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Tess of the d'Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy

Book Description
A ne'er-do-well exploits his gentle daughter's beauty for social advancement in this masterpiece of tragic fiction. Hardy's 1891 novel defied convention to focus on the rural lower class for a frank treatment of sexuality and religion. Then and now, his sympathetic portrait of a victim of Victorian hypocrisy offers compelling reading.

From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, March 01, 2004 08:46 AM I don't think there's any way to even begin discussing this novel without first adding a spoiler warning. If you haven't finished reading this yet, you might want to wait until you've done so before going any further. Was Tess a victim and if so, of what? Was she raped by Alec D'Urberville or did she submit out of guilt over her belief that she caused the death of the family's horse? I believe Tess was a victim of mainly one thing, her social class. Other than that, most of what happened to her was a matter of consequences for her choices. I have a lot of affection for this character. Her parents were irresponsible..mostly her father, but also her mother, Joan who, leaving her children to go to the tavern to fetch her husband (using his bad heart as an excuse for her to go there) stays and drinks. This is the highlight of her life, the only respite for caring for her brood of children. I believe Tess felt the family's welfare fell on her shoulders. After the seduction (rape?) of Tess in the woods, Alec begins to shower gifts on her family. She doesn't like Alec but I think she felt obligated to submit to him as a way to provide for them. But then why did she leave? At that point, only a matter of a few weeks after her seduction by D'Urberville, she probably was not aware that she was pregnant. Who was most responsible for Tess's final demise, Alec or Angel? Was this a story of a sacrificial victim, seen by even her parents as a means to a better end for themselves? Is this why Hardy uses stonehenge and Tess's sleeping on the sacrificial altar at the end of the novel? Beej
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, March 01, 2004 08:52 AM I didn't read your spoiler, because I haven't finished yet, although I've given myself plenty of time. I know it's not going to end well, so I keep putting it off. I like Tess and don't want anything bad to happen to her. But I'll plow on. I love the writing. Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, March 01, 2004 09:08 AM You can't help but have great affection for Tess. She has to be one of the most in-depth characters of all literature. Her story is haunting. I keep wanting to make comparisons between Tess Durbeyfield and Emma Bovary, even though these are two very different characters with two very different stories. I think it has to do with the effects of social class on both of them and how differently each of them handled it. I think Emma was more sophisticated than Tess, and Tess was not the manipulator Emma was, but the end result of the influences of social class was similar. Hardy referred to Tess as 'A Pure Woman,' and despite her submission to Alec, I agree. Maybe that's what really differentiates her most from Emma Bovary..the purity of her heart's intentions for the choices she makes. Beej
From: Ernest Belden Date: Monday, March 01, 2004 11:37 PM I read Tess not terribly long ago but wanted to refresh my memory by looking up some parts of it (without reading the whole volume). It seems that Tess was unable to anticipate or avoid troubles and problems. But the book also tells us a good deal about economic condition especially what the poor or semi-poor had to put up with. They did not have an easy life. The reader gets the impression that Tess' judgment was not always the best and sometimes terrible as the ending shows. Well these are generalities but the initial message that the family was related to the upper classes may have start her out on the wrong foot. All in all I enjoyed the book and just bought Hardy's: Jude the Obscure. Trying to compare some authors of this period I would choose Dickens any time with George Eliot as the second and Hardy third. As I think about the above statement it occurred to me that I truly have insufficient literary knowledge of this period to make wise choices. But it may induce me to look for an overview of literature of this period. Ernie
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 09:13 AM I'm staying out of the discussion for now, because I'm only at the halfway point -- but Tess and Angel are wearing me out! I don't think I've ever shouted this much encouragement at an audio book before. Peggy
From: Jody Richael Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 11:45 AM This was my 3rd reading of Tess although the first two were years ago. I reread it quickly but the entire time I was wishing I had time to go over it slowly and really put some thought into it. (I have a newborn and hence no time). Ernie - I was wondering the entire time if she was raped or a more willing partner. I don't know, but she seems so naive that whatever happened it seems more like rape. I think she was a victim of her social class but also societal traditions. I thought a major theme of the novel was the double standard that existed in regard to sexual morals. A man could do what he wanted but if a woman had premarital sex (even if it was a rape) she was pretty much an outcast for life. Angel admitted a sexual indiscretion to Tess expecting to be forgiven and he was but when Tess confesses her past Angel tosses her aside. To me the book is about the tragedy caused by societal judgements and selfishness. My book had a great introduction which also said that a theme of the novel was the conflict of aspirations vs. actuality. From some of your comments it sounds like I probably put less responsibility on Tess than you do but I did like your comment about the purity of her hearts intentions. Jody
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 12:05 PM I started this one, but I folded about 10 pages in. Just don't have the patience any more for this old-fashioned writing style. My loss, I guess. R
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 01:35 PM I'm about 2/3 done; I was wrong in thinking I'd read it before. I agree with Peggy: Tess and Angel are wearing me out, and at this point, I think I prefer Alec! Mary Ellen
From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 09:13 PM To tell the truth, I think both Alec and Angel were idiots, but at least Alec was honest about it. As for whether or not Tess was raped by Alec, from what I understand, the manuscript of 'Tess' was repeatedly turned down for publication because it was deemed immoral, so Hardy edited that rape/seduction scene so it was intentionally obscure. I did read somewhere (and I believe in was in the introduction to my edition but I'll be darned if I can find it now) that back in the 1800's, English law stated that a man could not be charged with rape if the woman was asleep when the 'assault' began..I think the reasoning being that if she were asleep, she would have been unable to object. But didn't Alec give her something to drink that night? Was her sleep planned by Alec as a means of having sex with her? (I read that in an earlier, unedited manuscript, Tess told her mother Alec had raped her and Joan had asked if he could be prosecuted, so originally, I think Hardy was very clear that it was a rape, but one followed soon by repeated seduction.) Either way, tho, Tess remained at the D'Urberville estate for several weeks after her night in the woods with Alec. I'm sure their sexual encounters continued during that period. Jody, I HATED that Angel couldn't forgive Tess after she forgave him. She had told him repeatedly that she couldn't marry him but he wouldn't let it drop. I think had she told him the truth before their engagement, it would have never taken place. And that's precisely why he didn't tell her of his little indiscretion. Did you pick up on how Hardy uses sleep as a prelude to some of the most relevant events in this story? Tess was asleep when she was accosted by Alec. She was asleep when Angel first picked her up and carried her to the crypt (on their wedding night.) And she had fallen asleep at Stonehenge before her capture. I read somewhere that Tess is larger than words and I found this to be so absolutely true. Hardy provides such an idea of this woman that she looms larger than the printed words which describe her. Hardy originally named this book "The Pure Woman," later changed it to 'Tess of the Hardys, "and finally changed it to its present title. And Jody, congratulations on the new baby! I wish we had known you were expecting..We would have celebrated! :) Is the baby a girl or a boy? Beej
From: Pres Lancaster Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004 11:22 AM To tell the truth, I think both Alec and Angel were idiots, but at least Alec was honest about it. ~~ Beej, emphasis added. Proves what an idiot he was. pres
From: Jody Richael Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004 11:36 AM Beej, I hadn't noticed that sleeping seemed to be such a common device but you are right. The family horse was also killed because she was asleep. Perhaps that is a symbol of her naivete and how it caused her misfortunes throughout her life. Thank you for the congratulations on my baby. I have 3 girls now, ages 5, 3, and 3 months. I have been trying to at least read each book each month but I don't have much time to write! Jody
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004 09:46 PM Congratulations, Jody! I am impressed that you still find time to read with 3 little kids. We're glad you're here. Ann
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004 09:48 PM Ernie, I really liked Jude the Obscure. I read it here with our original Classics Corner group. Like all Hardy books, it does not end well. When I went to Oxford a few years ago I remembered the thrill that Jude felt when he first saw the town. I felt pretty much the same way. Ann
From: Ernest Belden Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 12:24 AM Ann, Depending on our next CC assignment I may get started on Jude the Obscure. I just hope that it makes easier reading and holds my interest more than Tess. I envy you for having seen the finest British Colleges. We failed to do so when we were in London for just a few days. Incidentally we plan to leave for Europe in June but London is not on our itinerary on this trip. But I do hope to see one of the oldest if not the oldest University of all of Europe in Prague. Ernie
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 12:52 AM Hi Everyone~ I'm new here but have been reading posts for about a week. Just finished Tess for a second time, the first being in a "Modern English Novels" course at Texas A&M 35 years ago. I was an English/psych double-major and I love reading almost anything. [Do some of you remember the mousy, near-sighted character played by Burgess Meredith in one of the old b&w "Twilight Zones" where his wife would not let him read anything because she wanted all his attention? He worked in a bank and was in the vault when bombs reduced the city to rubble, and he found himself a lone survivor when he came out. He stacked up books he found at the library according to the coming years in which he was going to read them, ecstatic at the prospect. Then as he bent over to pick up the first one, his thick glasses fell off and both lenses broke on the stone steps of the library... I always identified with that guy, and I suspect he's been mentioned here before.] *G* BUT I have to say I hope you who loved Tess won't be upset at me when I tell you I was more angered than enchanted by her. Mostly it was Hardy I resented, though! I never read another of his books and am surprised I could read Tess again. But I wanted to and I did so I could discuss it with you guys, never dreaming I might be the only one who would find it so ... unlikable. Let me explain my feelings about Tess. My own life story is so very much LIKE hers, only more modern of course; and I've always been angry at myself for my poor choices and bad timing that brought more pain and trouble in my life than need be. So I realize that I saw myself in Tess, and one thing Hardy did well was bring her to life so that I felt her pain and her regret keenly. I kept thinking, *Why* did Hardy spend such a long time dragging his lead character through such torments and loss to her ultimate destruction? Was his purpose to tell an involving but tragic love story that readers would remember? Or was he trying to guilt-trip his own culture? Did he wish to make some bold statements about religion and politics, including matters of social class, mores, and especially poverty? But then if so, why, at the points where he could have laid out exact political or religious issues in detail, did he leave them unsaid -- for the reader to guess at, perhaps? I wonder how this novel was received by the public in its time ... does anyone know? Vicki
