I wonder what Thomas Hardy will do if he knows that one of his most famous novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, keep on inviting debates from readers all over the world, including me, long after the book is published in 1891.
Here, I’d like to share my views about the central character of the book, Tess Durbeyfield. She’s such a limitless topic to talk about. Even after finishing this post, I find the discussion remains unfinished. Let me introduce Tess; a very young and beautiful rural girl who faces bitter fate along her way to support her family and search for an eternal love.
A modern reader may think she’s a very weak character but those, who understand or at least try to position themselves among those living the hard life in the 19th century, may instead put her as a very strong fictitious heroine.
When Hardy puts ‘A Pure Woman’ along with the title of the book, I can’t agree more. She eventually takes a job as a poultry caretaker at the D’Urbervilles mansion despite the fact she has to meet Alec, D’Urbervilles, a ruthless cousin who aggressively approaches her. She has to work at the rich family to make ends meet and because her parents strongly urge her to do so.
She is a very strong character. She keeps on rejecting the marriage proposal from Alec although he rapes her. The reason is very simple; she doesn’t love him. Even his wealthy can’t buy her love. When she finds out that she’s pregnant because of the rape, Tess decides to raise Sorrow, the name of the bastard child, on her own, without any help from him. She bears the shame all alone. She finds a hard labor in a farm while taking the baby during the job. When the baby dies, she baptizes him because even the priest does not want to do that.
Life goes on for her. She later works in a dairy where which she meets her soulmate, Angel Clare. They are madly in love and eventually tie the knot. But on their wedding night, Angel leaves her after she reveals her past.
At this point, I can really feel her suffering. I can sense that she feels so small, unworthy of love in front of him. Angel does not say bad words to Tess but the way he ignores her, his cold expression is what makes her feel so guilty for the things she doesn’t even initiate to occur.
One of the most memorable scenes from the book that really makes me wanna cry is the night before they part. Tess pretends to sleep when her husband sleepwalks. In his sleepwalking, Angel thinks Tess is dead and he is crying while carrying her body to a nearby church. It’s so devastating to imagine this scene. Definitely, this moment is so heartbreaking, especially for Tess who believes they will reunite someday in the future.
Angel then departs for Brazil. Tess, meanwhile, keeps her love only for him. She even covers her pretty face so as men won’t get attracted to her beauty. She works so hard. It’s so difficult to imagine the life on the era as seen from her long walk, hardworking with Mariann. It’s crazy to envisage Hardy’s description on the hardship she experiences to earn pennies.
There is so few happiness Tess experiences. Apart from her initial love story back at the dairy, she barely feels joyful after her husband leaves her. Her suffering at the farm encourages her writing some letters forAngel but she gets frustrated to receve no replies. Worse, Angel does not want Tess to follow or come to him to Brazil. Given her worsening conditions, she forces to visit Angel’s parents. Again, it’s so forlorn to visualize her very long journey, the many miles she undergoes to reach the place.
She remains faithful to Angel even as Alec reapproaches her. It is for the sake of her homeless family that finally she agrees to be Alec’s wife. When Angel comes to her, it’s a bit too late.
Like other readers, I initially get confused on why Tess kills Alec. I don’t think she has to do that. I mean, she can easily get away with Angel. But later on, I can understand on why Hardy includes the murdering. I believe that signifies Tess’s only option to get rid of him even by doing the unthinkable deed. I believe if Alec were still alive, he would haunt her wherever she goes.
Her very brief and sweetest happiness is when she reestablishes her love with Angel. Although the moments she spends with him last for only few days, she feels so satisfied. He forgives her in the end and no secrets lie between the two.
How Hardy ends the novel contends me although I can’t help being so sad. The fact that police captures her in Stonehenge and hangs her for the wrongdoing she does is very depressive. But that’s the way the book must end. Killing Alec is the best and only option to finish her suffering although she will be executed. That’s the price she has to pay for the reunification. She dies peacefully.
As I mention earlier, a modern reader may think she’s a lame character. You may argue on why she doesn’t rebel or fight for own happiness. Or, why she must tell her stories to Angel. But I firmly agree on her choice. Here, Hardy informs readers how powerless women, especially poor women like Tess, are. How Tess struggles to find jobs, faces society amid the rape, sacrifices her own life for the family and, best of all, puts honesty as the first principle in her love relationship are the traits that make her my most favorite, sympathetic heroine, thus far.
Such a masterpiece Mr. Hardy!