Tess of the d'Urbervilles

by Thomas Hardy

Paperback, 2004

Call number




Bantam Dell (2004), 414 pages


The story of a simple country girl whose family's pretentions lead to her destruction.

Media reviews

Daring in its treatment of conventional ideas, pathetic in its sadness, and profoundly stirring by its tragic power. The very title, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman", is a challenge to convention.

User reviews

LibraryThing member anna_in_pdx
Dear Tom,

Why do I keep reading your books? No one, and I mean no one, treats his characters (or her characters) as badly as you do. Well, maybe with the exception of Upton Sinclair, who must have been greatly influenced by you.

I read Jude the Obscure several years ago and closed the book with a
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"Never Again." I was sure I could not bear to read another one of your books after somehow finishing it in spite of that awful letter from the kids "Because we are too menny". I can't figure out what your overall point is except that if one is poor, one is destined to be miserable and that is all there is to it.

I guessed what Tess would be about just from its title. I've read lots and lots of other 19th century fiction. Many books have treated the issue of women who lose their chastity, as it would have been put at the time. Many books are pretty grim about their fate. However, you manage to make it worse than the norm because your characters are so very sympathetic.

As I read on, I know that Tess' life is going to go from bad to worse, that her ridiculous level of nobility will end up undoing her, that all bad things will happen to her. Sure enough, but what else would we expect of you.

What is the point, Tom? Why do you write these novels? What do you want your readers to do? Unlike Dickens, you don't seem to be a social reformer. You don't seem to ever paint the slightest possibility of an alternative to all this woe. On the other hand, your respectful-but-not-convinced portrayal of evangelical Christianity doesn't seem to show religion as a way out, either. Were you just trying to convey existentialist despair? Weren't you a little too early for this?

I am really giving you up this time. This is it. You have been too cruel on your characters and your readers and this is the last of your novels I plan to read. How could you, Tom? You are too cruel, and I will never forgive you.

Yr servant,
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LibraryThing member atimco
Tess of the d'Urbervilles has a reputation as a fantastically depressing and tragic book, and it's not undeserved. Thomas Hardy uses this story as a platform to express his deep skepticism and agnostic leanings; no wonder the outlook is bleak. The story centers on Tess Durbeyfield, a simple country
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girl in England during the 1880s. Her family, poor and somewhat lazy, nevertheless becomes proud and ambitious when they learn of their prestigious family history as the noble d'Urbervilles. Tess is packed off to try her fortune with another supposed (and richer) branch of the family, but soon falls prey to an unscrupulous "cousin," Alec d'Urberville. Her entire life is tainted by her d'Urberville descent, the selfishness of those around her, and (more indirectly) the rigid application of Christian morality then prevalent in Britain. This isn't a novel you read for its uplifting sentiments.

Either Hardy's views were more strongly developed since the publication of his earlier works or he, emboldened by his literary success, now had fewer qualms about expressing his anger toward the God whom he believes is most likely not there. In any case, the doubt and questioning of God are much more pronounced in this novel than in either The Mayor of Casterbridge or Far From The Madding Crowd. As Tess's greatest advocate, Hardy argues that she would not be so miserable if it weren't for the "accepted social laws" regarding morality that her society forces upon her. He's mad at the Christian conception of God as a harsh taskmaster (as shown by the wandering man who paints biblical texts of judgment and hellfire on barns and fences). And yet at the same time, Hardy is mad at the Christian God for not being there to prevent great evils and make sure that human relations progress toward the best interest of each party. Hardy is a mass of contradictions. God is blamed for not intervening, but God is also blamed for how He has intervened. God is cruel; God should be different from what He is; God, in Hardy's opinion, has failed.

And yet Hardy's writing is rich with biblical allusions and metaphors. He can never quite repudiate his early upbringing, but he has to replace God with something — and, like a true materialist, he settles on the deification of nature instead. Humankind is made to worship, and worship we will, even if we remove God from the picture. Hardy emphasizes natural law over moral law; over and over again he reminds us that Tess's troubles are not because she was raped, but because people hold to "arbitrary social customs" that have "no foundation in nature." Nature is freeing; society is restrictive. And Tess—a character clearly loved by her author—is pretty much an extension of the natural world. Hardy writes that country women, when they work in the fields, become a part of the natural landscape in a way that men can't. Hardy loves describing nature, and does so frequently. Rural life is somewhat romanticized (not entirely, though, especially with Flintcombe-Ash farm), while the cities are distant places of misery and evil. The happiest times of Tess's life are spent in isolation from or in very limited contact with society as a whole. The message is clear: nature is god, and society (and the Christian God) shouldn't be.

