pet birds, she can't refuse, her family needs the money. Alec is always chasing her, the innocent girl lasts four months there, Tess comes back home, no longer a girl. After a few unpleasant years passed in the village, and with her father ill, she gets a job as a milk maid to support the family, at a distant farm, besides, Tess hears whispers. Becoming great friends with three other young women, Izz, Retty, and Marian, fellow workers there and roommates. All fall madly in love with a handsome , clergyman's son, Angel Clare. Who strangely wants to become a farmer not a minister in the Church of England, like his two older brothers. Which greatly disappoints his orthodox father, and keeps him from receiving an university education. Learning at the dairy, but he has only eyes for the lovely Tess. Angel keeps on asking her to marry him. And the uneasy woman, has a secret she would not want to disclose. And Mr. Clare, comes from a stable, middle class, family. Does Tess, tell him and risk losing the man she loves... Thomas Hardy's most famous and best novel, I think, but not for the very faint-heart, when the pathos, flow.
Profile Image for Helle.
376 reviews376 followers
March 10, 2016
I finally read this classic for a book club recently, my own copy of the novel having languished on my shelves for too many years. I realized, after the book club meeting, that I had probably expected it to be a discussion-cum-appreciation session, Tess being after all a cornerstone in English literature. Not a bit of it.

Woman who suggested it: Well, as you know I love the classics, and I think this is a great book. I’ve read it many times.

Me (sitting next to her): I really liked it, too, and was glad to finally read it. It was a tale of woe, to be sure, but I liked it.

A few more comments like that follow, it being the brief introductory round.

New guy: I don’t know if I liked it or not, it was just so looong. I can see similarities with some of Balzac’s works and with Madame Bovary, but there seemed to be something missing in Tess. I don’t know. I agree that Hardy can write, but I really don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of this today. I mean the view of this woman, who’s supposed to be totally pure but doesn’t do anything? She just doesn’t DO anything – what’s that about? I really needed a reason for picking up this book, or you know, I need to know why this is still read. I mean why…

Moderator: Uhm. This is just the brief introductory round, so maybe we can come back to some of this?

Everyone around the table is stunned into silence. Before beginning our discussion of Tess, we had briefly told the new guy our names and how long the group had existed (four years). The feeling was one of welcome goodwill.

Moderator: I think I know what you mean, though. I’m not sure what I thought about it either. Yes, it’s well written, but there seems to be a lot of unnecessary melodrama and one or two situations that I found somewhat unconvincing.

Me: Really? But…

New guy: Yeah, Hardy seems to overdo it sometimes, and then at other times he spends 50 pages just wallowing in thoughts. Nothing happens.

Me: What?! Lots of stuff happens. But it’s not Dan Brown, that’s true. It’s a pastoral, Victorian novel where we follow one woman’s journey and the hardships she goes through.

Communist vegan woman (nodding): In an era when women were still living in a man’s world and struggling to survive.

New guy: But if we’re supposed to read it today, give me a good reason. I mean, Tess is just so whiny and selfish. One minute she’s pure, then she isn’t. Why doesn’t she just get up and leave when she doesn’t like her situation? How is her inability to act even relevant for today’s society? (continues in a similar vein for about a minute)

Communist vegan woman (getting worked up): Listen, Thomas Hardy had a very modern view of women. This story is quite realistic, but you’re taking a very northern view of this. In some countries today, if a woman has been with a man, that’s it; they’re practically married. In the eyes of the surrounding community they are. And remember that scene where she hides her face with a scarf because she’s constantly getting shouted at by men? Tell me that’s not relevant today! We hear news about stuff like that constantly: the women are practically begging to be raped, right?

Me: That’s a good point. Also, it was written in 1891, not in 2016. That’s way before women’s emancipation, which by the way is still going on. But I really don’t see how Tess is selfish. She’s constantly trying to do good and help her family, but she’s let down by everyone around her – her parents, Alec, Angel; society.

New guy: I don’t see how her parents are to blame. She is the one who decides to go here, there and everywhere to get a new job or find Angel’s parents.

Communist vegan woman: Oh, she hardly decides! It’s her parents who push her into contacting the D’Urbervilles in the first place.

Woman who suggested it: And after that it’s poverty!

Me: Exactly. It’s the pastor at the beginning of the novel who gets the ball rolling when he mentions that her family is related to the famous D’Urbervilles. Tess is caught up in her parents’ ambitions to form a connection with them. And later she’s caught in both society’s view of how women should behave and in religious double standards. And poverty is underneath all of it.