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 01:06 AM Hi Vicki, welcome to CR/CC. I remember that Twilight Zone episode and as one who can't even see the big E, I identify, too. How about going up to Welcome to the Webboard and introducing yourself? Where are you, and what else have you been reading lately? Ruth
From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 08:51 AM Hi Vicki. I'm so glad you found us. We love new members and especially those who write as well as you do. I know that Hardy had one heck of a time getting this book published and revised his original manuscript over and over in order to meet moral standards for publication. With almost each edition, he changed one or another basic plot line. In fact, in one edition, the rape scene in the woods was entirely omitted and the reader only becomes aware of what occurred through a conversation between Tess and her mother, Joan. Its first printing consisted of only 1000 copies, which sold out immediately. saying to me that there had been quite a hoo-ha about it even prior to publication and that the first publisher underestimated the Victorian public's willingness to accept a more radical novel. Soon thereafter, 17,000 copies were printed. In some letters, Hardy stated that, with this book, he attempted to maintain a 'paradoxical morality,' that Tess was 'essentially pure--purer than many a so-called unsullied virgin.' I think there is no other way to take this than a confirmation that he was making some sort of statement against the tyranny of a judgmental Victorian morality. In fact he subtitled this book, 'A Pure Woman.' From what I've read, this book opened up heated debates at elite dinner parties across the country, some seeing Tess as a harlot, and others defending her as a violated innocent. Jody, I found some reference to Tess's sleep and how it seemed to be used as an 'entranceway' to a catastrophe. Some of the literary elan believe Hardy was alluding to the purity of Grimm's 'Sleeping Beauty,' who awakens with the prick of a thorn. And with this, Hardy attempts to instill in the reader a subconscious re-affirmation of Tess's purity. Vicki, once again, welcome to Constant Reader and I hope you'll join us for next month's Classic Corner discussion of D.H.Lawrence's 'The Virgin and the Gipsy.' In fact, here's a link to our discussion schedule for 2004. Beej
From: Dottie Randall Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 11:09 AM Welcome Vicki -- I've been reading the Tess thread as I have been reading Tess sporadically in an attempt to keep up here. Trouble is she lost me some way into the book and I've read a few other books instead. Your thoughts on Tess and some of those in opposition reminded me a great deal of The Quality of Life Report which I just finished last night -- well, in the wee hours of the morning actually. This innocent or wayward gloss -- we could lift it from Hardy and lay it over the lives of many folks over the centuries. This seems to me to be the meat of the tale of Tess. Hardy was struggling with those editors largely due to the societal expectations and outlooks of his time it would seem. The change being encouraged by the story -- widen your view, be a bit more forgiving of lifes ups and downs -- a person may well be an innocent who has fallen into the situations just as readily as a wayward or purposely rebellious nature flaunting the rules of any given time. Maybe that's too much of a stretch but that's what popped into my head. I think I'll pick Tess up and jump back in and finish it -- haven't read it since high school -- that's a long time ago. Dottie "The eyes of my eyes are opened." e.e.cummings
From: Candy Minx Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 01:52 PM (I changed my mind...I decided to read this after all) Why do we start out with this dad who finds out he might be part of a knightly family? Is this like the standard hero story that the hero is secretly a prince or of royal lineage? I wonder if the parson tells him to be cruel? He suggests all the father can do with it is think on "how the mighty have fallen" Its been a long time since I've read this, and I am curious to how I will take it now...I have seen a movie version on A&E last year and it was very good.... I seem to remember it was quite sympathetic to Tess, and I believe it suggested she was under the control of Alec...and I myself always thought of Tess as raped and a victim of her circumstances...and I am curious to see how I feel about her reading this this time around... It's weird with self help books and Dr. Phil and Oprah and motivational speakers etc to imagine a girl without a center of reference like we have all around us today....although I suppose she did have such things, and I seem to remember thinking Tess was a "good person" and moral and thoughtful...but I could have projected that a long time ago... we'll see... really enjoyed all the comments here so far and I have only just started so will catch up...
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 04:21 PM I finished this today, and don't know where to begin; there is so much to mine! But to begin with Tess: she is in many ways a lovable person, and drawn with great depth. However, I found her equally exasperating. She has such a knack for wrongheaded, impulsive action and she never seems to learn. And she is a real Hardyesque character: all over-wrought emotion. I had to keep reminding myself that she is very young: only about 22 at the end of the book. (At the same time, didn't people "grow up" a bit quicker back then?) Quite independent in some ways (the way she kept wandering away from her family to seek work surprised me) she is eager to have someone to depend on. And she is very generous. One of Hardy's themes is the inequity of social mores -- he often contrasts what is natural with society's strictures. This is seen so clearly in Angel: for all that he sees himself as a freethinker, he is profoundly influenced by middle-class society. He delights in Tess's aristocratic origins, he hangs on to a (patriarchal!) notion of unrecoverable purity. --------------SPOILER!--------------------- But I just didn't buy the ending. (Maybe I'm tiring of these dramatic Victorian deaths!) Hardy doesn't give us a hint of propensity toward violence in Tess before she stabs D'Urberville with a meat cleaver. And that she would justify it, in part, because Alec "lied to her" in telling her Angel would never come back is either ridiculous (will she NEVER learn that he is untrustworthy?) or incredibly cynical and dishonest of her (more accurate to say that, in the family's desperate straits, he was the only source of income). I figure Hardy wanted a big ending (all bang, no whimper, for him!) to emphasize how thoroughly the whole world has let his heroine down, but it seemed false to me. And every time Alec or Angel called Tess "my pretty," all I could think of was The Wizard of Oz! Mary Ellen
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 11:11 PM YES, Mary Ellen, that's it! Tess was exasperating! I wasn't so much angry at her as frustrated by what seemed to be her persistent gloominess and self-destructive drive -- made clear when Tess told her little brother they lived on a "blighted star." Thanks so much, Beej, for your response to my question, it was a big help to me. I do expect I'll keep reading the classics. I'm delighted to learn *everyone's* ideas here. Candy, I'm so glad you decided to read this book after all. I've been thinking about it, and I guess I've never been in a reading club before, so I've seldom had the pure pleasure of discussions like this except in classrooms a very long time ago. I guess I really should cut Tess more slack. I'm watching Frontline right now on how the teenaged brain works -- maybe that will help me, since Tess was a teenager when all the seminal events take place. I'm not being facetious about that either. It could explain a LOT, including her constantly over-wrought emotional state you mentioned, Mary Ellen. I was disappointed that ALL Tess seemed to be interested in was her "love-life," as we'd call it now. I kept wishing she'd discover a talent she had for some art or occupation and find a better balance in her life through that. This focus also seemed to me to produce a number of awkward, "forced" scenes and thus the entire story tended to ring a bit false, as Mary Ellen said of Tess's murder of Alec. I thought the couple's stumbling upon Stonehenge of all places for that penultimate scene was a bit much, too. Part of me thinks that if I could just go through and "correct" a few significant logical flaws that disturbed me and modify a couple of plot twists slightly, I would be much happier with Tess's story. And believe it or not, I can't remember ever thinking that about ANY classic I've read... Vicki
From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, March 04, 2004 11:28 PM You're most welcome, Vicki! Mary Ellen, you made some really good points. She was exasperating just the way my teen daughter can be, for sure! But also, Tess was so manipulated by just about everyone. I can't think of anyone close to her who thought of Tess's well being. It was always what Tess could do for everyone else. Beej
From: Candy Minx Date: Friday, March 05, 2004 10:26 AM Hmm... Um, is it me...or does a morality in this story seem to be about drinking? I just looked up alcohol and Hardy...but it doesn't seem that he was against it or anything. In fact there is a beer web site for him. In the beginning the father is stumbling and walking crooked. He is not said to be drunk, but he is likely been drinking, and that is why Tess is embarrassed whenat May Day and he rides a carriage home. I think the pastor does tell him about his ancient family because he is judging him on being a drunk. I was a bit turned off by the parents being at the pub and the kids faring for themselves. Tess was definately fed up. Now I am not trying to get all politically correct here or anything...but what I did feel was surprise that Hardy seemed so wise about the effects ona family with alcohol and here is a typical MODERN Oprah situation of teens being left alone by over working or over drinking parents and trouble coming to them. Here is an interesting site, and I thought kind of funny because someone is acting as Hardy and answering questions... I am afraid I don't feel Alec is a gentleman at all. Booze or no booze, rape or no is WRONG to have sex with a child OR A WOMAN when they are asleep and strangers. I don't think in any "times" this was acceptable or proper or gentlmanly. It is rape today, and it was rape a hundred years ago, and probably a thousand years ago. "She had an attribute which amounted to a disadvantage just now; and it was this that caused Alec d'Urberville's eyes to rivet themselves upon her. It was a luxurience of aspect, a fullness of growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was."
