Sunday, February 27, 2011

Completed: Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Dear Jenny,

Well, I finished Tess and have mixed emotions about it. It really was good. But sad. Really sad. First, let's finish off my summary of the book...

(Bill says I should be warning that there are spoilers here... perhaps if someone else visits our blog, they may not want to know the end of books. So for anyone who is not Jenny reading this: I am about to give away the ending of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.) (Which I thought was sort of understood, but if not, there's the Fair Warning.)

The Conclusion of Tess
When last we left Tess, her husband (Angel) was trying to decide what he was going to do about Tess's revelation about her past. He decides to leave her, at least, "for awhile," until he figures his shit out. He goes to Brazil to see if there is potential to start a farm there. He leaves Tess some dough and tells her that if she needs more, she should contact his parents. He asks her not to contact him, saying he will send mail when he is ready to deal with the situation. And then he splits. (Psst: He's an asshole.)

Tess is a strong and proud, so she goes back to farm work rather than ask his parents for money. This time, it's no happy milk-maiding -- she ends up doing brutal work with a thresher and then harvesting turnips out on barren land. Our girl Tess is a worker. During this time, she bumps into her rapist, who has become some sort of Revival Tent-style preacher and claims he is repentant for his sins. He apologizes to her... sort of.

However, once a douche, always a douche -- this guy then claims that Tess is "tempting" him again, so he decides that, since he's a sinner, he might as well give up preaching and go back to his sinning ways, which include... trying to seduce Tess. Greeeat.

Tess refuses his advances because she still loves her husband and is waiting for him to come back to her (and also, you know, cause she doesn't like this guy AND he raped her AND he pretty much ruined her life).

Alec (that's the rapist) continues to pursue her saying shit like "You will be mine again," and claiming that he is "rightfully" her husband, since, you know, he did her first. (Blech.) Despite her refusals, he keeps at her, much to her chagrin.

So she sends her husband a letter begging him to come back if he ever loved her at all. It's pretty heart-breaking -- she says she would even be his servant, if it meant being close to him. So. Painful!

Tess's mother falls ill, so she goes home to care for her. While she's there, her father dies. Bad news, as her family then gets evicted from their home. Tess gathers everyone in a wagon and heads to another town without much plan in mind, except: "We gotta figure something out."

At this point, we flash on over to Angel in Brazil. He has received Tess's letter at just about the same time that he has the revelation: "Hey! I've been an asshole!" (Ya think?) So he heads on back to Tess. It's a long journey as he tracks her down, first going to his own family to see if she's been in contact with them to get money (which she has not, he is surprised to learn), then to her family's prior home, then to her mother's new digs, and then finally to Tess. When he ultimately tracks her down, he discovers... that she's married Alec.


Soooo... Tess went ahead and married her rapist because he could provide for her family when she could not. She's upset at Angel's arrival and she turns him away. Then she loses it on Alec because he had convinced her that Angel would never come back for her and he wore her down in her time of need. And then she stabs that m-f'er and kills him. Yup.

After killing Alec, she runs to find Angel and tell him what she's done. They set out on foot and eventually come upon an empty mansion to hide out in for week -- it's a rental property and there's no one in it, so they hole up for a bit and have a wonderful time together -- kind of the honeymoon they never had.

When the mansion's housekeeper finds them, they have to leave, and they continue to run. They stop for a rest at Stonehenge, but when they wake in the morning, the cops are there to take Tess away. The book ends with Tess being hung for her crime. Damn it.

After my last post, you made a comment wondering why my grandfather loved this book so much -- it's Tess. If you read this book, you have got to love Tess. I'm not doing this book justice with my retelling, because when you read the book itself, you fall in love with Tess. I really enjoyed the Afterward by Donald Hall included with this edition. He writes:
"There have been other novels about social justice as well observed as Tess, but they do not have its resonance. For one thing, Hardy was clearly in love with Tess, and he leaves his readers in the same condition."(424)
Yes. That's it!

This Afterward is really great -- I love his analysis of the characters and the plot, as well as the insight about the time that the book was written (it was originally rejected by the publishers for being too sexy!) I almost want to include more of it here, but I have already gone on too long about this book. I thought the strangest and possibly best part of it was the final paragraph:
"But surely more than any generalization we are left with the sense of a particular girl, a woman finally: one's sense of this novel is one's sense of her. She dances on the green with the maidens. She is raped in the woods at sixteen. She buries her child in secret. She milks a cow named Dumpling. She hacks turnips on a barren farm. She hides at night among the dying birds. She longs to be dead with her ancestors. She stabs a man. She hides in an old house with her lover. She wakes to a circle of police, to a noose in the morning." (430)
I guess I could have just skipped right to the back of this book and written all of that down right here instead of my much longer re-telling on this blog. ;) Such a weird thing to put at the end of a book, but also kind of moving if you've just finished the novel itself.

Tess v. Lisbeth
While reading Tess, I kept thinking of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Both protagonists are a little odd, doing things their own way, perhaps not likable in a typical sense, but strong women written in such a way that the reader loves them.

Both girls are raped at a young age and both exact revenge on their rapist, but where Lisbeth gets away with it (is, in fact, celebrated for it), Tess is immediately and mercilessly punished for her action.

Final thoughts
I started reading this book with much trepidation, but, despite some griping, I loved Tess. Other than the part where she was so angsty about telling Angel about her "past" for way too long, it went pretty quickly.

I teared up at the end, sighed when it was over, and I will think about the heartbreaking story of Tess for a long, long time.



  1. Kelly,

    I can't believe she kills him! As you know, although I appreciate a good plot as well as anyone, I really love a good character. It's hard for me to read about characters I don't like/find compelling. Given that final summation, I might just be able to read Tess one day. In fact, with it being free on the Kindle and all, I just downloaded it.

    I like the Tess vs. Lisbeth analogy you made. I guess we've come a long way in our slut-shaming (although not far enough given our current House of Representatives trying to shut down Planned Parenthood), and that is cause for celebration.

    2 months in, I've got to say that this TBR Challenge has been great. I love clearing the decks, and I love that you read your Grandfather's favorite book. And, writing about what I read has been an unexpected pleasure!


  2. Okay - I did not read your review, because I haven't yet read this book, but I own it and plan to read it. And I have no idea what it's about or what the ending might be, so THANK YOU for the spoiler alert.

    I remember loaning my Dad a copy of one of my favorite books, Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, and he read the Introduction first (as many people would) but the Introduction gave away the whole story and the tragic ending.. he was FURIOUS - particularly because the book was about 1,000 pages long and he still trudged through it anyway. lol

    Glad you guys are still on board - I'm jam-packed with reading challenges and goals this year, plus review requests from Authors/Agents/Publishers, but I'm still having a good time. :D

  3. K,

    I now feel sort of bad for my spoiler-ific review of Amsterdam. Looks like Bill was right!


  4. Ha! Adam, before I even read your comment, I just wrote a post about introductions that give away book endings! (You can read it here -- I don't give away the end of anything, I promise.)

    I'll warn you now that Jenny and I will probably be giving away the endings of many books here on our little blog, so tread lightly. Perhaps we'll start including spoiler alerts.

    I've never successfully written a review without giving the end away. If I don't, it usually just ends up being "I liked it" or "I hated it," neither of which are that informative.

    I'll work on it, but I don't see it happening here. I think part of the point of this blog is that we're reading these books vicariously through one another. ;)