Because I’m a woman, I’m sympathetic to the sufferings of Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I’m also a little angry, but no one can accuse me of directing my ire at the novel’s author, a man who wrote about a pure woman, Thomas Hardy.
For him, I have only admiration and respect for his imagination and realism.
In his critical novel, every evil imaginable has happened to the eponymous heroine, Tess, whose sins (and I say this with sarcasm) are that she was born poor, uneducated, and unprotected even by her own blood relations.
Meaning: Tess is hopeless as any disadvantaged woman born in the world of men.
And with unlucky combination of fate and a bit of history about her family’s noble lineage, not to mention the curse of her natural beauty, Tess is condemned to be the archetypal victim.
She is imprinted in my memory when after her brief connection with her false kin, Hardy describes her source of strength and courage:
She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.
As for Tess’ husband, the farmer Angel Clare, he inspires because of his liberal views, but as a man of faith, he disappoints in his harsh judgment of his wife’s past deeds.
As a man who vowed to love a woman in the eyes of God and men, Angel is just downright cruel. Perhaps more evil than the self-confessed carnal man, Alec d’Urberville.
Is this novel a cautionary tale for women? Maybe.
Only yesterday, I read a news of a Turkish woman who was allegedly raped by her brother-in-law. What reminded me of Hardy’s Tess is that this real world rape victim killed her rapist and beheaded him too for the public to see.
Undoubtedly, since this book was published in 1891, little has changed.
Which is why this is considered an important piece of work that everyone must read.
The description of the beautiful landscapes and the impassioned letters by Tess are worth reading, not to mention the daring of Angel in the Three-Leahs-to-get-one-Rachel scene.