From: Candy Minx Date: Friday, March 05, 2004 10:40 AM Sorry, I have a couple of thoughts, and am trying to sort them out... I also do think that Tess was responsible for some of her own troubles, I am not trying to give her too much slack...I simply can not give Alec any credit. I think he is scum. Early in the book I think a strange tone is set and I was struck by these thoughts and this passage: "The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain. Many however, linger only for a metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or club walking, as it was there called. It was an interesting event to the younger inhabitants of Marlott, though its real interest was not observed by the participators in the ceremony. Its singularity lay less in the retention of a custom of walking in procession and dancing on each anniversary than in the members being soley women. In mens clubs such celebrations were, although expiring, less uncommon; but either the natural shyness of the softer sex, or a sarcastic attitude on the part of male relatives, had denuded such womens clubs as remained(if any other did) of this their glory and consummation.The club of Marloot alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia. It had walked for hundreds of years, if not as benefit-club, as votive sisterhood of some sort, and it walked still." I am not sure why this stood out to me, but it seemed to give me the feeling that this was again like a fairy tale...the idea that the family was royal blood or from knights...Tess being a princess and then this pagan feeling of the forest and its power still even after being rejected for the most part. I was surprised again at the modern feeling of Hardys observations about mens sarcasm towards womens activities.
From: Candy Minx Date: Friday, March 05, 2004 10:41 AM About the ending and Stonehenge...I always liked this...and it feeds into the idea of a princess hero and the ancient allusions to fairy tales and magic woven into this novel. and that magic can't help us anymore...its been rejected by modern life and thinking...I sort of think hardy may be sad about that. Perhaps there is a feeling that the world was safer for women with values and ancient beliefs rather than money, lineage, the family is morally bankrupt as well as finacially...
From: Candy Minx Date: Friday, March 05, 2004 11:54 AM Oh geez, forgive me for manic multi-posting here...this always happens to me in classics discussions... I decided if all else fails, read the instructions heh heh... So here is something from the intro in my penguin edition by Alvarez "In a way, the tragedy of Tess, A Pure Woamn is also the tragedy of the old, pure Wessex from which she comes. Both are corrupted and betrayed by the modern world in its various aspects:Tess by Alec's parvenu hunger and Angel's narrow icyenlightenment; the contryside and its customs by the relentless encroachment of the new society with its railways, its indifference, its new rich families taking over the old names, and building their hideous new mansions, its gradual industrialization of the old methods of agriculture, typified by the demonic threshing-machine on which Tess is tortured. Throughout the book both Tess and Wessex are falling, falling and betrayed, and Hardy brings to both of them an equal, plagent tenderness. 'The sun, on account of the mist, had a curious sentient, personal look'. So, in varying degrees, does every other detail in the book. The countryside, its customs and superstitions, are as doomed as Tess, and the way in which Hardy brings them all vividly to life and mourns their loss enriches Tess's tragedy and makes it even more poignant."
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, March 05, 2004 08:35 PM One of the things I like best in Tess -- and in Hardy in general -- is the poignant portrayal of the end of a way of rural life (this absorbed Eliot, too, right? esp. in Middlemarch?) The afterword to the edition I read -- don't have it with me, so I have to give the attribution later -- brought out an interesting aspect of change as shown in this book, in this case the move from an era of faith to a post-Christian era. The author pointed to the curious circumstances of Alec's "conversion," then "de-conversion." He is converted by the elder Rev. Clare, and then turned from that belief by the words of Angel Clare (as parroted by Tess). (The irony of that, leading as it does to Tess's ultimate doom, is really something.) Anyway, this commentator saw in these three: Rev. Clare, Angel, and Alec, three phases of movement from faith to un-faith. The Rev. Clare, of course is a man fully immersed in the world of Christian faith. Angel, having been steeped in that world, retains some of its moral sense after he abandons its dogmas (not that he couldn't be cruel -- to both Tess and poor Izzy! -- but he wanted to be ethical and just). Alec, who had no grounding in morality, returns to something of a Hobbesian state once he rejects Rev. Clare's teachings. He is out for himself, pure and simple. Now, from other parts of the book it seems pretty obvious to me that Hardy is no fan of religion, organized or otherwise. But he may be saying that it has its uses, if no other than to reign in someone like Alec. At the same time, Angel's sense of morality -- double-standarded as it was -- made him reject poor Tess. So Hardy gives a rather messy, therefore, perhaps honest, picture of a complex issue! Candi--I love the enthusiasm of the multiple posts!! Keep 'em coming! Mary Ellen
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 05, 2004 09:51 PM Candy, I absolutely agree with you that Alec was putrid pond slime. I can't believe she went back to him, I don't care that he convinced her Angel was gone for good. He made my skin crawl. But Angel LOVED Tess! How hypocritical that he would judge her the way he did and abandon her. He totally ticked me off! Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Candy Minx Date: Saturday, March 06, 2004 03:17 PM Angel well, haven't dealt with that now have I? whatever I feel about Alec, triple it for Angel...even though I know its true to this day about that double standard... And I think it has to do with Tess beauty and her physical maturity...we do this with girls today too. We think she is OLDER than she is...therefore she should have been able to escape Alec according to Angel, he sees her as complicity. I am glad someone, Mary Ellen Peggy? said about the mind of a teenager. I washorrified about the horse accident and the only reason Tess was taking the cart with hives was because her dad was a drunk. You know, I never noticed half the stuff I am now seeing in this novel...I was so involved with the sad stuff and drama of the novel before...and movies only can show that too... Because how does one portray the poetic...the loss of imagination is how I see the idea of "faith" and christianity. We are constantly hearing about old and fading superstitions and folk songs in this novel, notice that? Hardy I believe sees the loss of faith and the achievement of reason/enlightenment intellectualism as making people lose a bitof their soul and morality. for some I mean SOME theere has allways been if no faith or god...then what I do is only accountable to me. Its a classic thing, if there is no soul, or god...for people like Alec, or Hitler or Jeffery Daumer they can live by this idea of superman...the false side of it...they are immune to the laws of morality. It is FOLLY and a dreadful mistake in logic to separate god and nature or the supernatural and the material. They are aligned, and with out the heart of things and the study of the natural, well we can create half people like Alec and Angel. Tess really is the full human in this book, and we don't have to like her. She may even be a ninnie or silly or make "bad decisions" its true... She is kind always. And she is open and sensitive always. She is completely alive. And she is used by people who recognize that she is vulnerable.
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Saturday, March 06, 2004 07:21 PM I'm still plugging away (on tape 8 of 12), but have come to the conclusion that Angel Claire is a bigger asshat than Alec D'Urbervilles and Henleigh Grandcourt combined....
