Monday, February 25, 2013

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

My latest read is Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The book’s description said that it dealt with breaking social norms and uncovering the hypocrisy/double standards in Victorian England, so the sociologist in me couldn’t resist picking up this book. Goodreads link is here:

This book follows the life of a girl, Tess, from birth to death and this book has been divided into seven parts, each part assigned to an important phase of Tess’ life. I will review each part separately as I won’t be doing the book justice if I just do one overall review of the book due to the diversity of each part. Each part teaches us about a new aspect of Victorian society.

The first part of the book (or phases, as they have been called) is called “The Maiden”.  In this phase, Tess is running an errand for her dad, in the process of which the horse gets injured and dies. Tess’ dad has discovered that their family is related to a well to do high class family, the D’Urbervilles. Tess’ dad wants her to go visit them and claim relations to them so that they can be financially helped out. Tess reluctantly agrees after the horse dies. But there the gentleman, Alec, takes an unfair advantage of her, while giving her the impression that she is protected by calling her “cousin”.  

The second part is Maiden No More. Tess moves back in with her parents, has a kid who dies a few weeks later after he was born.

The third part is The Rally. Tess’ family is experiencing difficulties because of what happened to her. According to society it is all her fault and only she is to blame, so she must pay the price. So in order to exonerate (for the lack of a better word) her family she finds a job as a milkmaid at a dairy farm where she falls in love with a colleague and becomes friends with her female colleagues.

The fourth part is The Consequence. Here we begin to get a good picture of the double standards of Victorian society. Angel, the colleague Tess is in love with, has proposed marriage to her. She is very reluctant to agree because Angel doesn’t know her past. So she is confused what to do about it so she asks her mother what to do. The mother says to keep the past a secret. On their wedding night Angel tells Tess about an affair he had so Tess thinks that it is safe to tell her story too so she tells her husband. Here we really see the double standard as when Angel and Tess went into town, many people passed remarks/comments to them regarding her past and why is a person like Angel with her.

The fifth part is The Woman Pays. Our lesson in the double standard of Victorian society continues. When Angel discovers Tess’ past, they get estranged. Angel says he will move away, Tess decides to move back with her parents. However, her parents are not very happy once they discover the truth of the matter and the reasoning behind it. Tess finds life at home tough, so she gets work at a farm. She even tries to visit Angel’s family by visiting Angel’s dad’s church, but that turned out to be a bad attempt because she overhears people bad-taking her and she is forced to come face-to-face with Alec. The double standard is shown as Angel can willingly do something and it is perfectly alright, and if something happens to Tess against her will (due to her innocence and lack of knowledge), she has to pay a very heavy price.

The sixth part is The Convert. Alec asks Tess to marry him and says he will help Tess out with her family’s problems (her father has died) by letting them live on the estate. Again we see the double standard as Alec thinks he is Tess’ husband because of the incident so she should marry him and accept help from him. Also, Angel is regretting his actions.

The seventh and final part is Fulfilment. Tess marries Alec but then Angel comes back and finds her. Tess throws Angel out of the house, goes back, kills Alec and runs after Tess. As Alec, the person responsible for all is dead, Angel forgives her. They run to Stonehenge where Tess is apprehended by the police and later executed. Angel and Tess’ sister Liza-Lu see the black flag signalling her execution.

So, in conclusion this book is quite slow and in some places some incidents and scenes are dragged on way too much. Like at times you really need to exhibit a lot of patience due to the slowness factor. Personally I think the slowness factor goes without saying when it comes to most classical books, but that is just me. But it is a good read as it really teaches you a lot about the double standards Victorian society possess. It even shows the theme of men dominating women in the way Tess has been dominated by the men in her life. We even learn about class divide, how people passed comments at Tess due to the differences in social class between her and both Alec and Angel.