As a Christian of a stamp that Hardy would probably dislike, I can't quite explain my appreciation and enjoyment of his work. He questions, casts doubt on, and sometimes even attacks my beliefs, and yet somehow he does not anger me. On the contrary, I feel a sort of indulgent pity for him. I hope that doesn't sound patronizing, because I certainly appreciate that he was wrestling with very hard things and I don't have pat, easy answers either. Maybe it's our very differences that have created my fascination with his work. I had trouble tearing myself away from this audiobook; I was thoroughly invested in Tess's story (and was, consequently, rather saddened when I reached its unhappy ending). Just last night I was at a library booksale and I swooped down upon a lesser-known Hardy title, The Trumpet-Major, with a sense of having snagged something good. For all that I dislike Hardy's pessimism and distaste for biblical Christianity, the man can write. And his books are works of art.

The characters are so complex and realistic. Hardy has to force himself to do justice to Angel's parents, who are portrayed as strict and somewhat narrowminded Calvinist fundamentalists. For all his dislike of their beliefs, Hardy does manage to paint them realistically and even with charity — a gift that he says they possess to the full measure. Tess's parents, shiftless and passive spectators of their own lives, remind me of people I know. Alec d'Urberville is another well-rounded character, even in his role as the pursuing demon of Tess's life. Somehow I never could completely hate him, hateful as he was. I did think that the name "Angel" was rather unfortunate for the male protagonist (I hesitate to say "hero"). But as a character he's very sympathetic, even if his rigidity and double standards frustrate the reader.

This audiobook was read by Stephen Thorne, who makes excellent work of it despite his limitations when it comes to voicing female characters. At times I was so eager to learn what happened next that I was tempted to pick up the printed book, but the excellence of Thorne's narration always won out and I patiently listened to all of it.

I'm not sure Tess of the d'Urbervilles is a book I will ever revisit, so heartbreaking was its effect, but I feel richer for the experience of reading it. Though Hardy and I would never agree on things spiritual and moral, I've gained a greater appreciation for his attempts to show the problems of misapplied Christianity and to offer a different solution. He offers the wrong solution, but he does try.
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LibraryThing member StoutHearted
This is definitive Hardy: Verbose and pastoral, with highly-detailed descriptions of the scenery that make the setting as important a character as the characters themselves.

Tess is all innocence, vulnerability, and well-meaning ignorance. Decended from a now-impoverished line of a noble family, she
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and her family are resigned to a life of hard work. Her life is thrown into upheveal when she becomes the pawn of two rich men: Alex, with bad intentions, and Angel, with good. No matter what their intentions, their meddling sends Tess to her downfall. She overcomes seduction, or rape, depending upon your interpretation of the scene, only to suffer the hypocrisy of the man she loves, who cannot forgive her for having the audacity to be forced upon. Classism clashes with the reality of the poor working woman's life. Injustice is a major theme, and Hardy spends much time on bringing home the point that Tess, though not a bad person, is constantly outcast as a sinner. If this all sounds familiar, think of its American counterpart ``The Scarlet Letter." But while Hester Prynne wears the symbol of her sin on her breast, Tess carries her shame inside of her, only to cause a furor when she confesses under the innocent delusion that Angel will forgive her. With Hester's sin exposed, society can gradually adjust ot the idea of her disturbing presence. Tess's sin confessed disrupts the illusions of her innocence, causing her to be rejected in an impulsive burst of hypocrisy, immaturity, and vengefulness. In fact, we can judge the morality of the characters by the way they treat Tess.

The book is rife with symbolism, a dream for English majors bent on interpreation. Those simply reading for fun may be put off by Hardy's wordiness. He often says thirty words when five will do, but this is all part of his distinguishing style. If you're the type to get lost in words, Hardy is an excellent choice of an author.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
I was surprised how much I liked this book. Thomas Hardy tells a tragic story of a young Victorian woman who is truly a victim of both her society, and a few people who hold influence over her. I thought the book would be a difficult and depressing read, and yet, even though I knew this to be a
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tragedy, I found myself immersed in the story and rooting for Tess the entire time.