From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, March 06, 2004 07:39 PM Asshat! I love it. R
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, March 07, 2004 09:02 PM Asshat..for sure, but I don't think he was intentionally an asshat. He simply came to it naturally. I think Angel lived in a la-la land of idealistic fantasy. The reality of Tess's past just did not jive with the ideals of his fantasy future. His biggest fear was that someone would find out about Tess. He was big on what other people thought of his perfect little world. We all know that this was not uncommon for the genteel of that era. Their reality was all tied up in the judgement of society. They really knew little about reality..and by that, I mean the reality of hunger or keeping a roof over their heads..or how the death of one horse could bring an entire family to their knees. Hardy hated this. I read somewhere that he fit neither in the upper class nor the lower and, straddling the fences of society, was able to view the realities of both. I think he hoped 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' would serve as a mover and a shaker. He wrote in his preface to the fifth edition of 'Tess,' 1892: "So densely is the world thronged that any shifting of positions, even the best warranted advance, hurts somebody's heels. Such shiftings often begin in sentiment, and such sentiment sometimes begins in a novel." Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, March 07, 2004 09:08 PM Oh, and to differentiate between Alec and Angel..I think Alec was intentionally an asshat. (Peggy, what a wonderful little word..I plan on using it often.) Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, March 08, 2004 07:49 AM In the introduction to my edition, Robert Heilman makes an interesting point: "Tess can be partly its embodiment of a modern plot of almost mythical dimensions. The attractive servant pursued by the lustful master was the plot of one of the first important English novels, Richardson's Pamela (1740). Richardson's subtitle, Virtue Rewarded, suggests an illuminating contrast: Pamela resists seduction and secures marriage with her would-be seducer. Hardy believes that "virtue" has a tougher row to hoe. In fact, one of Hardy's basic ironies (and one of the causes of shock and resentment in readers of his own day) is that the firmer an individual's adherence to principle, the greater his liabilities in the world (emphasis mine). After Richardson, the story of the seducer and his victim went on to become hackneyed material in the theater and fiction of the nineteenth century. If we keep this in mind we can appreciate Hardy more fully. For he broke sharply from the clichés of the seduction plot, principally by making his three major characters such substantial human beings that they do not lead us into automatic responses." After I read this section, I appreciated the story more. I tend to judge classic literature with my jaded eye, and knowing a little of the place a particular piece has in the history of literature helps me evaluate my reaction. Looking at the story from the viewpoint of the section I made bold made me realize why Hardy was disgusted with his society's reaction to his work, and why he quit writing novels for the last 33 years of his life. It is really interesting that by doing the "right" thing (as far as society was concerned) both Tess and Angel really screwed things up for themselves. Sherry
From: Candy Minx Date: Monday, March 08, 2004 12:37 PM Boy, oh great thanks a lot Sherry!!! I mean that emphasized sentence is going to have me thinking in circles all day, and mulling. Thats heavy. Ouch.
From: Candy Minx Date: Monday, March 08, 2004 12:38 PM Asshat is hilarious.
From: Asa Randolph Date: Monday, March 08, 2004 02:13 PM Two asshats in one lifetime is enough. I feel much sympathy for Tess. (and Hardy, poor soul)
From: Asa Randolph Date: Monday, March 08, 2004 02:14 PM Two asshats in one lifetime is enough. I feel much sympathy for Tess. (and Hardy, poor soul)
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 03:00 AM Hi all ... I'm back after a long weekend out "overdoing it" in gorgeous spring weather, and now that I've caught up here I just can't tell you how much this discussion of Tess has made me ENJOY the book more than I would have otherwise! I especially loved Dottie's summary, and in truth the insights and observations ALL of you offer help me recall why classics are so wonderful to discuss. So let's see. Hardy tells us that Tess is "mentally older" than her childlike mother. He also makes it clear that Tess is physically developed for her age as well as quite pretty -- though I didn't think he gave the sexy and beautiful aspects much emphasis at first. It's only well into the story that we realize nearly every male who sees or gets downwind of Tess *wants* her. But perhaps her intelligence and accustomed position of responsibility caused me to expect too much of her. Or that may have had more to do with my simply wishing so hard that she'd choose differently than she did at some key moments. Oh, and you all remember I said my life early on was so much LIKE Tess's? Well, I got pregnant in 1968 by a soldier on his way to Vietnam who promptly forgot me. After bonding deeply with my daughter for six weeks after she was born, I then lost her forever because I finally let my family pressure me into allowing my cousin and his wife to adopt her, so as to "give her a good home." Nothing can cement a young woman's low estimation of herself like believing she can NOT -- because *she* is no good -- provide a "good home" for her child she loves. But then I married two years later, and my husband would not even let me tell his parents that I'd ever HAD a child! The thing is, after that catastrophic start, I had to battle not only the views society had of me but also my lack of self-respect. At the age of 18, I was already "damaged goods." Where does a woman go from there? I think this was Tess's central problem as well, so I understood her quandary and her constant anticipation of doom. I also saw her doing something else I did -- "trying too hard." Like someone on a highwire, or attempting to cook a perfect meal, it can lead to disaster instead of perfection. Clearly I agree with those who saw the classic story of Tess as one that could as easily be found in other times, including present ones. I also appreciated your assessments here of Hardy's views on religion. He seems to see all angles of it and to be both frustrated with and yet understanding of his society's views -- and many people's indecision. Note that it was a parson, too, who started the whole tragedy rolling by telling Tess's father of his family line. One thing Hardy "gets" really well is GUILT, and how our sense of it affects the choices we all make. If Angel hadn't been so conflicted by the guilt he felt (in retrospect) for having ignored Tess's warning him away from her, realizing that the whole situation was really HIS fault, not hers, he might have handled it better. Alec D'Urberville, for all his selfishness, also felt guilty when he learned that he'd got Tess pregnant. He still behaved badly in his efforts to "help" after he learns what she went through, though, because he's such a natural-born asshat. *G* Angel agonized and had to work at it harder to be one! Tess was indeed always kind and had other winning qualities. I think we all feel tender and protective toward one who is vulnerable. If there's one lesson in the story that impresses upon me most, other than to ease our judgments of others, it's to ease up on ourselves as well! I had on my favorite T-shirt today when I was out and about, and it drew friendly comments as it always does. It's plain navy blue but on the back says in white simply JUDGE NOT. Good lesson! I'm wondering what you all think of the denoument, where Angel has apparently seen fit to honor Tess's wish that he partner up with her sister? Is that simply the final irony? Vicki
From: Candy Minx Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 11:15 AM Sheesh Vicki, that was incredibly generous of you to share with us some of your personal life...and very vulnerable aspects of your personal life. I am torn between discussing you and discussing Tess!!! (For example...did you ever hear any more about that soldier? Has your biological child grown up to be happy and enjoy life? well etc etc) Thanks for bringing such an intense energy into the I must take a breath and see if I can risk being a dullard and go back to
From: Candy Minx Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 11:31 AM Um, earlier Beej had said how sleep happens often before something huge in the action happens, like Tess falls asleep then the horse gets killed, or she falls asleep and the Alec either seduces her, or rapes her(depending how one thinks of such circumstances.) I think it is a metaphor for being asleep philosophically...peoples problems come on them because they are spiritually/socially/physically asleep. When Tess leaves Alec to go home, she runs into a graffiti artist. The first sign we hear of him painting is: Thy damnation slumbereth not 2 PET.ii 3. On a slightly different note, one of my customers saw I was reading Tess, and said there was a passage that really hit them long ago when they read it...and I just came to it... "She philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of the year; the disastrous night of her undoing at Trantridge with its dark background of The Chase; also the dates of her baby's birth and death; also her own birthday; and every other day individualized by incidents in which she had taken some share. She suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lau sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it;but not the less surely there. When was it? Why did she not feel the chill of each yearly encounter with such a cold relation? she had Jeremy Taylors thought that some time in the future those who had known her would say:'It is the day that poor Tess Durbeyfeild died'; and there would be nothing singular to their minds in the statement. Of that day, doomed to be her terminus in time through all the ages, she did not know the place in month, week, season, or year." (chapter 15)
From: Candy Minx Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 11:33 AM Asa wrote: Two asshats in one lifetime is enough. I feel much sympathy for Tess. (and Hardy, poor soul) I was thinking poor Hardy as you think he knew a Tess? Loved one? It must have been difficult to make a character suffer so, and then punish her and then kill her off...
From: Asa Randolph Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 04:08 PM I think he WAS Tess. So full of guilt and such a pessimist.
