Rather than provide a huge summary and give my opinion about the book, I will get straight to the point. Tess of the d’Urbervilles is an emotional rollercoaster of a novel. I liked how it raised thought provoking questions. As annoying as it is, I was intrigued by questions in which no answer could be given. Questions like: What motivated the author to write this book? Was it completely fictional? Was it loosely based off of an encounter made by the author or a story told by another individual?

I was rather disturbed with the ideas raised regarding the idea of the human body being “owned” by another human being. Pages 356-357 when Tess writes her letter to Angel is where this theme reaches the pinnacle of its existence. The specific quote from the letter I am referring to is as follows: “People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel (handsome is the word they use, since I wish to be truthful). Perhaps I am what they say. But I do not value my good looks: I only like to have them because they belong to you, my dear…” (pg. 357). The desperation included within this quote is also what provokes me to question the literary motivations of this novel by the author. Where did he get these ideas? Was he using reverse psychology against the readers to portray himself as more progressive about social status, religion, and gender roles, although he believed women were to blame in any sexual temptation situation simply because of their good looks? 

I thought the author exposed the desperation present within male and females when it comes to relationships, however his portrayal of the men appeared more realistic. Regardless he does make the male characters such as Angel appear unrealistically forgiving and desperate for relationships when he said he did not care that Tess killed Alex d’Urbervilles. When Tess says: “I would be content, ay glad, to live with you as your servant, if I may not as your wife…”(pg. 357), the author seems to make her unrealistically desperate for a man who left her. 

Personal Response to Tess of the D’Urbervilles

In Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess’ love for Angel seems to infringe upon her reason. Throughout Phase the First, we are shown a clear portrayal of Tess. She is mature, as she often acts as the parent of her family; she is realistic, as she recognizes the imperfect, “blighted” (p. 37) world she lives in; and she is dedicated to her family, as she goes to work for the d’Urbervilles. In the face of Alec’s unwanted advances, Tess often stands up for herself and expresses her disinterest in him. Beyond that, when Alec claims, “That’s what every woman says” (p. 89), Tess shames him for that stereotypical and predatory mindset. She is not afraid to specify her boundaries, which is admirable for a young woman in her time. Not only that, but she shows sophistication in her thinking, when she speaks about her out-of-body experiences laying on the grass looking up at the stars (pp. 135-136). When Tess meets Angel, however, many of these admirable qualities become overshadowed. The focus shifts from Tess as an individual, to Tess “in love”. Her highest aspirations become being with Angel, and being possessed by him. For instance, the narrator claims, “her nature cried for his tutelary guidance” (p. 199). Further, when they are holding hands, he asks which fingers belong to whom, and she replies, “They are all yours” (p. 236). Tess wants to belong to Angel. She wants him to own her. When I first saw these passages, I thought these were Hardy’s “blind spots”, as a male writer portraying a female character. Arguably, many women in this time probably felt similarly to this portrayal, due to social conditioning. Regardless, how could Tess move so quickly from this independent, self-aware young woman, to this person who wants to be owned like an object? Hardy demonstrates the all-consuming effect that love can have on someone’s personality and rationality.

In this novel, Hardy creates such a beautiful, hardly industrialized world. His scenic descriptions of the hills spark a sense of homesickness within me, even though I have never experienced life as he describes it. I wish I could experience a society in which the primary form of correspondence was letter-writing. I wish I could walk through rolling hills of pure green, wearing white flowing dresses. This world, as we see through Hardy’s Romantic writing, seems richly connected to nature. However, this world was also deeply flawed. If I had my ideas in their society, I would be ostracized. I, like Tess and other women, would have few rights and little autonomy. If I lived in the country, I would be bound to a life of physical labour, rather than one of intellectual accomplishment. Regardless, I still often yearn to live in a society where the environment isn’t seen as something to extort, but something that we must take care of and appreciate. Often, we treat the human race as superior to the environment and other living creatures. Yet, we are the source of industrialization and social conventions, both of which Hardy describes with such brutality and oppression. Using nature, Hardy criticizes the patriarchal and puritanical conventions that portray Tess as impure, yet are nonexistent in the natural world. Using nature again, he criticizes the “rickety”, “reaping” machines that industrialization has brought into an otherwise peaceful environment (p. 100). Hardy’s critiques prompt me to wonder what he would think of our society today. In Western culture, many of these social conventions are decreasing, as the generations are becoming more progressive. Industrialization, on the other hand, is clearly more apparent in our society. Overall, I believe Hardy would be disappointed with many elements of our current world, but I also think he would be pleased by some of the progressions.

PR: Tess of the D’Urbervilles

After watching Tess of the D’Urbervilles’s ending, I realized that the story has a shockingly simple plot. The storyline is certainly not the most suspenseful or “creative” one I have ever read. What amazes me about the novel is Hardy’s ability to include so much content in a simple plot-line. Perhaps I’ve only noticed 1% of the content after reading it once. The compactness of its content has lots to do with Hardy describing the characters in relation to the world that they are placed in. He uses different scales of narration; sometimes it is “micro” (about specific moments and character’s feelings), and other times he uses a “macro” perspective (talking about the universe and human experience in general).

Starting with introducing the history of the D’Urberville family, readers get a sense of how much time has passed even before the story started. It was hard for me to remember that Tess’s story only occurred during a few years. Hardy constantly emphasizes on how large the world is in comparison to Tess and the characters around her. This is done by the “macro” narration. For example, “The irresistible, universal, automatic tendency to find sweet pleasure somewhere, which pervades all life, from the meanest to the highest had at length mastered Tess.” (p. 119) Here, Hardy relates Tess’s experience to that of the entire world. She had felt what countless people had felt before and after her. Furthermore, humans are physically tiny compared to the world we live in, like “a fly on a billiard-table on indefinite length” (p. 120). Because of how small and limited the human body is, we are prone to have a limited perspective and think of ourselves as the centre of the world. But frankly, even a story as tragic as Tess’s does not affect the sun rising on the next day. Anything that has happened (and will happen) renders into a cohesive, universal emotion. Perhaps our experiences and our “legacies” are no more than a small sparkle in the stream of existence of countless beings that have lived and will live in the future.