At the beginning of the book, Tess Durbeyfield's father learns he is descended from a great family known as D'Urberville, and sends the 16-year-old Tess off to meet a branch of the D'Urbervilles living nearby. Her parents hope she will make a good match and better their social status and economic prospects. Alec D'Urberville is smitten with Tess, but seduces her and treats her cruelly. Tess returns home having disappointed her parents. Later she makes her way as an agricultural worker, meets Angel Clare, and falls deeply in love. As the son of an evangelical preacher, Angel has his own "issues," which get in the way of their relationship.

As a Victorian woman, Tess is largely dependent on others: her parents, the landowners she works for, and men she hopes will bring her happiness and security. She is thwarted at every turn. In many cases, Tess is part of her own undoing through her naivete and submission to male figures. And at the same time she is a strong figure, persistent in the face of adversity and able to take a single, decisive action when she has finally had enough. I will remember Tess for a long time.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
Thomas Hardy is fast becoming one of my favourite authors; that man knew how to spin a seriously good yarn, and I am going to have serious book hangover now after finishing Tess. Emotion wrenching characterisation? Tick. Amazing imagery? Tick. Page-turning plot? Tick. 500 pages felt like 50.

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is an amazing protagonist - beautiful and pure at heart, she stalwartly endures the major change in circumstances thrown at her throughout the book, tearing our hearts apart with her readiness to carry the can for the men who have wronged her. Alec d'Urberville is a superb and complex villain of conflicting layers, and Angel Clare... well, let's just say Hardy played with his character so cleverly at one point I shouted aloud "what a complete s**t!" much to the surprise and consternation of my husband.

These trials and tribulations were all played out with the backdrop of Wessex painted as if with an artist's delicate brushstrokes. I watched the mist clear across lush green valleys as I walked side-by-side with Tess along the lanes and byways, felt the dew on the hems of my skirts, and felt the warmth of the sun on my face as I looked out across the dairy courtyard to the views beyond.

My only criticism with this book is with this particular Penguin Popular Classic edition, which felt a need to give away most of the plot on the book jacket. This spoilt a number of plot points which Hardy had done a great job of concealing, and seemed very unnecessary.

5 stars and then some for the literary equivalent of John Constable.
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LibraryThing member SheReadsNovels
It seems that people either love or hate Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Among those who hate it the main reasons for disliking it appear to be that the book was too dark and depressing, or that Tess was too passive and weak. Although I can understand these complaints, I personally fall into the group
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of readers who loved the book. I don't have a problem with a story being tragic, melodramatic or depressing as long as it's well-written. And Hardy's writing is beautiful. With other books I am often tempted to skim through pages of descriptions of trees, fields, sunrises etc, but Hardy's portrayal of nature and the English countryside is so poetic I wanted to read every word. Be prepared, though – you will learn more than you ever wanted to know about milking cows, threshing wheat and slicing turnips!

The injustice of a society with different sets of rules for men and women, Christianity vs pagan symbolism, the Industrial Revolution, and the class system of Victorian England are some of the interesting topics this book covers. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the ending – the final chapters just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the novel.

So, if you haven’t read this book yet give it a try – you might hate it...but you might just love it like I did.
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LibraryThing member Johnny1978
It's almost impossible to rate a novel without taking into account its place in the canon. 'Tess' is an iconic novel about hypocrisy, seduction, betrayal. suffering and the compromises we make for love. It's indisputably a powerful and beautifully structured story - Hardy's descriptive prose is
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like poetry and his characters are fully (in some cases painfully) realised. As a reader it left me stunned - Hardy wields tragic irony like a cudgel and he's never met a trauma he doesn't love.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Rarely have I ever had such a visceral reaction to a book. I have read a few other Hardy novels and so at this point I expect tragedy. But this one still blew me away. It broke my heart in so many ways, but Hardy’s writing made the whole experience oddly beautiful, despite the inevitable disaster
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that you know if coming.

The brilliance of his writing is just breathtaking. The scenes he creates are incredibly beautiful. Alec is such a brilliant villain because of the very fact that he is so relatable to different men. As Hardy himself says, Tess’ own male ancestors probably did the same thing to peasant girls. It's so horrifying and common at the same time and Alec has no real understanding that what he's doing is wrong. He knows what he wants he decides he's going to take it. There's no consideration for anything else.

Tess’ family is poor, but they discover they are descendants of a wealthy local family. She is sent to befriend the family and see if they can improve her own family’s situation. She meets Alec D'Urbervilles and soon her life is changed forever. I can’t say too much more without spoilers, except that it’s a powerful book, but not a cheery one.