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 05:29 PM Candy, after that business where my husband (long since an ex) would not let me tell his parents I'd had a child and I saw how truly that made me a *different person* to them, NOT the real me, I have talked freely about myself all my life. I never mind answering questions -- it's so much easier to have no secrets (as Tess learned) and be sure those I meet don't have any illusions about me. Besides ... I DID meet that soldier again -- 30 years later! -- when our daughter finally got curious about her nationality on his side and phoned me for the first time. She said people were always asking her if she had Indian blood (Native American, being in Oklahoma), and she didn't know. Yep, that was from her biodad. Even though he'd told me what I call the "vasectomy myth" (lie), I had loved Joe dearly and decided to keep as much of him in my memory as I could and not harbor bad feelings, just in case our child ever did contact me and want to know about him. I never got to meet her but we talked on the phone and in email a fair bit over the course of three years. Straight away when she first called she asked about him, and I told her his name and everything I remembered about him. She searched for him and located him in three days! Turned out he lived in Arkansas, a five-hour drive from me, though he'd been a California boy when I knew him during the war, stationed at Ft. Sill near where I lived. His parents had moved to CA from AR when he was 13 and he moved back after 40 years. WELL, Mindy not only located him, she promptly rang him up and told him who she was! I told her she was lucky the poor old fart didn't have a heart attack! *G* He was dubious, since he didn't remember me at first (combat can do that to a man); but like me, he could hear his own voice in hers. He wanted to talk to ME, so she called me back and gave me his email addy and phone number. I had a stiff drink and phoned him. It was the strangest situation! I was so thrilled to have learned simply that he had *survived* the war, it made me sort of giddy. I'd gone to the Moving Wall Vietnam Memorial when it was in Tulsa in the '80's, and because I have loved ALL the VN vets so much all these years, my knees nearly folded as I approached. Joe's name wasn't on the Wall, but I well knew that was no guarantee he'd lived through the war. Hearing his voice and personality booming through the phone after all those years was amazing. We'd had a powerful "chemistry" back in '68 and it was still there! Of course, being an incurable romantic (again like Tess), I had dreams of a "perfect ending" to my story at that point. We were both single, and he insisted on driving up to meet me immediately. He was at my door less than 24 hours from learning he had another daughter. His only other child was a daughter named Julie I knew he had in 1968; she'd been six then and he'd shown me her picture he carried though he was already divorced from her mom then. Joe is six years older than me. He went through his fifth divorce two years before we met again in '98, and Julie had died about that same time of an infection resulting from minor surgery on her neck. Joe had never felt he'd been a good dad to her and he was still grieving. You can imagine what he thought when OUR daughter contacted him out of the blue ... dreams about a second chance and all that. But she was never willing to meet either of us, no matter how hard he tried. I, on the other hand, was only too eager to see HIM again. Joe is the kind of man who is "larger than life," and though he's a bit of a scoundrel, he's no Alec D'Urberville. He is very bright, self-confident to the point of arrogance in the way of an extremely handsome man; he was 6'6" and thin when I knew him before but after 13 helicopter crashes he'd lost over an inch in height. He was a doorgunner for his tour of duty in Vietnam and had a very busy war in '68 of course, serving in two Assault Helicopter Companies in gunships, near Cu Chi and Tay Ninh. Here's a photo of him on the 187th AHC Website, posed with one of the "birds" he crashed in. The only difference in him there from when I sent him off to war was the mustache. When he drove up to Tulsa, he brought me tons of photos from Nam, including one of his "office floor" in the Huey after a flight, ankle-deep with M-60 shell casings... astonishing. And here's a shot of him in '98 when I met him again. Still typically Joe, but with PTSD out the wazoo from several particularly bad "stressors" in combat, so he's a bit scary to be around. I fell for him all over again of course, and we had another two-month whirlwind passionate affair, like a rerun of 30 years before! Turned out I was a bit too intense for HIM, though, and he backed off -- at which point I "lost him all over again" which triggered a sense of losing Mindy all over again too, and I had a pretty dramatic emotional breakdown alongside the highway in the driving rain. It was really just the culmination of all those years with a broken heart and no therapy. I promptly GOT some therapy at last, and it did a tremendous lot of good, especially since I'd been a survivor of an abusive father to begin with. So I'm doing very well, and Mindy is happy, too, yes. It meant everything to me that she *thanked me* in her first phone call for having given her such a good family (she has two brothers just older than her, they are biological kids of her adoptive parents). She says she had a "Beaver Cleaver family," but she also told me in that first call that she was gay, so I can't quite see that one. *G* She's a musician like me and animal crazy like me -- in fact she works as a veterinary assistant and is still in schooling for that so she might become a vet some day yet. That was my tied-for-first choice for a career when I was young -- tied with writer. But on the other hand Mindy is also a lot like her biodad. She turned out to be spoiled rotten, selfish, and even cruel, at least to me, and her only interest in me or Joe was for HER purposes. She had no compassion whatsoever for me during what she began putting me through when she called, and I finally had to break off contact after she'd jerked my chain for three years. She made and broke promises to meet me for lunch -- just stood me up without apology. She was "too busy" to even have a decent concern for me, much as I hated to admit I could see that in her. I took whatever she dished out for those three years and then realized I was letting her devastate my life. Once I broke off contact and continued in therapy with a great shrink I found, everything came together and I've healed well from my entire long history of trama-drama. I have always had an irrepressible personality and vigor much like Joe's anyway, and even in my most melancholy times I've had a zest for life that just won't stop. Thus the Alaska adventures, the affair with B.F. Skinner, the cross-country bicycling and motorcycling, swimming across lakes, saddle-tramping wherever my wandering star took me, always with a beloved dog in tow. And many thrilling romantic involvements over the years, ahhh YES. I've had so much fulfillment and joy in life right beside the sorrows, which may be the biggest difference in Tess and me. All the references to *sleep* being discussed here ... seems so UNlike my story although maybe as an analogy to how events can blindside us, humm, I'm not sure. Hardy certainly used sleep a great deal all right -- it's amazing how much! Remember when Alec was trying to persuade Tess to come be with him toward the end, and he would actually *shake* her by the shoulders? It was almost like Tess sleep-walked through her life and thus never took control of it. To her disastrous end. It was way too late when she uncharacteristically knifed Alec and fled to Angel's arms for that scant week of bliss. At least then she was *fully* alive, rather than savoring her dreams of a fulfilling life in her thoughts only. That passage Candy quoted was one that really got to me, too -- the one about Tess pondering how she lived on unaware of when the anniversary date of her death would be. And I thought "poor Hardy" as well, even when I was angry at him. I felt he *must* have known someone like Tess and realized how much he could put into telling a story like hers. Heaven knows my own story was enough for a book, and I wrote one about it! Trust me, you've heard here only the barest outline of it, even the Vietnam/Mindy/Joe part. Someday I'll tell you all about the time I spent in prison... *G* Vicki
From: Candy Minx Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 05:37 PM Oh my lord. You gotta go on Oprah or something. What a hoot. Wow, that Joe is really something. There has to be some kind of movie there... I can not wait to read your book, and hear about prison.