Moderator: I see that that’s what Hardy wants us to believe, but I don’t really buy it. I mean why does Tess That was very unconvincing to me. She could have just walked out.

New guy: Right, that was totally out of the blue. No reason for it. And similarly: when Tess Hardy spends two or three lines on it, instead of spending some time on it so that we could feel the drama, and the same goes for the ending when Most unlikely and really unsatisfying. Why would she do that? I was expecting something else…yadayadayada.

Me: Can we reply?

New guy: Yadayadayada…

Me (again): Can we reply?

New guy looks up, surprised. He clearly didn’t hear me the first time and reluctantly manages to reign in his monologue.

Me: Well, you mention the word ‘expectations’, which is basically your pre-conceived notions of what the novel should have been about. That’s really neither here nor there. This is what the book is like, and we have to discuss it on that premise.

New guy and moderator (taking turns): Yeah, but still, there were pages and pages where we were getting nowhere. You could have cut out 50 pages, and we’d still be left on some farm somewhere.

Woman who suggested it: Yes, but don’t you see that there are two farms and two kinds of moods for Tess? The first one, with the Cricks, where life is looking bright and she meets Angel, and then the second one where she’s working too hard and disappointment kicks in. As someone mentioned, it’s a story about a woman’s hardships in a society that she feels cannot contain her.

Heated comments from the moderator and the new guy ensue. Some of the other group members never manage to get a comment in edgewise, and one girl ups and leaves.

Communist vegan woman: Sounds to me like you just can’t empathize with Tess, which I think is really sad.

I nod vigorously and think, ‘ouch’, while mentally tuning out during their response.

Someone (in a conciliatory manner): I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Me: Right. (But really I’m thinking: I’m not sure this book club is big enough for both me and the new guy. The next meeting may tell).
Profile Image for Jack Edwards.
Author 1 book205k followers
March 9, 2019
A truly tragic tale of the suffocating, detrimental Victorian morality in its most excessive form, and a pertinent read on International Women's Day. Hardy's use of language and the pace of the novel were enrapturing.
Profile Image for Nicole.
514 reviews14.3k followers
February 20, 2021
To jeden z najważniejszych klasyków w historii.
Mój nowy ulubieniec.
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 151 books549 followers
July 28, 2023
💕💕The most tragic and beautiful of novels. What a loveliness inside and out Tess was. Hardy’s subtitle explains it: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. What a fool her lover Angel Clare was. His crazy, nonsensical, double-standard man pride is the reason we lose her.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,229 followers
March 30, 2021
As well as already having read Tess I've seen the Roman Polanski film at least twice and a more recent (and wholly inferior) BBC adaptation. Therefore on virtually every page I knew what was coming next. This means I was paying lots more attention to the writing itself. And I didn't care for Hardy's writing a lot of the time. It seems to me his writing style is pointedly more dated than Austen, Elliot, the Brontes or Dickens, all of whom preceded him. He comes across as a man who spent too much time in his own head. He reads too much into what he sees and then makes its meaning too explicit. There are too many pedantic classical allusions and quotes, too much heavy-handed repetitive symbolism - I lost count of how many sinister portents he strews at Tess' feet - and too many digressions into theological niceties.

But there's a reason Polanski's film is so good and this is quite simply that Tess is a terrific and moving story. Tess is a novel in which the male always has the last word. It depicts a world in which the female is expected to conform to the straitjacketing ideas of the male. Hardy creates two different male lovers, both privileged predators in differing ways - Alex is a sensualist and cad, Angel is a self-righteous idealist, but both are as self-absorbed and tyrannical in their principles as the other. And for that it's very insightful and trenchantly critical of the workings of male sexual imagination and conscience and the casual acquisitive self-centred nature of male libido. It shows a world in which the male, wholly self-engrossed and pompous, lacks empathy or emotional depth. In fact it's a more damning novel about the mercenary insensitivity of men where women are concerned than most women ever write. However, I couldn't help feeling Polanski did an excellent job of editing out all the clumsy excesses of Hardy's narrative and so for me his film is perhaps the best way to experience all the qualities of this novel.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,625 followers
February 19, 2021
Apart from Hardy’s unnecessarily long and wordy descriptions, this is a really beautiful book that teaches some universal truths and depicts human flaws. I’m really glad I gave this one a reread <3
Profile Image for Lizzy.
305 reviews166 followers
February 24, 2017
I need to start by venting all the despair I felt reading Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D`Ubervilles. This tale is certainly not Pride or Prejudice or even Jane Eyre where the heroines have the prospect or the hope of happiness. What could a woman of Tess’s time and situation hope for? Contentment? But not even that was in store for our poor heroine. Tess sweet, loving nature is invariably abused by men, specifically the two central male characters of Alec D'Urberville and Angel Clare. The road that these two men lead her down becomes increasingly more terrible and depressing. But what makes it worst is that Tess herself felt she deserved her fate.