I’ve never hated a character as much as I hated Alec. He is a rapist, a manipulator, and worst of all, he honestly doesn’t think he’s done much wrong in the first half of the novel. At one point Alec says something about how Tess shouldn’t have worn a certain dress and bonnet because it made her too pretty. The “you were asking for it” mentality was present even back then when dress was far more modest. It was so frustrating and infuriating. He manipulated every situation, forcing her to be alone with him, to rely on him for help, etc.

His condescending nicknames made my skin crawl. When he calls her “Tessie” or “my little pretty” it made me nauseous because she was shrinking away from him and begging him quietly to stop touching her. She said again and again that she did not love him and she was scared of him. She never feels comfortable with him. From their very first interaction, as he makes her eat strawberries from his hand, she is uncomfortable and wants to go home immediately. There was no infatuation only a feeling in her gut that he was not someone to be trusted.

On top of that, Angel’s absurd double standard for his actions and her actions was infuriating. The worst part is that both men, the “good” one and the “bad” one share the same mentality about the situation. Both blame Tess but never themselves. The same attitude is around today, even though women have many more options, they are often shamed when they are sexually assaulted.

The book is split into different phases and the second one begins after the infamous event. Tess is so broken; she's not even scared of him anymore because he's already done the worst to her that he could possibly do. She's resigned to her fate and full of sorrow. I kept thinking about how many other women over hundreds of years have gone through the same thing and are just completely broken afterwards and no one understands why. The man took something from her that she did not want to give and society treats it as if he didn't really do anything wrong. They justify it and say things like, maybe she gave off the wrong signals or put herself in a bad situation. It's just horrible.


BOTTOM LINE: This is not a cheerful book. Every time Tess’ situation improves, heartache is just around the corner. But Hardy deals with it in such a raw and personal way that it is relevant even a century later. His writing transcends the subject matter and I’ve learned that I’ll read whatever he’s written.
** My Penguin Clothbound Classic edition discusses the different versions of the novel that were released. The original release presented a much harsher version of Hardy. Apparently he toned it down and made him more appealing in later versions, which is interesting.

“‘I shouldn’t mind learning why the sun do shine on the just and the unjust alike,’ she answered with a slight quaver in her voice. ‘But that’s what books will not tell me.’”

“The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.”
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LibraryThing member survivingniki
The Victorian novel grows up and veers away from landed gentry and clergy folk to take on the underbelly of the “modern” world.

Hardy weaves a poetic tome about the beautiful and likeable Tess, a peasant girl taken advantage of by richer man. Her "lack of virtue" will cost her self-esteem, her
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true love, (the saintly Angel Clare) and eventually...everything.

The pros: You've got to love that Thomas Hardy was willing to tackle the serious subjects of his day. He uses this novel to demonstrate the vulnerability of the poor and the innocent in a world that is changing from an agricultural-based community to one where cities are growing and farm machinery is taking away the jobs of the peasants. The novel, first printed in serial form in 1891, was considered a shocking social commentary in its day. I read somewhere that people would debate Tess’ virtue (or lack thereof) over dinner parties.

Hardy also knows his craft. His word pictures of his rural Wessex landscape can be haunting. He takes his time fleshing out Tess and you can tell he wanted her to be a sympathetic, full character.

The cons: Well, it’s a Victorian novel and full of the intricate melodrama that marked the genre. What I love about their poetry is what I hate about their prose. He subscribes to a novel form that slows down the action with a lot of inner dialog and a viewpoint from at least two characters for every turn of the tale.

I’m a child of the post modern novel and it’s hard for me to fall into the paragraph-long sentences or not to want to kill Tess off in the middle of a long rapturous description of a threshing machine. Hardy uses 446 small-print pages to describe what could have been said in the same amount of words as a good ghost story.

The verdict: It’s worth a read. It holds up well as long as one understands from when and where it came. If you dare to follow Tess on her ill-fated journey come prepared with snacks and a dictionary and plan for a long, long weekend.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
After all of this time, and after all of the books I've read, this is my first Thomas Hardy novel. To be really honest, PBS recently ran the BBC production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and I wanted to read the book before I watch it (it's still on TiVo). Now I'm afraid...this book was so
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incredibly depressing!
That's not to say I didn't love it.

I won't rehash the plot; there are wonderful examples of critique, criticism and plot summaries all over the internet. I found Tess to be a complex character -- while she is certainly a very tragic figure, she is proud, able to face adversity and determined to do what it takes to survive in the most trying of situations. The male characters of this novel I found to be the least likeable, no matter who they were. But on the other hand, it also struck me that one could argue that men like Angel were also victims of the times -- although he felt himself to be more idealistic than other men of his generation, and although he escaped his father's plans for his future, he was still a product of ingrained proper Victorian society, where scandal could ruin a "good" family. He has to go to a place where societal ideals mean nothing before he turns himself around. As a human being, this doesn't excuse his behavior, but it does help to explain it.

I enjoyed reading this book, but it was like watching the proverbial train wreck -- you just know what's going to happen and yet you cannot turn away. I see many more books by Hardy in my future. I'd recommend it for others who might be considering reading this author's works; if you're not into tragic heroines you may consider skipping it.

Overall, a fine book, one I'm very happy to have read.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
This was the first Hardy I attempted as an adult, having hated every minute of studying Far from the Madding Crowd at school. I was surprised at how readable this is, despite the long passages describing country life which pop up in most of his novels.

The first section was a little slow, but it
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picked up considerably about a third of the way in, developing into almost-edge-of-the-seat stuff, before giving way to melodrama towards the end, and a conclusion that really shook me up.

It made me think about the way things have changed, how this story could never happen in modern times because moral values and society have changed so much. Not always for the better, but on the basis of this tale I know which age I'd rather live in!

One gripe - Angel Clare doesn't sound remotely like a bloke's name.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
Hardy is just a flat-out genius as depicting people (not to mention landscapes); everyone in this book feels like a real person with real reactions and real problems. I may think Angel Clare is a bit of a bastard in the end, but he's a real bastard. The book gets off to a slow start, but that's
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because Hardy is moving all of his pieces into position; once that's done, he begins to tip them over, one by one. He always fools me into thinking things are going well, but then something really awful happens, and I have to remember, "Oh, right. Thomas Hardy." Once Tess and Angel split, the book is riveting, as Angel finds herself adrift and impotent, a married woman without her husband in what was still very much a man's world. Alec d'Urberville is a thoroughly creepy character; his character has three distinct phases, and all of them chill; Tess's powerlessness and fear really comes across here, and I really felt for her. I knew some things about the ending (basically that it involved Stonehenge and the dawn), little enough to have me assemble it in the completely wrong fashion. This book ended nowhere near as positively as I'd thought it would, but I really should have expected that. And honestly, it couldn't have ended any other way.

There is one thing that bothers me: I think Hardy contorts the narrative (and narrator) to make Tess utterly blameless (in a way he doesn't do with Jude in Jude the Obscure or Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge), and I think this dilutes her effectiveness as a character. Just once, I wanted to see her make a mistake or wrong choice because it was something she wanted to do, not because of ignorance or innocence. It would have made her more relateable.
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
This book is so masterfully executed that I rate it a 5. What I especially like was Hardy's ability to describe everything so elegantly, including the scenery and the emotions. He excels at using just enough brushstroke to convey his ideas, while leaving everything else to the reader to complete.
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The themes are simple, yet profound.

The book is reminiscent of ancient Greek classics in several ways. The characters live tragic lives, some linked to the downfall of their ancestors. There are also natural and spiritual forces at work. Hardy even interjects narrated commentary that immediately reminded me of the remarks we hear from the Greek chorus of the great plays. I suspect such narrative seemed very modern in the late 19th century.

Also Modern were some of Hardy's phrases, such as the "vegeto-human pollen" he describes in a village dance scene.

To me, the primary struggle Hardy was exposing was the balance between human nature and societal norms. Several times, he interposed comments such as: She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which had no foundation in Nature. Given the time in which this book was written, I also believe Hardy was showing the tension that comes with our migration away from agrarian society. The description of the threshing machine and the engineer are examples supporting this.
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LibraryThing member theokester
Tess is one of the more depressive novels I've read lately. My wife will attest to the fact that I have a strange affinity to depressing stories. With that in mind, let me say that I really enjoyed this book.

The writing was at times a bit too much for me for the reason that I get annoyed at many
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18th and 19th century novels...namely, that Hardy focuses far too much on minute descriptions and in-depth analysis of setting and location. Don't get me wrong, I love a vivid and lush environment and I much prefer a fleshed out character to a flat one. I just sometimes feel that all of the flowery descriptions slow down the story telling element too much. There were a few paragraphs/pages that I tried to skim through in order to get to the next relevant points of plot. Still, I don't know that I'd want to edit out the descriptive text since it does comment on the narrative itself in a metafictional sort of way.