From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 10:25 PM 'When Tess leaves Alec to go home, she runs into a graffiti artist. The first sign we hear of him painting is: Thy damnation slumbereth not 2 PET.ii 3.' Candy, I didn't even pick up on that! Wow. Do you think Tess had gone insane when Angel returned and she killed Alec? What's sad is that if her father had never heard that he was a d'Urberville, she would have never met Alec and none of the terrible things would have happened. Maybe what damned her was that name. Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2004 01:04 PM Beej -- I can't help thinking that, even without Alec, Tess would not have had an easy life. ------------------SPOILER!----------------- Did anyone else think that Tess' sudden turn to violence was a bit too uncharacteristic? Hardy intimates that she lost it when Alec teased her about Angel, just after she learned he had, in fact, come back to her. But I found it hard to believe. (Right up there with the weird sleepwalking scene...) Mary Ellen
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2004 01:09 PM Easy life? No. I don't think any of her class had an easy life. But I doubt she would have met with the all this devastation. The murder of Alec was out of character, I agree. But I think she had gone insane in that moment when she saw Angel. It was the final devastation. Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2004 01:21 PM I found the sleepwalking scene a bit hard to take, too. I just don't understand its inclusion, except to let us know Angel really did love her. But I think that could have been expressed in more acceptable manner. Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Candy Minx Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2004 04:02 PM Maybe the sleep walking scene had something to do with the repetitive theme of sleep? I too think her life would still have been difficult. If anyone here remembers The French Lieutenants Woman...the only resolution for the heroine was that she go far away and alone without a man...there are a couple of endings to the novel...but the "happy" ending is the heroine being away from men...pursuing her career. The novel has a self conscious refence to Hardy, may even mention Hardy.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, March 11, 2004 08:01 AM I think her sleepwalking scene was more a foreshadowing of her upcoming death than anything else. It was creepy. Here Angel is, carrying her to her coffin. And her passivity in just letting him do it. She just laid in his arms and let him lay her down in a coffin. Like she thought she deserved it. I thought her killing Alec was very out of character, and it seem like Hardy put that in there so he would have a good reason to kill her off. I knew she was doomed (well, everybody said so), so I kept waiting for something to happen to her. I thought she would do herself in--she seemed suicidal on a couple of occasions--but I think Hardy wanted a more passive death for her. One of the things that made me angry at the book was how willing Angel was to accept murder in a person, but not rape. Seemed a little skewed. Sherry
From: Candy Minx Date: Thursday, March 11, 2004 08:59 AM On 3/11/2004 8:01:00 AM, Sherry Keller wrote: >I think her sleepwalking scene >was more a foreshadowing of >her upcoming death than >anything else. It was creepy. >Here Angel is, carrying her to >her coffin. And her passivity >in just letting him do it. She >just laid in his arms and let >him lay her down in a coffin. >Like she thought she deserved >it. Maybe this is why sleep is so important to Hardy in this novel:she didn't do anything and like she thought she deserved it. Maybe some of this novel is asking are we fated, so we might as well be asleep...or do we have some control, choice and we should wake up...and not sleep walk through life? >One of the things that made me >angry at the book was how >willing Angel was to accept >murder in a person, but not >rape. Seemed a little skewed. >Sherry See now, that made me angry too...but because it seemed like a lesson. Murder is forgiven more than sex.
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Thursday, March 11, 2004 04:24 PM Finally finished -- I don't think I've ever spent more time "talking back" to a recorded book in my entire life. I do think that this might be the best "read" I've read with CC. I can't believe how engrossed I became with Tess and her traumas, how I was both infuriated by her, and stressed out over her predicaments. I usually only listen to BoT in the car, but wound up bringing this inside so I could finish it on my Walkman. I was that worried about what was going to happen to poor Tess. Fortunately, I was sufficiently spoiled to know that it didn't end happily, though I was still surprised when she offed ol' Alec (doing what Gwendolyn Hardcourt could not). I was surprised by the violence of her act, but not enough to doubt it, and believe she had pretty much lost her mind by the time she caught up with Angel. If anyone was under enough pressure to get "pushed 'round the bend," it was our Tess. And while Alec made an valiant effort toward the end of the book to catch up with Angel in the "Leading Male Asshat" category (my apologies, btw, if that term offends), I still hold Angel more responsible. I knew he wasn't going to take the news of her past well, but figured it would eat at him gradually and force a split. When he abandoned her so cruelly -- especially after he himself admitted to worse -- I was rooting for her to chase after him and beat him to death with a shovel. Alec was a cad by nature, and made no bones about it. Even in his evangelical guise, he didn't pretend to be a good man. Angel, on the other hand, was all about what's good and right, and deserved to be beat to death with a shovel for his gaping hypocrisy. It's interesting to read that the novel was revised several times. There were some dropped threads toward the end, on the bleak farm where she toiled when Alec found her again. The two scary women from the beginning of the book turned up, but nothing ever came of it. And that mean farmer vanished as well -- I was expecting him to turn up again and prosecute her for deserting the farm before the end of her contract. Now -- did anyone else think our pal Alec had a hand in Tess and her family losing their lodgings after they were evicted from Marlott? Peggy
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, March 12, 2004 08:19 AM It occurred to me, Peggy, but Hardy made such a big effort in explaining the lease laws of the time, that I doubt it. Weren't those laws terrible? I had never heard of those before. I really enjoyed your take on the book. I agree that I think Angel was worse because he was supposed to be best. Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 12, 2004 09:04 AM Sherry, great post (#51) and fantastic insights. I agree with you that the sleepwalking scenario was a foreshadowing of Tess's death. In fact, as in the dream, it really was Angel who brought her to her coffin. I think that entire stonehenge scene was a sort of replay of that sleepwalking scene, too. Peggy, I totally agree with you, too, that Angel was the worse of the two men. Alec was a slime but he never pretended to be anything else. Angel cared more about what others thought of him than he cared about Tess. He thought he was too good for her. Idiot. I just wanted to shake Tess every time she defended Angel. Her name should have been changed to Tess of the D'oormats. Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Saturday, March 13, 2004 11:29 AM >> I just wanted to shake Tess every time she defended Angel. Her name should have been changed to Tess of the D'oormats. << *G* Yes, Beej, I felt the same way! Hardy took pains to show us that Tess had some genuine spunk and a strong will, yet when it came to Angel (and in truth Alec before her), she just didn't seem to find that fire in her soul making its way into her speech and more importantly then translating into ACTION. This also reminded me a lot of myself, in the past at least, when I'd "do anything for love" and was more intimidated by men than you'd dream by hearing me talk now. Again I would say Tess focused entirely too much for her own good on her love life -- though understandably for a young girl and especially in those times. On the sleepwalking scene ... I was a sleepwalker in my childhood and on into my teens. My mom used to worry about where she would find me every morning! I have learned since that sleepwalking is considered a very strong indicator of an emotionally disturbed person. That fit me, for sure, and I think it fits Angel too. He had so much angst about what to believe in, yet he reverted to a very judgmental stance on Tess the moment he found out her secret and then he agonized over it far away from her for way too long afterward. I even thought of Hamlet several times in this book, since all the main characters seemed to have a great deal of trouble making up their minds and resolving situations. Another thing: sleepwalking people virtually never go outdoors. I never did, although Mom worried that I would. For Angel to have not only gone outdoors but carried Tess across a creek and put her in the stone coffin seemed just beyond belief to me. How could one carry another person, walk across fields, and wade through water without waking up?? And then to retrace those actions back to the house as well? I think if I had been Tess I would have waked up Angel when I saw he was about to put me in the coffin! Vicki
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, March 13, 2004 04:40 PM I finished Tess Thursday and finally got a chance today to read all of these very insightful notes. This is my first book of Hardy's and I was surprised at how easy it was to read. Other books written during this period tend to be more verbally dense, lots of words to say what would be said in a few in this century. However, with a few exceptions, most of Hardy's prose absolutely flies. My feeling about Tess throughout the book was that Hardy may have the same problem with female characters that I find in Dickens. She was simply too good. This image of the beautiful young girl, seemingly bursting in unconscious sexuality, with saint-like qualities seemed very two-dimensional. Angel and Alec were both layered and complex, in contrast. Did anyone else have this reaction? I hadn't grasped the fact that the father's discovery of the D'Uberville family connection began the chain of events that eventually led to Tess's death until someone mentioned it here. In a sense, Tess' father and mother were reaching back for deliverance to a system that was dying. And, it poisoned them as well. Do you think that is part of Hardy's point? Barb
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, March 14, 2004 10:52 AM I've been reading my introduction to the novel this morning. It's the Modern Library Classics edition and the forward is written by James Wood. He addresses many of the issues that puzzle me, but particularly the concern about Tess' character that I spoke of in the previous message. The following paragraph was among the most interesting to me: So Tess is in many ways a puzzle: one of the great novelistic characters, but one who is somewhat deprived of characterization by her creator; an individual, but one without much interiority. Partly, this deprivation has to do with the fact that Tess is uneducated, but more acutely it has to do with the fact that she is a victim, a woman acted upon, more sinned against than sinning, one who has a "coarse pattern" laid over her "beautiful feminine tissue" (the phrase used to describe Alec's seduction). Tess is an individual, of course, but she is also, Hardy emphasizes, part of Nature. Her appeal against the moralism of society, a moralism that would apparently condemn her for something of which she is blameless, is not merely internal but made to Nature. Hardy stresses, repeatedly, that her behavior (with Alec) was in consort with Nature; it is Victorian society that is discordant with the world. More than any of the other heroines mentioned (see below), she belongs to a landscape (think, by contrast, how Austen's women merely go for walks in it) and the novel's most beautiful passages evoke both the landscape and Tess, and unite them, so that they become emanations of poetry. In the rest of the article, Wood compares Tess briefly to Austen's Anne Elliot and Fanny Price; George Eliot's Dorothea Booke and Gwendolen Harleth; James's Isabel ARcher; Tolstoy's Anna Karenina; Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The idea of getting so little of the interior of Tess being due to her being a victim doesn't appeal to me. However, thinking of her as being akin to nature and therefore a symbol of the clash between Victorian thought and natural science fits better. Some of those scenes when she was a milkmaid were absolutely ethereal. I remember this Nature vs. society issue being touched upon in your previous notes. But, do you think it explains Tess' lack of texture? And, have you ever heard the word "interiority" used before? Barb
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, March 14, 2004 11:26 AM Barb, what a thought provoking passage! Thank you for sharing it with us. That quote makes me see Tess in another light; perhaps, as part of nature and as a metaphor for Nature itself, coupled with her lack of dimension, she is meant to be less the central protagonist than the flat circular hub of the wheel around which the other characters rotate. Had Hardy added that extra dimension to her character, the focus would have fallen more on her emotions than it would have fallen on the negative personalities, actions and beliefs of a judgmental Victorian Society which not only allowed but also accepted the behavior expressed by Alec and Angel. Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, March 14, 2004 11:30 AM I think too, one of the reasons we come away so upset with Angel is that we were led to believe he transcended the snobbery of the upper class. All he stood for seemed to say to us that he had shunned all of that. But when push came to shove, we find out he, too, was a prisoner of social judgment. I think he hated that, too. I think he might have desperately wanted to free himself of that. But it was an incarceration from which he was unable to escape. Beej "I feel sorry when I come to the last page. I want to crawl in between those black lines of print the way you crawl through a fence." Sylvia Plath.
