Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy (1891) - First Thoughts

Even after just a few chapters, I could feel this thing driving forward with a single purpose, to a predetermined end that left no room for conjecture - the destruction of a young girl.

Well this is it.  After all the ranting and raving I've done about uptight Victorian prudence and backwards views towards women, I'm finally reading the end-all, be-all book on that very subject.  It's all about how mean society is towards "fallen women".  Yep, that's this book in a nutshell.  From that, you can guess the entire premise of the book as well as the ending.  And even though I'm only half-way through, I can guess everything that will happen.

But kudos to Thomas Hardy.  He is one of the few Victorian writers who could pull this off.  Even Charles Dickens was no match for the raw social condemnation found in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.  Dickens could face down poverty with a steady eye, but when it came to those unlucky women, he usually let society take its course, as in Bleak House.

In Tess, Thomas Hardy has no time for characters who do not support the main theme.  Everyone Tess comes across is shown in a single light.  They are merely props in this play.  There are no side plots, there are no subplots, there is nothing other than a straight shot at what we all know is coming for poor Tess.

And this was no accident on Hardy's part.  In fact, he gave far too much foreshadowing for my taste.  He explicitly stated that Alec d'Urberville would be Tess's downfall.  Okay, "potentially" her downfall.
He watched her pretty and unconscious munching through the skeins of smoke that pervaded the tent, and Tess Durbeyfield did not divine, as she innocently looked down at the roses in her bosom, that there behind the blue narcotic haze was potentially the "tragic mischief" of her drama—one who stood fair to be the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her young life.
Well, gee, thanks for that heads up.  Nothing like a roadmap for the unsuspecting readers so we don't start thinking this might be a fun romp through late Victorian England.  Plus, some people might think the phrase "blood-red ray" is fine Victorian symbolism, but for today's readers it's far from subtle, and is less symbolism than statement about losing virginity.

More later.  Thomas Hardy's writing intrigues me.  I want to discuss that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment