Sunday, March 17, 2013

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

Tess's parents were classic white trash.  They, more than anyone, were responsible for Tess's downfall.  I would blame her family far more than Alec because her family allowed her to go in harm's way - actually placed her there - and then blamed her for the consequences.  They were awful parents.  After Tess got pregnant, they thought of her as a blight on their family name, when she was actually the best of the bunch.  The father rarely worked, and Hardy gave a comical description of him.
Durbeyfield was what was locally called a slack-twisted fellow; he had good strength to work at times; but the times could not be relied on to coincide with the hours of requirement; and, having been unaccustomed to the regular toil of the day-labourer, he was not particularly persistent when they did so coincide.
Once the father discovered he was of royal blood, he worked even less.  Here is Tess's sister on the situation at home.
"Mother is took very bad, and the doctor says she's dying, and as father is not very well neither, and says 'tis wrong for a man of such a high family as his to slave and drave at common labouring work, we don't know what to do."
Her father seems to be using the newfound lineage as an excuse to do what he planned to do anyway - not work.  What this family needs is someone to be the "worker bee", to provide for them, and that ends up being Tess.

But as I said, they placed her in harms way, and Alec got her pregnant.  She was apparently 16 at the time.  We're never told if she was raped or if he just pushed himself on her until she finally relented.  I don't know if society would have forgiven her for being raped.  Angel certainly blamed Tess for it, either way.  When this book was first published in serial form, they cut so much out of it that readers had a hard time understanding why Tess was considered so objectionable.  And I don't know if the form that's around today has more details, but it certainly didn't have much.  It gave no details at all on the actual "event".  One minute Alec has Tess out in the woods, and the next minute it's months later and she's pregnant and going home.  Even the whole pregnancy was glossed over.  I know that Thomas Hardy was often criticized for his frank discussion of sex.  But from the three Hardy novels I've read, I can assure you I've talked about it more in this post that he did in those books.  He doesn't ever use the word "pregnant".  He's so vague about what happened that I had to go back and reread it because I thought I'd missed something.

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