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004 02:19 PM Beej, don't you think he'd escaped it, somewhat, by the end of the book? Mary Ellen
From: Barbara Moors Date: Thursday, March 18, 2004 06:50 PM Beej, I think you may be right about Tess being the hub around which other characters revolved. Isn't there a word for a chemical element that causes change but isn't changed itself (it's been a long time since high school chemistry)? It would explain some of the characterization. Mary Ellen, I wondered if Angel was greatly changed in the end. I think he certainly learned about Tess, but do you think it changed his essential orientation toward others? One other question that I've wondered about...Hardy seemed to have a lot of sympathy for the poor and conveyed a sense of how difficult it was for them to move out of their position. However, Tess' parents were incredibly unsympathetic. He seemed to be saying that their poverty was directly related to their own lack of hard work, particularly in the father's case. What did you all think about that? Barb
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, March 18, 2004 07:38 PM Catalyst. R
From: Barbara Moors Date: Friday, March 19, 2004 07:44 AM Ah yes, thank you, Ruth! I should have known that you would have the answer. Could Hardy have meant Tess to be a catalyst? Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, March 19, 2004 08:15 AM Her parents were portrayed with absolutely no sympathy. Maybe Hardy was good at being sympathetic to a class as a whole, but that didn't prevent him from judging individuals on their own merits (of which the Derbyfields had few). Tess may have been a catalyst, but she was also the thing that was affected, too. I found the time at the dairy absolutely charming and beautiful. It made me want to go out and sop up cream with a freshly-made biscuit. Sherry
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, March 19, 2004 01:17 PM Barb, I don't know how completely Angel changed by the end of the book -- I don't think we see enough of him to know. He certainly changed his estimation of Tess. I don't know whether that was a result of a rejection of his former ideas about "purity" or just his desire to be with her. SPOILERS! I was a bit put off by the Angel-Liza Lu link at the end of the book. (Of course, part of this is because I thought her name was ridiculous. Why did Hardy give her a name so much sillier and more juvenile than everyone else's?) I understand that it is Tess' dying wish (more or less) that Angel replace her with her little sister. I'm not sure why that was so, whether to help the sister or help Angel. Anyway, what bothered me was that Hardy left Liza Lu such a cipher. By the end of the book she must be at least the age Tess was at the beginning. Did Hardy not give her much of a character so we could accept this "arranged marriage" at the end? (And arranged by someone who had such definite ideas about her own matching?) And did anyone else find Angel's surrender of Tess at Stonehenge strangely passive? And the behavior of the police--standing around waiting till Tess finished her nap --was pretty strange, too. That whole scene had a surreal quality that didn't fit with the rest of the book for me. Mary Ellen
From: Beej Connor Date: Saturday, March 20, 2004 03:15 PM Dang it, I can't find my copy of Tess right now, but didn't Angel change only because some man he respected made him feel ashamed for abandoning Tess? Beej
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, March 21, 2004 11:07 PM Mary Ellen, I thought that the Angel/Liza Lu pairing was odd too. I suppose that anything was preferable to what she would have had without him and maybe that was Tess's motivation for the request. However, it makes Liza Lu into a cardboard imitation of Tess. Can you imagine what that relationship would have been like? Why do you think the police officers would wait? Is the implication that they sympathized with her but had to do their duty in the end? People seemed to have been riveted by her looks. Maybe that was it. Once you brought attention to it, I didn't understand that scene either. At the time that I was reading it, I was so sad about Tess's end that I didn't really think about it. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, March 22, 2004 08:22 AM My reaction to the Angel-Liza Lu connection was pretty cynical. I thought, "Well now he has a replacement Tess without all the baggage. How nice for him." I suppose Hardy put it in to show how self-sacrificing Tess was, but we already knew that, didn't we? Seemed a bit much. Funny, how I get mad at authors for what they do to their characters. Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, March 22, 2004 08:34 AM I sort of felt bad for Liza Lu, too. It seems she had no say in the matter. Tess was gone so now it was her duty to sacrifice any say in her life in order to fulfill other's wishes. Beej
From: Candy Minx Date: Monday, March 22, 2004 11:21 AM On 3/22/2004 8:34:00 AM, Beej Connor wrote: >I sort of felt bad for Liza >Lu, too. It seems she had no >say in the matter. Tess was >gone so now it was her duty to >sacrifice any say in her life >in order to fulfill other's >wishes. > > >Beej So, in other words, her life has the same fate as Tess'? > > >
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Monday, March 22, 2004 01:25 PM I thought that Tess might be trying to save her younger sister from a life of poverty and drudgery, and that on some level Tess felt that this was a way of extending her relationship with him. And since Tess had such a worshipful attitude toward Angel (and, after all, every woman in Tess's world who met Angel fell in love with him), it would not occur to Tess that maybe he wouldn't be the man of Liza Lu's dreams. And who knows, maybe he is? I agree that this little twist was "too much." I think Hardy wanted to write that pathetic little scene of the 2 of them walking away from the town with its tower and its black flag, and this let him do it. Mary Ellen
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 09:15 AM I think too that Tess felt she was saving her mother and all her younger siblings from poverty. But also, I think she felt her sister would be good for Angel. Was it really that uncommon for a widow or widower to wed a sibling of their spouse's? I think this was a rather common practice, but maybe I'm wrong. Beej
From: Candy Minx Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 01:10 PM I was just about to say, that I thought it might be common for a widow or widower to marry a sibling-in-law... I didn't mind that Tess hooked them up. It made sense tome, and it implied that sense of hope of "second chance". I think Angel would have made a good partner by the time he and Liza-lu settled in to marriage. )I also think her name is cute, I like it heh heh).
From: Candy Minx Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 01:13 PM Um, I can't remember if I mentioned this or not earlier...but I have been thinking about John Fowles French Lieutenant's Woman...which is kind of a contemporary response to Tess. The novel has a few different endings...but the one that made the most sense to me was that the heroine can only get sorted out and a life when she leaves the men behind!
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 01:15 PM Candy, I think Liza-lu is a cute name too but that's because it makes me think of Lucy Liu (whom my son has a HUGEHUGEHUGE crush on.) Beej
From: Candy Minx Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 01:36 PM Heh heh. god, she's gorgeous though, huh? I love it when you can see her freckles!