Yes, I found the story compelling but too sad and disheartening, and if it were not for Thomas Hardy superb writing, I would find myself not enjoying it at all. Yes, it almost makes me feel angry with Hardy, for Tess seems to make decisions that regularly could not be the worst choice. She seems never to catch a break. So, our heroine resigns herself to a bleak future at best, having learned to consider herself through the brutal prism of social convention.
Never in her life – she could swear it from the bottom of her soul – had she ever intended to do wrong, yet these hard judgments had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently.
What insensibility the rigid morals that applied to women in Victorian England. Hardy demonstrates it superbly, even if by doing it he made me weep. But that was the reality of the times. Morals and attitudes shaped women as inferior and subservient to men. Aren't there traces of those views even nowadays? In fact, there was no escape for Tess. And Hardy goes beyond, portraying majestically the peril unhealthy relationships hold. He does not need to idolize anything; all is there plain to see.
She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly - the thought of the world's concern at her situation - was founded on illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides, Tess was only a passing thought.
May Hardy have gone too far? I question myself. Tess carries her sufferings and guilt through her entire life, but I found myself wanting for a reprieve. Hardy hits you over and over again with Tess's misery that reading his story; I sometimes wanted to abandon her.

Wuthering Heights is full of darkness, but at least the mystery, atmosphere and stronger than life characters appealed more to me. While for Tess there is only disillusionment, adversity and despair; and I found myself wanting a reprieve. Hardy hits you over and over again with such misery that reading it sometimes I was urged to forget her. That did not happen when I was reading Wuthering Heights. What I feel is that there are shades of darkness, and I prefer Emily Brontë’s gloom.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book. However, I certainly will not revisit it, knowing ultimately of Tess’s cruel destiny. For my pleasure reads, I will stick with the happily-ever-after of Lizzy Bennet, or the brooding of Heathcliff that seems stronger than death. But meanwhile, I have to appreciate Hardy’s talent and perseverance in writing such a bleak story, for it is a reality that dreadful things happen to nice people.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews9,006 followers
October 16, 2020
4 to 4.5 stars

This was a reread of a required reading book from high school. Usually I am rereading required reading because I did not like the book back then and I want to see if I like it now. But, in this case, I really liked this one when I read it in high school and I really liked it now, too!

There is just something about Hardy that I enjoy. In the past couple of years I read Far From The Madding Crowd and loved it as well. The feel of the writing is not much different from other books I have read from the time period, but I don't always seem to connect with those. With Hardy, I have been pretty lucky so far and I am looking forward to trying others.

There are a few repetitive/draggy parts. I think if I did not enjoy this book as much as I did those parts would have had a much more negative effect on my overall experience. But, I am able to let them slide and, honestly, the repetition probably adds to the frustration I have with the characters when they finally do something different and it is the wrong thing. (This is a good thing - any time I shake my fist at the characters through the page it means I am totally engaged)

I think I can summarize Tess of the D'Urbervilles in a few bullet points:

- Men suck but women pay the price for their suckage
- Honesty is not always the best policy
- That thing you need to happen will not happen until right after it is too late
- Cow milking can be sexy

If you have read other Hardy and liked it, read this. If you have read other books from this genre and liked them, read this. If you are looking for something to read, read this. Heck, just read this!
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,258 reviews1,134 followers
May 18, 2023
It is a well known phenomenon that writers sometimes fall in love with their own invented characters. Whether it is Jane Austen with Mr. D’Arcy, or Dorothy L. Sayers with her Lord Peter Wimsey, the seductive attraction of a hero they were able to mould exactly to their own taste proved irresistible. A little different, but just as potent and powerful, is the artist’s muse. “Fanny” Brawne was the love of the poet John Keats’ life, inspiring some of his most famous sonnets. Then there’s Dante and Beatrice, of course. Dante Alighieri met Beatrice when he was just 9 years old and remained in love with her all his life.

So which of these, you may be asking, was Thomas Hardy? Did he have a real life muse? Or did he fall in love with his own invented character? The fact is that both of these apply to him—quite apart from a rather strange obsession with his first wife (but only after she had died).

Thomas Hardy had married Emma Gifford when he was 34, and he was 45 when they moved to Max Gate, a house a mile from the centre of Dorchester (Thomas Hardy’s “Casterbridge”). He had designed the house, having trained as an architect, and his father and brother built it between 1883 and 1885. Max Gate was to remain his home for over forty years, until his death in 1928.

