'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' Review

Book Cover of Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Originally serialized in the newspaper "The Graphic," Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" was first published as a book in 1891. This work was Hardy's second-to-the-last novel, Jude the Obscure being his final one, and both are considered among the best works of the 19th century. Set in rural England, the novel tells the story of a poor girl, Tess Durbeyfield, who is sent by her parents to a supposedly noble family in the hope of finding a fortune and a gentleman for a husband. The young girl is instead seduced and meets her doom.

Story Structure

The novel is divided into seven sections, titled as phases. While it may seem usual to many readers, critics have discussed the significance of this term in relation to the progress of the plot and its moral implications. Various phases of the novel have been named according to various life phases of Hardy's heroine: "The Maiden," "Maiden No More," and so on to the final phase, "Fulfillment."

Tess of the d'Urberville is essentially a third-person narrative, but most of the events (all significant events, in fact) are seen through the eyes of Tess. The order of these events follows a simple chronological sequence, a quality that augments the ambiance of a simple rural life. Where we see Hardy's real mastery is the difference in the language of people from the social classes (e.g. the Clares in contrast with the farm workers). Hardy also sometimes speaks directly to the readers to accentuating the effect of select events.

Tess is helpless against and mostly submissive to, those around her. But, she suffers not only because of the seducer who destroys her but also because her beloved does not save her. Despite her suffering and weakness in the face of her suffering, she demonstrates long-suffering patience and endurance. Tess takes pleasure in toiling on the dairy farms, and she seems almost invincible to the trials of life. Given her enduring strength through all of her troubles, in some sense, the only appropriate ending was her death on the gallows. Her story became the ultimate tragedy.

The Victorians

In Tess of the d'Urberville, Thomas Hardy targets the Victorian values of nobility right from the title of his novel. In contrast to the safe and innocent Tess Durbeyfield, Tess d'Urbervilles is never at peace, even though she has been sent to become a d'Urbervilles in the hopes of finding a fortune.

The seeds of tragedy are sown when Tess's father, Jack, is told by a parson that he is the descendant of a family of knights. Hardy comments upon the hypocritical standards in masculine concepts of purity. Angel Clare's forsakes his wife, Tess, in a classic instance of the rift between belief and practice. Given Angel's religious background and his allegedly humanistic views, his indifference to Tess produces a striking contrast of character with Tess who persists in her love — against all odds.

In "Tess of the d'Urbervilles," Thomas Hardy has directly satirized nature. In the third chapter of "Phase the First," for example, he targets both nature and its exaltation by poets and philosophers: whence the poet whose philosophy is in these days deemed as profound and trustworthy... gets his authority for speaking of "Nature's holy plan."

In the fifth chapter of the same phase, Hardy ironically comments on Nature's role in guiding humans. Nature does not often say "See!" to her poor creature at a time when seeing could lead to happy doing; or reply "Here" to a body's cry of "Where?" till the hide-and-seek has become an irksome, outworn game.

Themes and Issues

"Tess of the d'Urbervilles" is rich in its involvement with several themes and issues, and there are many quotes from the book that synthesize these themes. Like most other Hardy novels, rural life is a prominent issue in the story. The hardships and drudgery of rustic lifestyle are explored fully through the travel and work experiences of Tess. Religious orthodoxy and social values are questioned in the novel. The issue of fate versus freedom of action is another important aspect of "Tess of the d'Urbervilles". While the main storyline may sound fatalistic, Hardy does not miss the opportunity to point out that the darkest of tragedies could be prevented by human action and consideration: Humanity.

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Dempsey, Ernest. "'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' Review." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/tess-of-the-durbervilles-review-741594. Dempsey, Ernest. (2020, August 28). 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' Review. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tess-of-the-durbervilles-review-741594 Dempsey, Ernest. "'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' Review." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tess-of-the-durbervilles-review-741594 (accessed August 1, 2021).