From: Barbara Moors Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 06:33 PM You know, I think you may be right that this was a fairly common practice in those days. We are probably just applying contemporary values to it. Barb
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Thursday, March 25, 2004 12:32 PM This is fascinating. I've been away from my computer with my head buried in not just one but FOUR new books I've read in the last six days! And I am on another one now that I can barely stand to put down so I can check in and see how the Tess discussion is going. (Four smart thrillers and one unique romance, in case you're wondering -- and Candy, try Footsteps of God by Greg Iles. Wow.) What has happened to me is clear: Joining you folks at Constant Reader has given me a sudden powerful craving for reading! You can surely guess that this isn't the first "reading binge" I've been on in my life, though it's certainly the most clearcut in its beginning. Sooo ... after not thinking about Tess for awhile, I returned to see where the discussion had gone, and I love all your in-depth posts. You guys are really interesting in what you observe and feel about this book. (No surprise there!) Now I want to respond, but I'm splitting my post into two or three so it won't seem much like one long ramble. Every time I try to edit it down, I just end up thinking of more to say! I so well recall the book discussions in Dr. Turner's class 30 years ago ... I had him for both American and English novels classes in the same semester, and we students would be so viscerally engaged in talking with him about the books that when the bell rang there was an audible collective groan or sigh. We actually hated for class to be over! So we'd adjourn with our young teacher to the student union to carry on with the discussion over coffee. Makes me wish we could all be in the same room with drinks and snacks to have this talk of Tess. Does that sort of thing ever happen when this group has its annual get-togethers I wonder? Vicki
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Thursday, March 25, 2004 12:39 PM Regarding the police letting Tess sleep before they arrested her, my first reaction when I read this was that it was totally unrealistic. It's counter-intuitive to what we know about cops in any era, isn't it? But those lawmen must have known damn well that Tess was certain to be executed in short order once they nabbed her, so why shouldn't they let her have her bizarre little nap out? Perhaps her beauty did affect them too. But this was also just before dawn at Stonehenge, so maybe there was some sort of respectful awe on the part of all those present for that eerie and stirring slice of time, too, beyond its significance to Tess and Angel. I found some photos of Stonehenge just before and after sunrise on the vernal equinox during a ceremony last year -- that would be about six weeks before the "English May" when Tess and Angel were there, and It's positively surreal, all right! I don't know if it will appear here but it made chills run up my spine, imagining Tess lying on an altar slab there on a grey misty dawn. Angel's pairing with Liza-Lu at the end IS a bit troubling. I read this part again too and noted that Tess herself declared: "She had all the best of me without the bad of me; and if she were to become yours it would almost seem as if death had not divided us...." I'd say Tess was creating her own "perfect ending" since she had also told Angel she knew she had but a few weeks to live after killing Alec. I have realized now that Hardy also explains Tess's "breakdown" very well through Angel's thoughts as he ponders how the legend of the D'Urberville ghost coach and murder might have come about due to the bloodline's history of similar breaks of madness. What, after all, did the information of her father's true lineage do for Tess but foretell -- and indeed bring on -- misery and doom? Alec's family had appropriated the name but it didn't bring them real "class." Wasn't he just a nouveau riche slob? Angel grew up in a family of parsons, middle classed and comfortable, and he was more genteel at heart than Alec could ever hope to be -- but he was also pretty much "stuck" in his family's own traditions even when he tried not to be. Tess's long-past family had once been landed gentry, but the mighty had fallen plenty far; thus, the crushing poverty of the drone class they'd become was hugely ironic. Hardy covers the spectrum of social classes, and yes, he's unstinting in critically portraying Tess's parents (but probably realistic), while at the same time giving us Tess, who could have risen above them but for Alec's ruining her. She in turn gives her younger sister a chance to "make it" -- and hopes to bless Angel by her sister's presence as well. We readers might not like what she chose, but at least she had some say in matters of import in life at long last. Vicki
From: Vicki Spencer Date: Thursday, March 25, 2004 12:54 PM I watched the 911 Commission testimony all afternoon yesterday and was repeatedly reminded how great hindsight is. It would seem Tess grasped very well at the end of her own story just how that works. In her mind, the *only* way she could "fix" what had gone wrong in her life, even if it were only for a brief time, was to dispatch the source of her undoing. It was an action that was suggested unintentionally by Angel on the night she fessed up to him, yet she could take it only when she was at the point of giving up on long-term happiness and on life itself. Tess pushed her sister on Angel only after she learned from him that she herself probably couldn't have him for eternity. I think Hardy made it pretty clear that this selfless act was meant to serve also as a (selfish) way for her to still "have" him. I think Hardy also made a salient point throughout the book about how women in his era so often could hardly think for themselves even about the most basic beliefs in their lives, since Tess repeatedly takes up as her own whatever ideas Angel espouses. Tess is likely not alone in this sort of behavior among women in the nineteenth century. Sherry, I too get angry at authors who put their characters (I almost said victims) through so much suffering! When a writer does that, he puts the readers through a lot too -- and we're helpless to do anything about it but can only watch as the story unfolds with all its tragic consequences. I remember an old Twilight Zone episode where some strangers in a diner keep re-living the same few minutes with some differences each time, and eventually they get really frustrated when it keeps changing. Turns out they are the characters in a playwright's mind as he's re-working a scene! Here's what I've finally decided about what Hardy did in this book. After a long while of frustrating us with the largo pace of developments where the three main actors all seem to have a serious Hamlet complex, he brings us to a slam-bang ending that jolts us in a big way. We're blown away and left wondering just what on earth really HAPPENED here?.... Rather like a group of people who occasioned to witness a very bad car accident and are standing around afterward questioning each other about what we each saw. My very first thought upon completing the book, in fact, was: "TRAIN WRECK!" I now think Hardy's plan worked brilliantly. *G* And I wonder if *he* didn't believe that having Angel and Tess's weirdly named sister walk off into the sunset would give us a fine reward for struggling, sweating, and even weeping our way through his novel. Tess had to die, but he knew we would be very disappointed and sad at that, so I rather think he felt he was giving us an ending we could *assume* was "happy" if we wanted it that way, or tragic if we didn't. That's the sort of choice very few other authors except John Fowles have given their readers. And should we believe that Angel had really changed? Well, he'd sure had enough of a shock to affect him that way. Yet there's still that reverend legacy of his, and his Hamlet-esque personality... His behavior in surrendering Tess without a fight did fly in the face of his declarations about protecting her as he recognized she expected of him. He'd said he would hide with her until they could escape from a port yet he made little real effort actually to get them out of England. Often I felt Angel was nothing but a lot of hot air and grand dreams! But then again, he may have felt strongly compelled, in the end, to bow to Tess's own decision in the matter. I think they were both considerably spaced out after Tess killed Alec, yet they both knew that the realistic outcome of that one act of hers would be her death. Like so many people, they seemed resigned to whatever grim fate life brought them. And I agree that their time at Talbothay's was pretty wonderful. Hardy has Tess thinking back upon those days as the happiest of her hard life. If there hadn't been so prolonged and agonized a courtship between them, I think we would have all found great relief in that period from the tragedy of the entire story. Vicki
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, March 26, 2004 01:42 PM I was skimming back through our discussion and picked up a sense of Tess as a poor victim who sacrificed herself for others. She clearly was a victim, because of her age, gender, class and beauty (and sometimes, her own bad judgment, understandable given her age), but I don't think she was very passive -- how many times did she decide to move to a new job and just set out for another part of the country? -- and I also think she often made decisions based on her own interests. (The most self-sacrificing decision she made was that to go to the D'Urbervilles, because of the death of the horse.) Not that she was selfish -- she clearly wasn't -- but she was human. I would have loved to see another "Tess," written by George Eliot! Hardy focused almost exclusively on Tess as part of a couple: whom she wanted to be with, whom she was stuck with, the consequences of her relations with each of the 2 men. Here I think he shows himself, like Angel, as not as broadminded as he thinks. The frustrations of her life caused by the restrictions placed on women, wholly apart from the romantic/sexual/childbearing aspects of their lives, aren't in his purview. Mary Ellen
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, March 26, 2004 03:13 PM Mary Ellen, that's a scintillating idea, Tess by Eliot. As long as she doesn't stick her in a boat in the middle of a hurricane and drown her. Sherry
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2004 12:57 PM Sherry -- Absolutely! I responded the same way to those two endings. I think poor Tess, an eminently kill-off-able heroine, would be doomed in the hands of just about any Victorian writer. (Would Dickens come anywhere near her?) Mary Ellen
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2004 07:59 PM Dickens and Tess? :::shudder::: Now, I love me some Dickens, but every female character I can think of made Tess seem like Susan B. Anthony. I didn't react strongly either way to the Angel/Liza Lou ending, but that may have been because I was pretty fed up with the lot of them by then. I'd like to be able to appreciate the novel more, because I did enjoy it. But it's so hard not to judge this characters by present-day standards. If I had a nickel for every time I called Tess an idiot, I could probably fill my gas tank. But, by the standards of her time, she probably did all right for herself. Peggy
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, April 01, 2004 07:29 AM I know what you mean, Peggy. It really is hard to relate to standards from a time before. As to Dickens, I think every once in a while he comes up with a decent female character. I kind of liked Agnes in David Copperfield. Sherry

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