There was already friction between the couple, and their marriage seriously deteriorated at Max Gate. Emma retreated more and more to her attic rooms, to keep out of the way of her husband and his many visitors. Friends have said that Thomas Hardy’s comparatively humble origins led to Emma regarding herself as her husband’s social superior. He was the son of a stonemason and local builder, whereas Emma’s father was a solicitor. In later life by all accounts, Emma would make embarrassing references in public to the gap in class that existed between them.

At this time then, things were decidedly uneasy. Thomas Hardy regularly used to walk from his home Max Gate to the Kingston Maurward estate, where he was welcomed as a frequent visitor and found encouragement for his writing.

The walk took him past a dairy farm, owned by Augusta Way’s father. Thomas Hardy was smitten by the fresh-faced beauty of Augusta, who was just 18, and was so attracted to her that he had her in mind when he began writing his penultimate novel, first published in 1890. He never said anything to Augusta. Instead he put his obsession into his heroine, and reimagined Augusta Way as the “Tess Durbeyfield” of this novel. In the book, Tess is the eldest daughter in a poor, rural working family. She is an innocent and pretty country girl, with a good heart and a sensitive soul.

Thomas Hardy tells Tess’s story, subtitling the book: “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented”. At the time he wrote to a friend:

“I often begin a story with the intention of making it brighter and gayer than usual; but the question of conscience comes in; and it does not seem right, even in novels to wilfully belie ones own views. All comedy is tragedy, if you only look deep enough into it.”

These words are very revealing. Those who know Thomas Hardy’s work know that his novels became increasingly gloomy. There are some beautiful passages of joy and optimism in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but they seem short-lived. We fear for Tess as we read. I won’t tell the story here, but it is easy to find, if you wish to. In fact most blurbs reveal what is to happen at the end of the First Phase, if not more.

Thomas Hardy was a troubled man. He was a man out of his time: a “time-torn” man as one biographer has said, and this is nowhere more evident than in this late novel, with its meditations of its characters on spiritual beliefs and doubts. Questions of doctrine, whether Anglican, Methodist or even antinomianism are ostensibly thrashed out by the characters, but we know that their internal thoughts are Thomas Hardy’s own.

He was brought up an Anglican, but his family were not especially devout, and by the time he wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy’s faith was extremely rocky. Indeed his next novel “Jude the Obscure” was even more outspoken than Tess, hitting a blow against the institutions of marriage, the Church, and Victorian education. It presented such a challenge to Victorian views of Christianity and social problems, that it was branded immoral. One reviewer called it “Jude the Obscene”, and the Bishop of Wakefield burnt a copy with great ceremony, “probably in his despair”, wrote Hardy later, “at not being able to burn me”. Thomas Hardy was broken-hearted and was to write no more novels, sticking to his first love, poetry, saying “the experience completely cur[ed] me of further interest in novel-writing”.

Tess’s faith however, is a simple belief in God and destiny. All the country folk’s beliefs are also deeply rooted in superstition, and Thomas Hardy’s preoccupations with Fate and predestination are strong in this book. He manipulates chance and coincidences to weave his story, and to present his case about the wrongs he was passionate about: the hypocrisy of the moral code and the social standards of Victorian society. The subtitle Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented is a clarion cry of anguish, and the novel’s final line is a bitter condemnation of the highest power in the universe:

the President of the Immortals, in the Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.”

It is a savage ending thrust, taking a phrase from “Prometheus Bound” by Aeschylus, to apply to his own creation. Tess is a fully rounded character, but the author’s sympathies lie with her throughout, even when she is full of pride, or stubborn, or passive. We see the limited options of a young girl of her time and of her class, despite the fact that she was the cleverest in her school. Tess believes what she has been taught, combined with her family’s superstitions and her own strong instincts. We see her presented as a child of Nature, but also keen to learn.

We even know where she lived. The novel tells us that Tess Durbeyfield lived with her family in a cottage at “Marlott” (which is Thomas Hardy’s name for Marnhull). Marnhull is a very small village, and there is only one Elizabethan-period thatched cottage there. Plus, coins from the reign of James I were found there a few years ago.

In 1924, late in life, Thomas Hardy actually visited this thatched building. The owner’s servant told him that he was tending the garden of Barton Cottage (as it then was), when he saw an elderly figure scrutinizing the house. He asked whether he could be of service, but the stranger replied, “No, thank you, I was only seeing where I put my Tess …”.

Shortly afterwards, the deeds of the property were altered, and the name was changed to “Tess Cottage” (sic: no ’s). Tess was certainly in Thomas Hardy’s mind in 1924, because his notes mention that he attended several rehearsals of a new dramatic production of Tess of the D’Urbervilles that year at Dorchester.

In fact we can identify most of the locations in Thomas Hardy’s invented Wessex, which he described as “a merely realistic dream country”. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles they are nearly all in Dorset, Thus the action all takes place within what we now think of as a comparatively small area.

Yet at that time moving across the county is enough to change all the people in a community, and reveal a completely different type of environment. We see how cruel Nature can be, in the hard land at Flintcombe Ash: a desolate “starveacre” place, and also the opposite extreme; the lush, mellow meadows and fields of Talbothays dairy. We see how Thomas Hardy yearns for the old ways, being at his most rhapsodic when telling of the traditional farming ways, with time for contemplation, and then we read scenes which almost seem set in Hell, as he describes the domination of unforgiving machinery. Humans now seem merely to function as cogs in a merciless machine.

Tess travels through Blackmore Vale, which is a wide valley in north Dorset, extending to parts of south Somerset and southwest Wiltshire. It is part of the Stour valley, in the south of England, and the backdrop to Thomas Hardy’s most lyrical writing about nature. The cart she takes to “Shaston” near the beginning of the tale, traverses one of the most photographed places in England. In real life it is the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury; a very steep cobbled street. You might even have seen a calendar of it! “Mellstock” is a village Thomas Hardy knew very well: Stinsford. In fact he loved this village so much, that he willed his heart to be buried here in a grave beside his two wives. “Trantridge” is in real life the village of Pentridge … and so on.

“Melchester”, which Thomas Hardy places in mid-Wessex. In fact it is Salisbury, in Wiltshire, a city with arguably England’s finest cathedral. All the villages and many buildings have their real life counterparts. “Wellbridge House” is in fact Woodbridge Manor. There is a grave of an abbot at Bindon Abbey: a Cistercian monastery founded in 1149, which is acknowledged as is the well known “Cross in Hand”, on Batcombe Hill, and even the “d’Urberville” name of the book’s title has a basis in fact.

One of the oldest families in Dorset is called Turberville. Thomas Turberville Trenchard’s coats of arms are depicted in a stained glass window, along with other Turberbville coats of arms in Bere Regis church (Thomas Hardy’s “Kingsbere”). Many of the folk myths and legends in the novel such as the phantom coach, and the cock crowing, have their basis in authentic Dorset legends. We thus see how the rural people have a dual set of beliefs which they live their lives by. They attend church, and have a simple straightforward belief in a Christian God. But allied to this are the old ways and traditions; a deep-rooted superstitious sense of unalterable destiny.

Tess does not embody Thomas Hardy’s religious doubts. Instead we see these doubts present whenever is in a scene. It is not an exact portrait of Thomas Hardy, but his intellectualism, scholarly reading and indecisiveness; his questioning about beliefs and the meaning of life all mirror the author’s position. Parson Clare and his family: a mother and three sons, all come from “Emminster”. In real life this is Beaminster, a lovely little town dating back to the Anglo-Saxon age, around the 7th century. Along with Mercy Chant, each of these has their own slightly differing religious position, all carefully chronicled by Thomas Hardy. Both the family and the town have key moments in Tess’s life.

Another character, is often represented in dramatisations as a smooth-talking villain, but he has his own crisis of conscience allied to his beliefs. Critics argue as to —the incident is not described—but its consequences, and Tess’s own personality, were to determine all the later events in the novel. They are all pawns, Thomas Hardy tells us, in some bigger game.

The ending

No publisher liked the message of this novel, and they certainly did not approve of the details. The first version was called “Too Late, Beloved”, and Thomas Hardy had written half, but his refusal to make alterations led to Tillotson cancelling his publishing contract. Two more publishers also rejected it, believing that the Victorian public would be scandalised. The cultural climate in England at the time was one of widespread prudery and intolerance. There was a perceived spread of sexual decadence, and “family values” were seen as the panacea. Publishers therefore challenged the subtitle, and considered some scenes inappropriate. They sent the novel back to the author unpublished, despite his established reputation.

Finally, Thomas Hardy resigned himself “with cynical amusement” to bowdlerising the story, and the resultant version was published as a serial in “The Graphic” newspaper between July and December 1891, illustrated by various artists. A few months later the author “pieced the trunks and limbs of the novel together” and it was published as a novel in 3 volumes. His early draft showed the title as “A Daughter of the d’Urbervilles”, which presents an interesting slant on Tess. We see suggestions throughout that she possesses some small but lethal character flaws inherited from her ancestors. What we are invited to wonder is whether she must suffer to atone for the misdeeds of her ancestors, or to provide temporary amusement for the gods.

