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Book Reviews - Review 87

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Thomas Hardy


Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Category: Fiction | Published: 1891 | Review Added: Unknown

Rating: 5 - A personal favourite

Tess Durbeyfield lives with her poor parents. One day, through carelessness, she injures and kills the family's only horse - an occurrence which triggers a tragic chain of events as Tess tries to make up for her negligence. Presiding over her fate is Alec D'Urberville, a nouveau-riche cad who rapes her and then exploits the power over her that his money gives.

Tess travels about trying to make ends meet, and falls in love with Angel Clare, a well-meaning but unreliable young dreamer. Just when things look as though they're picking up... well, I won't spoil the story for you. Just bear in mind this is a Thomas Hardy novel, so don't expect anything particularly life-affirming.

This is one of my all-time favourite novels, despite its flaws. A couple of the characters - in particular, Tess's lover Angel Clare - are made to behave in unconvincing ways in the interests of plot furtherance; and the climactic scene at Stonehenge is decidedly stagey. That said, for me the staginess works: it's always applied in the service of portraying profound emotional truths, and any artist worth his salt knows that portraying truths doesn't simply mean portraying a reality that is objectively credible.

What really works for me is the way that, from the moment Tess's horse dies, we sense Tess tumbling, bit by bit, towards an inevitable fate. This fate is made all the more poignant by the "intermission" in the middle of the book when we get the tantalising glimpse of hope that things might yet turn out for the best.

Like Shakespeare's tragedies, Tess can't be appreciated by applying standards of objective credibility. It's superbly paced, and I haven't even mentioned the Hardyesque physical descriptions that really make you see the Dorset countryside instantly, virtually without even trying - a truly rare gift in a writer.

But a final warning: don't read this novel if you're feeling really depressed. It won't help.

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