Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oh, Tess

Dear Jenny,

Let's catch up with Tess, shall we?

Since last we left her, she's become a milkmaid at a farm 40 miles away from her hometown. It's work that she enjoys with company she also enjoys -- her fellow milkmaids and milk... men? (Milkmen? Sure.) and the farmer and his wife are all good people. So things are looking up for dear Tess.

Now, remember when I said that there was a guy near the beginning of the book who didn't dance with her at the May Day-style shindig, but then noticed her on the way out? I wrote, "Perhaps we will see more of him in the future? (I would hope. Otherwise, this is a useless path we've gone down)." Right. So we've met up with him again -- he's a milkman at the dairy with Tess.

His name is Angel Clare and he's the son of a parson. His two brothers have also gone on to be men of the cloth, but he's not interested, so he's been working on various farms to get all knowledgeable to start his own farm. At this particular one, he finds Tess and falls for her. And she, for him. They're really cute and in luuuurvve. Sounds good, right?

Of course, you know it can't be that easy.

Tess is beside herself because she is worried about her past (the rape and subsequent kid) and thinks that she isn't fit to be anyone's wife. But she's also afraid to tell him about it because he'll reject her, so she's freaking out worrying about what to do.

She tries to tell him a few times, but he stops her, saying there will be time to learn each others' intimate details after they're married, so she doesn't get it out. At one point, she writes the whole story down in a letter that she slips under his door. Next morning, he's still nice to her, so she thinks that perhaps her past doesn't matter. Yay! Later on, she goes to his room and realizes that the letter actually slipped under the rug and he never read it. Boo! So she destroys it.

This was all pretty agonizing to read -- Tess, all angsty, Angel all confused by her angstiness. It was a bit much, but I also have to say that it worked, as I was anxious myself during this entire part of the book. Will she tell him? Will he reject her once he finds out? Will he find out some other way? Will she be able to keep the secret? Who! Knows!

Tess asks her mom for advice and her mom essentially tells her to shut her piehole and get married already. In the end, that's what she does. (After many, many more pages of angst and worry and hand-wringing, of course.)

On their wedding night, it's time for them to confess their deepest secrets to one another (because it's good to wait until after you're already married to bring this stuff up... right... ?) Clare admits he's got a confession of his own, so he goes first: he had some 48 hour sex binge with a chick down at the docks a few years back. He's ashamed and begs for her forgiveness. Tess is elated to hear this, because she feels she's got a similar confession to make! She instantly forgives him and tells him her story. In response, he loses it. Grr.

The scene is heart-wrenching. She begs him to forgive her and he is just furious. She says she will do anything to gain his forgiveness, and he says, "It strikes me that there is a want of harmony between your present mood of self-sacrifice and your past mood of self-preservation." (247)


She points out that she was a child and didn't understand what was happening. To his credit, he does say, "You were more sinned against than sinning, that I admit." (249) But still... he maintains that he cannot forgive her and says that he no longer loves her.

Right now, I'm at the point where they are figuring out what to do next. Tess has suggested divorce, but Clare says they cannot:
"I mean, to get rid of me. You can get rid of me."
"By divorcing me."
"Good heavens -- how can you be so simple! How can I divorce you?"
"Can't you -- now I have told you? I thought my confession would give you grounds for that."
"O Tess -- you are too, too -- childish -- uninformed -- crude, I suppose! I don't know what you are. You don't understand the law --- you don't understand!"
"What -- you cannot?"
"Indeed I cannot." (255)
I don't know why, really. Perhaps if I was more versed in Victorian ways, I would know. It might be his station in life -- he's from a much higher class than Tess. Could be the religious thing, being a son of a Parson and all.

Then she offers to kill herself, but he doesn't want her murder on her hands, so that's out too. All in all, it's painful stuff. I'm in the midst of them deciding what to do right now, so I'll leave you with that cliff-hanger.

As for progress, I am about 60% through the book and the end of the month is fast approaching, but I have a last-minute business trip this week, so I'll have plenty of time in the sky to read. The nice part about reading a paper book (vs. an ebook) is that you can read it during take-off and landing. Heh.

And in a totally odd coincidence, I'll be going to the Detroit airport and I'm using that boarding pass stub from my grandfather from DTW as my bookmark. So it will be passing through the same airport that it went through when it was originally issued, some 20 years ago, on almost the exact same day. So weird, eh?



  1. I can only say how happy I am that you are reading this and not me. There would definitely be a Tess-shaped dent in my wall by now.


    I keep wondering what your Grandfather loved about it. Maybe the beautiful descriptions of sky?


  2. I can't believe I missed the opportunity to make a Dead Milkmen joke. How often do you come across the word "milkmen" anywhere??

    1. I thought the *same* thing when I read this earlier!