The main characters in this book are wonderfully composed. They are absolutely and completely frustrating but they are superbly crafted nonetheless. I wanted to smack each of the main characters on many occasions.

Tess is far too willing to simply be acted upon and then to bemoan her fate. Alec is an absolute pig (although towards the end of our experience with him, it's debatable just how awful he truly is). And Angel is far too inconsistent to be liked at all...at first he seems almost lovable...then he deserves to be hated...then he seems slightly adequate...then he becomes repulsive again...he's just far too wishy-washy in his behavior and ideals to ever be fully redeemable.

The story itself falls into the realm of realism taken to its extreme. The plot elements felt almost like the Bible story of Job...whatever could go wrong willgo wrong. And even though Tess was generally found to be almost whining about her circumstances rather than trying to make things better for herself, the story was still rather thought provoking since it makes you wonder just how you would handle horrific circumstances and what can truly be done about them. Is it better to try and solve the problem or better to just let fate and happenstance take its toll.

Personally, I try to make the best out of any bad situation...perhaps that's why I like "depressing" stories...they make me realize my life could be worse and they help inspire me to always think of the best possible outcome.

I'm sure this book won't be for everyone. Those who want a happy fairy-tale romp through a girl's life would do better to stay away. Those who are easily frustrated by fallen characters, will find themselves hating all of the primary roles in this book. The book isn't terribly lengthy (~300-400?) but some of the longer descriptive passages do crawl by at times.

Still, I whole-heartedly recommend this book to those who are willing to look imperfection and awful situations square in the face and come away smiling. It's not a happy book. It's not a terribly fast past book (which can also be frustrating...I wanted to shout Just do it to Tess many times).

But it is a wonderfully rich book and definitely worth getting into.

4.5 stars (out of 5)
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LibraryThing member metamariposa
Tess breaks my heart all over again on every rereading. The plot and social commentary are biting; the intersection of doctrine with life damning; the minor characters compelling and the major characters unforgettable. This remains one of the few books I ever wrote a paper about that I still want
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to reread annually. If a more devastating and cathartic book is out there, I have not found it.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
Poor Tess. I'm ready for the tragedy. I know it's coming. After all it's Thomas Hardy and he doesn't repeat Far From Madding Crow. Yet, with what force you experience Tess' downfall. So many sins committed against her - and no wonder she doesn't want to have anything to do with God after being
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presented with such a distorted view of Christianity. From the strict hypocritical father of Angel, Alec's insincere conversion - and Angel himself with his judgmental attitude.

"Justice was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess…” Well, I don't know Mr. Hardy.
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LibraryThing member Porius
Old Hardy probably loved 'Tess' more than he loved his wife Emma. He was a strange bird in that way. He was always straining for those things that were just out, or somewhat more than just out of his reach. It might be said that he wandered, most of his life, lonely as a cloud.
LibraryThing member Kiwimrsmac
Appalling ending. Brilliant book. But painful ending. Not a HEA thats for sure!
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
In terms of sheer style, this is one of the best books I've ever read. I'm not a fan by and large of Victorian fiction, but Hardy, while having all the hallmarks, does it all so skillfully it's akin to an edifice like Chartes Cathedral--the epitome of its kind. The omniscient point of view is
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masterful and flowing, nothing feels like filler--even the description. The description that seems mere bagatelle in other narratives contributes greatly to tone, theme, and atmosphere--besides which the descriptions so often strike me as out and out beautiful. Some scenes are so striking, so cinematic. I'm not about to forget Alec feeding Tess strawberries, or Tess in the tombs of her ancestors or at Stonehenge. Nor is it all doom and gloom, there are glints of humor, especially to be found in the depiction of Tess' family and her parents' pretensions. Although if you're one of the few who doesn't know this story is a tragedy, it's so early and often foreshadowed you'll have no problem mistaking this for a happily ever after romance.

The story falls into a subgenre of tragedy I usually despise--the "fallen woman" trope seen in such novels as Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It's been decades since I've read those novels, so perhaps my memory isn't accurate, but my impression of both is that their authors didn't have much sympathy for their fairly flighty heroines. What struck me about Hardy is the compassion, even admiration, which he obviously feels for his character. It's society he seemed to condemn, and that's never more apparent than his depiction of the hypocrisy of the "misnamed" Angel Clare, the man Tess loves. I didn't think it was possible he could eclipse Alec Stokes-D'Uberville, Tess' rapist, in my contempt and hatred for him, but I hated Angel with the heat of a thousand suns, in itself a literary achievement.