However we interpret it, the story had popular appeal. It was an immediate success, and made Thomas Hardy rich for life.

Most (but not all) critics admired the novel, and recognised it from the beginning as an unusual novel—although it had severe criticism from some clerics. It has always been seen as controversial. Thomas Hardy clearly intended to criticise the Victorian notions of female purity. It was the double standard which served as the mechanism of Tess’s broader fate.

As always, Thomas Hardy was also concerned with portraying the natural world. He was a poet at heart, and among the most memorable scenes in the novel are those in which he evokes the fields and woods of his beloved Wessex. Tess herself is frequently depicted as a personification of nature, or an Earth goddess, not only by but also by Thomas Hardy himself. Then there are numerous pagan and neo-Biblical references. These combine with Tess’s own passivity, continually being presented as someone to whom things happen. She is not the agent of her own destiny, and the author makes us see her as a

This aspect of Tess’s character is interpreted by a few modern critics as misogynistic. Since Thomas Hardy makes his sympathies with this carefully nuanced character crystal clear; her inevitable destiny sealed by the age, time and culture she lived in, it seems a rash and superficial condemnation of a masterly and very moving work.

Thomas Hardy was not to actually meet Augusta, the local milkmaid he had admired again until 1913, when he was 72. By now, Augusta was married and running a hotel. Thomas Hardy set up house there, and used it as a headquarters for his theatrical troupe: “The Hardy Players”. This was made up of local amateur actors, and Augusta’s daughter, Gertrude Bugler—then 16 and an aspiring actress—joined the troupe. Thomas Hardy was quickly smitten with the beautiful young girl who reportedly bore a strong resemblance to her mother, and he cast her in a role in “The Woodlanders”.

Although the play was staged locally in Dorset, drama critics came from London to preview the play. Gertrude Bugler received glowing reviews for her angelic beauty and her naturalistic acting style. Then in 1921, Thomas Hardy cast her in a lead role in “The Return of the Native”, again receiving excellent reviews. In 1924 he adapted his Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and once again cast Gertrude Bugler, praising her performance as “the impersonator of Tess”. But there was one who decidedly did not admire the young actress ...

Thomas Hardy’s second wife Florence Dugdale had been his secretary and research assistant. They married when he was 73, and she was 35. His growing obsession with his deceased first wife not surprisingly caused problems, and Florence also became jealous of his muse. Thomas Hardy had made plans to take the play to London with Gertrude Bugler as the lead role, but his wife, Florence was controlling and forbade it. Florence flatly refused to let her husband bring the Buglers to the London production, which not only disappointed the author, but also those critics who had seen Gertrude Bugler play the role. Florence was jealous of Thomas Hardy’s affection for Gertrude Bugler, even though he was now 83 years old and Gertrude Bugler was 26—and married.

Only after her husband’s death in 1928, did Florence appear to feel some guilt over preventing Gertrude Bugler from her chance at performing on the London stage. She gave her the role of Tess in a 1929 London production at “The Duke of York’s Theatre”, which again garnered much praise for her sensitive performance and natural charm. After enjoying her moment in the sun, Gertrude Bugler turned her back on acting and returned to Dorchester, where she lived quietly and happily until the age of 95.

So was Thomas Hardy obsessed with Augusta Way, or Gertrude Bugler, or with his own created character Tess? Perhaps it makes little difference. He considered Gertrude Bugler to be “the very incarnation” of Tess.

The last time they met at Max Gate, shortly before Thomas Hardy died, he said to Gertrude Bugler: “If anyone asks if you knew Thomas Hardy, say, ‘Yes, he was my friend.’”


“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly—the thought of the world's concern at her situation—was founded on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides Tess was only a passing thought. Even to friends she was no more than a frequently passing thought.”
Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,519 followers
January 5, 2013
If I'd only known how much I would enjoy this book, I wouldn't have let it sit on my shelf for 5 long years!

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 Angel Clare almost as much as I disliked Alec D'Urberville; what a hypocrite and a coward.

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.

Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews433 followers
August 26, 2017
This review contains spoilers.

