Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 4/10
On Amazon: 4.2/5
The plot in one sentence: Young country girl Tess is seduced by Alec, gets pregnant, retires to become a milkmaid, is fallen in love with by a gentleman named Angel, is married to him but, once confessing her earlier disgrace, is abandoned on her wedding night, is seduced back into the graces of the somewhat-reformed Alec, who makes her his mistress, is taken back by Angel, murders Alec, and finally enjoys a week on the run with Angel making sweet beautiful love in meadows before being caught by the police and hanged, Angel ending up getting together with her sister.
Am I a horrible person because I didn’t like this book? Does this make me a bad English major? Shall my status as a literary intellectual be revoked? Nah.
Things Hardy does masterfully: landscape descriptions.
Things Hardy does pretty well: characterizations.
Things Hardy sucks balls at: plot and pacing.
I think the main appeal of the book must be the idyllic world he creates. Aside from the ominous wickedness of Alec and his smile, the whole piece is pervaded by this sense of grace and blithesomeness, both of Tess and Angel and also as reflected in the landscape. Tess seems always to wear white; the grass is always pale green; there is always mist sparkling in the meadow; Tess’s hair is always charmingly and alluringly escaping in tendrils down her neck; Angel is always graceful and handsome and thinking profound, uplifting thoughts; the cows are always giving milk. And so on. Of course, when Tess experiences hardship, it suddenly becomes winter and the landscape is hostile. I get it, thanks.
I’m always one for a good romance, even a super sappy one, but the anticlimax of most of the romantic scenes here turned me off, as did the lengthy time spent describing the in-between action. Tess spends a lot of time reaping while Alec lasciviously watches her. She spends a lot of time trudging around the countryside while her life deteriorates. Angel spends a long time being vaguely ill in South America. It seems as though characters spend the vast majority of their time preparing to do things, or at least doing them very gradually. Things would have been a lot more enjoyable if each piece of action or advancement of plot were given a well-drawn, dramatic scene in which to occur, instead of occurring incrementally over the course of hundreds of pages. Perhaps Hardy should have taken notes from Charlotte Bronte.