So, why don't I give this five stars? Why isn't it on my favorites shelf? I think it's because of Tess. I can't quite put my finger on why, but she never comes alive for me. Alec and Angel, the two men who between them destroy her feel like real people to me, Tess doesn't. Hardy subtitled his novel "A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented" and maybe that's it--he didn't depict a woman of flesh and blood, but a feminine ideal and a victim. It's not quite as simple of that. Tess has pride and doesn't always act wisely or well--she's not quite a complete innocent and she's sorely tried. But something in her depiction distances me from her.
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LibraryThing member mjmbecky
Never has a story gripped me more and made me fiercely proud to be a woman of our modern era. For a book that Hardy meant to create a conversation about the treatment and view of women, I would say he succeeded...even today. You fall in love with Tess, you feel for her pain, and you cheer her on in
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the hopes of some happiness. Tess, the book, is horribly tragic, but makes its point about the subjugation of women and the double standard placed on women of the Victorian era.
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LibraryThing member Lauren2013
Depressing and morose.
The story has potential but the main character needs some backbone.
LibraryThing member soliloquies
Least favourite of Hardy's books - hated it the first time I read it and then had to dissect it for college and hated it more. Poor old Tess, you want to reach into the book and shake her. Hardy's writing suffers in comparison to his other works - it just progresses into misery and depression.
LibraryThing member gbill
This is an enjoyable read, and I found ‘The Maiden’, the first of six ‘phases’, to be five star, really getting it off to a great start. I’ll describe the main elements of its plot (mini spoiler alert), but not too much beyond that. We’re first introduced to Tess Durbeyfield’s father,
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who is somewhat lazy and a drinker; when he finds out he has a connection to an ancient family in the region, he comes to have some unrealistic, high falutin’ hopes about falling into fortune. One night when he can’t drive his beehives to the market for the following morning’s sales, Tess goes in his place. Unfortunately, she falls asleep at the reins, which Hardy describes cosmically: “With no longer a companion to distract her, Tess fell more deeply into reverie than ever, her back leaning against the hives. The mute procession past her shoulders of trees and hedges became attached to fantastic scenes outside reality and the occasional heave of the wind became the sigh of some immense sad soul, conterminous with the universe in space, and with history in time.”

Shortly afterward, in a shocking sequence, Tess gets into a violent accident with a wagon coming the other direction, which kills the family horse. The resulting financial hardship encourages her parents all the more to send her off to the distant d’Urberville family, to work on their property and form a connection with them, but there she becomes the prey of the dastardly Alec d’Urberville. Hardy hints at Alec’s intentions in ways that make the reader cringe, and in an absolutely brilliant sequence late at night after a dance, he rapes Tess. In the morality of the time, this stains Tess; she feels guilty over it for the rest of the novel and unworthy of a future husband, while Alec happily goes on with his life. Grrr.

Hardy was a transitional writer in the late 19th century, including old school melodrama in his writing, but also modernist psychology, and challenges to religion and the morality of the day which deeply offended Victorians. As an extension of that, his (ostensible) protagonist Angel Clare, the more enlightened gentleman who finds Tess and falls for her, is a transitional thinker. On the one hand, Angel is aware of evolution and flouts religion and conventionality, but on the other hand, he has old-fashioned about a woman’s virtue. Between the outright evil of Alec, who Tess has fled, and Alec’s hypocrisy, it’s hard to like either character, or to know who is worse, but I think that’s part of Hardy’s point. The unfairness of life for women will almost certainly make you grit your teeth, and Hardy may go on a teeny bit too long in the center sections of the book, but there is a lot to like here.

On art:
“She thought, without exactly wording the thought, how strange and godlike was a composer’s power, who from the grave could lead through sequences of emotion, which he alone had felt at first, a girl like her who had never heard of his name, and never would have a clue to his personality.”

On beauty:
“How very lovable her face was to him. Yet there was nothing ethereal about it; all was real vitality, real warmth, real incarnation. And it was in her mouth that this culminated. Eyes almost as deep and speaking he had seen before, and cheeks perhaps as fair; brows as arched, a chin and throat almost as shapely; her mouth he had seen nothing to equal on the face of the earth. To a young man with the least fire in him that little upward lift in the middle of her red top lip was distracting, infatuating, maddening. He had never before seen a woman’s lips and teeth which forced upon his mind with such persistent iteration the old Elizabeth simile of roses filled with snow. Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But no – they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.”

On death, I thought this was an interesting perspective, and yes, our ‘deathday’ is out there somewhere for all of us:
“She philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of the year; the disastrous night of her undoing at Tantridge with its dark background of The Chase; also the dates of the baby’s birth and death; also her own birthday; and every other day individualized by incidents in which she had taken some share. She suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen and among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely there. When was it? Why did she not feel the chill of each yearly encounter with such a cold relation? She had Jeremy Taylor’s thought that some time in the future those who had known her would say, ‘It is the- th, the day that poor Tess Durbeyfield died’; and there would be nothing singular to their minds in the statement. Of that day, doomed to her terminus in time through all the ages, she did not know the place in month, week, season, or year.”

On knowledge:
“’Because what’s the use of learning that I am one of a long row only – finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad, that’s all. The best is not to remember that your nature and past doings have been just like thousands’ and thousands’, and that your coming life and doings’ll be like thousands’ and thousands’.’
‘What, really, then, you don’t want to learn anything?’
‘I shouldn’t mind learning why – why the sun do shine on the just and the unjust alike,’ she answered, with a slight quaver in her voice. ‘But that’s what the books will not tell me.’”

On religion, harkening back to worship of the sun:
“The sun, on account of the mist, had a curious sentient, personal look, demanding the masculine pronoun for its adequate expression. His present aspect, coupled with the lack of all human forms in the scene, explained the old-time heliolatries in a moment. One could feel that a saner religion had never prevailed under the sky. The luminary was a golden-haired, beaming, mild-eyed, God-like creature, gazing down in the vigour and intentness of youth upon an earth that was brimming with interest for him.”

And this one, questioning God in a world of cruelty:
“The calmness which had possessed Tess since the christening remained with her in the infant’s loss. In the daylight, indeed, she felt her terrors about his soul to have been somewhat exaggerated; whether well founded or not she had no uneasiness now, reasoning that if Providence would not ratify such an act of approximation she, for one, did not value the kind of heaven lost by the irregularity – either for herself or for her child.”

“Once upon a time Angel had been so unlucky as to say to his father, in a moment of irritation, that it might have resulted far better for mankind if Greece had been the source of the religion of modern civilization, and not Palestine; and his father’s grief was of that blank description which could not realize that there might lurk a thousandth part of a truth, much less a half truth or a whole truth, in such a proposition.”

Lastly this one, an example of Hardy taking a simple scene on a dairy farm and both putting it in perspective in the bigger picture, but also pointing out it’s no less important than scenes of royalty; this quote really has it all, compared to how simply it may have been put:
“Long thatched sheds stretched round the enclosure, their slopes encrusted with vivid green moss, and their eaves supported by wooden posts rubbed to a glossy smoothness by the flanks of infinite cows and calves of bygone years, now passed to an oblivion almost inconceivable in its profundity. Between the posts were ranged the milchers, each exhibiting herself at the present moment to a whimsical eye in the rear as a circle on two stalks, down the centre of which a switched moved pendulum-wise; while the sun, lowering itself behind this patient row, threw their shadows accurately inwards upon the wall. Thus it threw shadows of these obscure and homely figures every evening with as much care over each contour as if it had been the profile of a Court beauty on a palace wall; copied them as diligently as it had copied Olympian shades on marble facades long ago, or the outline of Alexander, Caesar, and the Pharaohs.”
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LibraryThing member theeclecticreview
I read this novel many years ago, but I remember that it was very sad and it has stayed with me.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
I picked up Tess to listen to during the last week of September to celebrate Banned Books Week. Originally published in 1888, this book was often censored for sexual content. It is still often included as required reading in many high schools - and is still occasionally censored.

Tess Durbeyfield
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comes from a poor family that are descendents of the noble D'Urbevilles. In the hopes that Tess can marry a distant cousin, Alec D'Urbeville, Tess' parents send her to work in his household. Instead, young Tess is seduced by Alec and her reputation is ruined. She goes to work as a dairy maid in a distant farm where she is unknown. She falls in love with a handsome gentlman, Angel Clare, throwing Tess in a dilemma of whether or not she should tell Angel of her past.

This book is a wonderful example of the double standard of sexual conduct held during Victorian times between men and women. Although Tess' problems are really caused by men, she pays the ultimate price for their behavior. I found this story haunting - so beautifully written and told, and so sad. Wonderful narration by Simon Vance!
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