Young Tess Durbyfield, one of the sweetest, most likable, yet tragic, characters in literature. "A pure woman faithfully presented", as Hardy calls her in the sub-title of the book. She is sent out from her family home by her mother and father to the great family of the D'Ubervilles to claim her share of the family fortune. But her pure, innocent mind is no match for the roguish Alec D'Uberville, and their meeting sets Tess on a path that will eventually lead to her downfall. This is not considered Hardy's best novel by some critics, but it is my personal favorite.
Profile Image for Najeefa Nasreen.
63 reviews68 followers
April 13, 2022
3.75/5 stars rounded off to 4.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles is Hardy's second novel I've taken up. The former one being Wessex Tales, which I wasn't quite impressed with. However, Tess of the D'Urbervilles surprised me. I went into the story without any prior insight. And, the story was heartbreaking yet beautiful at the same time. There is a BBC adaptation of the same which is quite good as well. The book had an introduction by David Snodin, the producer of the BBC TV Series, 2008. No film/series can be a substitute for reading a book. Though I like to draw comparisons based on how I felt while reading the book to that with how I felt when I watched the movie/series adaptation of the same.

Divided into seven parts, the story is written from the third person's POV. Sound in her view, Tess is a beautiful and intelligent twenty-year-old young girl who wants to become a school teacher. Coming from a poor family, she cannot fulfill this dream of hers. One night, she is caught up in a foul act of nuisance that tears her apart. What follows next is her long and painful journey. That's right, it is hell of a depressing story. I kept reading and after every part, I said to myself - Can one good thing happen in her life? It was a hard time feeling for Tess. Hardy had my heart broken by Tess' awful fate. It was a very sad experience to see a woman's journey go through these hardships.

' Women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye '.

Tess is a symbol of 'A pure woman faithfully presented' if there exists any such thing. This isn't only Tess' story; it is Angel's, too, and Alec's. I hated Alec since the time I met him in the story. By contrast, the clergyman's son Angel seems less faultless than he did. I see the immaturity in him, the closed-mindedness, and the unforgiving change he undergoes. All this makes the novel so timeless and always relevant.

By far, Hardy's masterpiece. Will the story ever leave me? I think not. Please go through the trigger warnings before going into the story. It is a deep story requiring your deep dive into the plot. Hardy managed to tell the story and so well convey through Tess' true heroic nature that her true enemy was Victorian society and values themselves. It is a gem of a read.

Review Posted : 21 Feb 2022.

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Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,123 reviews731 followers
March 22, 2022
Social stratification remains a problem everywhere; the idea that ones social position somehow dictates the amount of justice one has access to is a vey real issue - even today. This book reminds me of how unfairly women have been treated through the ages; and how they have had to bear the burden of what men have forced them to do. Sadly (I suspect) there are still many woman from all over the world who still have to contend with all that Tess had to deal with.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
July 28, 2016
“I felt a little like a man reading a very grim book. A Thomas Hardy novel, say. You know how it’s going to end, but instead of spoiling things, that somehow increases your fascination. It’s like watching a kid run his electric train faster and faster and waiting for it to derail on one of the curves.”
Stephen King, 11/22/63
When I was reading King’s 11/22/63 I noted down this line because I was planning to read Tess of the d'Urbervilles soon and from its reputation and the two other Thomas Hardy novels that I read I expected that it will probably make me at least a little melancholy, if not downright miserable. Why read it then? Just as books by Neal Stephenson is a workout for the mind I think that Hardy’s books are a good workout for the emotion (or what we on the interweb call the feels these days).

The initial plot trajectory from the moment Tess meets the obvious degenerate (and proud of it) Alec d'Urberville with his fancy sports car dog-cart and strawberries is predictable.

Nastassja Kinski As Tess (1979 adaptation) —
It is clearly telegraphed by the author and you just know it is not going to well for poor Tess. After being turned into “damaged goods,” she puts up a brave face and soldiers on with her life, taking a minimum wage job as a milkmaid. As luck (or misfortune) would have it she meets Angel Clare a nice young man who relentlessly courted her and she falls in love with to devastating effect.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a character study and also a social commentary of the time of Hardy’s writing. The characterization of the main protagonists is quite complex. Tess herself starts off a naturally beautiful naïve girl who Hardy puts through the wringer and emerges no less beautiful in spite of spiritual damage. The only truly indomitable thing about her seems to be her beauty. She makes a one poor decision after another and the goodness of her heart is eventually her undoing as misadventures are heaped upon her by the author (shakes fist at Hardy).

As for Angel Clare, the romantic lead of this tale of woe, although he evidently a good man he is in some ways worse than Alec d'Urberville. The devastation he wrought upon Tess on the basis of his self-righteous conception of morality makes him entirely unsympathetic. While Alec is basically just a garden variety womanizer Angel is what Monty Python once described as a “silly bunt” (if that makes no sense you may want to google it).

Gemma Arterton As Tess (2009 adaptation), again with the strawberry!

So as expected it all ends in tears, this novel is no less miserable than the mirthless Jude the Obscure (if you want to read a relatively happy Hardy you may want to check out Far from the Madding Crowd). Thomas Hardy’s writing flows as beautifully as ever but if he was still alive today I probably wouldn’t want to invite him to a birthday party. I have The Return of the Native in my TBR though. Like Tess, I must be a sucker for punishment.

Anyway, highly recommended; read this and you may never laugh again (LOL!).

I read the audiobook version of this book, beautifully narrated by Davina Porter, got it really cheap from Amazon at $0.99!
Profile Image for Joel.
556 reviews1,668 followers
June 11, 2011
There's this Lars von Trier movie called Dancer in the Dark, starring Björk of all people. She plays a poor factory worker in rural America. She's going blind (which is not great when you work around heavy machinery), but she needs to save up enough money to pay for an eye operation for her son. To escape her misery, she imagines elaborate musical sequences in her mind. She's also kind of an idiot.

Now, what Lars is going for here could be called misogyny or satire or sociopathy, but in short: he really loves torturing characters like poor Björk. So many awful things happen to her, and they are so awful, but also... they are frustratingly melodramatic and contrived. Björk's cop landlord finds out she has a lot of cash. He needs money, but when she refuses to let him borrow it, citing her beatific little son, he tries to steal it and somehow, the impossibilities of the scene continue to pile up and Björk winds up murdering him (oh, there are going to be spoilers here, by the way), not only shooting him several times, but also bashing his head in with a safety deposit box, and runs off and gives the cash to the blindness clinic before she is arrested.

So Björk is tried for murder and theft of the cash that was actually hers, and there are all these extenuating circumstances that she could use to prove her (general) innocence. But for any number of dumb reasons, she cannot. She cannot even explain where the money went (or for some reason, that she is almost blind) because that will result in the cash being seized, and her son will never get his vague operation. Oh also she promised the guy she killed that she wouldn't tell about his stealing, and she won't, even though he is dead and he screwed her over pretty bad in the process. Even when a friend figures everything out and brings in a lawyer to get her off, she refuses because of her son, resigned to her fate.

So anyway, she is convicted, and sentenced to death, and has one last fantasy song sequence as she is walking to the gallows, and just when it reaches its operatic climax (after some awful keening when they attempt to put the hood over her head), they pull the lever and her neck snaps. That's the end of the movie.

Everyone I know who has seen it has the same story: by the end, they were rolled into a ball on the couch, quivering and lowing quietly in grief. Though a really excellent movie in many ways, with a devastating lead performance, watching it is a brutal experience, simply because it is so relentlessly dogmatic in its bleakness, its melodrama, its dim view of humanity, and its commitment to punishing the leading lady.

I am pretty sure Lars von Trier read a lot of Thomas Hardy when he was growing up. He definitely read Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Facebook 30 Day Book Challenge Day 4: Book that makes you cry.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,256 followers
October 27, 2016
Damn it, Tess! Stand up for yourself! Ugh.... Is there anything more infuriating than seeing dudes get away with being two-faced assholes towards women and the women accepting it as a matter of course?

Certainly Thomas Hardy was writing of a time and place that not only condoned the privilege of condescending white male superiority, it perpetuated it by both sexes accepting it as the standard of the day. More like double standard of the day. What's good for the gander is NOT okay for the goose to even consider! Thank god, or whoever, I wasn't born a woman. I'd have been burned at the stake, stoned to death, etc., because there's no way I would've been able to silently bear the hypocrisy.

But hey, aside from that kerfuffle, Tess of the D'Urbervilles is a damn fine novel! What prose! Has inner turmoil ever been so well described? Definitely not so detailed. Hardy has a hundred and one different ways to tell you about a character's personal conflict, and so he does. Yes, that can be wearying. It can also be quite satisfying. Just sit back and let the words wash over you. It's all quite impressive.

After a few hundred pages, however, a tiny bit of tedium might set in. Enough description is enough! I tried to put myself in the character's place and I've read up enough on Victorian values to understand the constraints, but still...I don't know what it is...maybe it felt like too much handwringing.

This deserves the five-star-because-it's-a-classic treatment, but I dropped it to four mainly for a lack of enjoyment on my part from start to finish. The book devolves into a literary scat film. I mean, has anyone been dumped on more than Tess? It got tiring after awhile. I get it, she's put-upon. The martyrdom dragged on and on, so that with a hundred or so pages to go I was already finished with this.

Still and all, it's a damn fine book! I'll be going back to Hardy again in the future. Probably the distant future though.
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