Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Few Words About Tess of the d'Urbervilles


Remember the Classics Club Spin #2? When number 6 was chosen, corresponding to Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy on my list, I'll admit to being a little apprehensive. After all, I had a history with that particular novel. About ten years ago, I began reading it with an online group, fell behind around page 150, and quietly returned it to my shelf... where it has been a reminder of my failure ever since.

My progress was painfully slow on this second attempt, too, so I decided to speed things up by making the book a read/listen combination. Of course, I chose the Simon Vance narration, because Vance is the  voice of classic British literature as far as I'm concerned. I finished listening on July 1, just under the wire for the spin deadline.

Surprisingly, I knew very little about the plot of the novel and will not go into detail here, but if you have not read this classic, you really must. Tess gained my sympathies early on and I was enraged at the treatment she received - from  Alec d’Urberville,  Angel Clare, her family, and society in general. The ending left me utterly speechless.

Despite needing the audio to pull me through, I have added Tess of the d'Urbervilles to my list of favorites. It truly redefines my idea and expectations of a tragedy.


32 comments:

  1. One of the characters in A Prayer for Owen Meany talks about Hardy a lot and Tess in particular. I've bumped it up on my to-read list.

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    1. Andi - I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany, but it been years (decades?) and references to Hardy and Tess are long forgotten. Hoping for a reread in the not-too-distant future!

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  2. If I do try this book, I think I'll go with the audio you mentioned.

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    1. Kathy - Don't know if I would have gotten through it without Simon Vance's help ;-)

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  3. This is one of my SHAME books. I'm absolutely ashamed that I haven't read it yet. Thanks for the nudge ;)

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    1. Jennifer - Shame books?? I love that idea... may have to compose a list of my own. Tess is definitely worth reading though.

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  4. I think Angel Clare is one of the worst villains in literature--I think his treatment of Tess was just vile. In a way, I understood and sympathized with Alec more than Angel--the latter was simply cruel, not just thoughtless and selfish.

    It is a great book, and the writing of the world magnificent.

    Glad you gave it another chance.

    Have you ever read Ruth, by Elizabeth Gaskell. It reminded me so much of Tess that I wondered if Hardy had read Gaskell and been influenced by her. I've never read a bio of Hardy, so I guess I have to keep wondering :)

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    1. JaneGS - It's been a long time since a book has made me so mad at a single character (Angel) or at society in general. My sympathies were with Tess from the beginning, but there were times I just wanted to shake her. Alec wasn't quite as despicable, but probably very typical of his time.

      I haven't read Ruth, but you can be sure I will now. North and South was my first Gaskell novel (last year, loved it) and I was planning to read Wives and Daughters next, but now I'm curious about Ruth.

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  5. I agree with you Jane - Angel Clare broke my heart in Tess. His treatment of her was horrible. I loved this book, but it is slow reading at the beginning so I can understand why it would take awhile to get into. I love the tragic ending set at Stonehenge. Poor Tess.

    I'm intrigued about Ruth being similar. I love Elizabeth Gaskell, but I haven't read Ruth yet. I need to bump this up my "to read" list.

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    1. Laura - After reading North and South, I became an Elizabeth Gaskell fan, too. Was planning to read Wives and Daughters next, but think I may need to read Ruth instead. The tragic ending of Tess left me speechless!

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  6. I've neve tried anything by Hardy, but may just give this a try... on audio!

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    1. Les - I plan to read more by Hardy, but will probably stick with the read/listen combo. May not have gotten through the beginning of Tess without Simon Vance's help ;-)

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  7. Have you seen the 1960s film of Tess of the d'Urbervilles starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates? Quite a treat. I saw it as a teen, and although I couldn't connect much of it to the novel, and didn't understand the point entirely, it was very entertaining and there were excellent performances by both actors.

    Hope you get to view it!

    Judith

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    1. Judith - No, I haven't seen that adaptation and it looks like it's not available through Netflix. Will check my library's catalog next. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  8. I remember absolutely loving this when I went through my Hardy phase in college -- but I haven't reread it. I wonder if adult me would still get so caught up in the tragedy? Thanks for the idea for a reread!

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    1. Col - I may be just beginning a Hardy phase ;-)

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  9. Tess is one of my favorite classic novels - I've read it several times. I find it beautiful and dramatic and heartbreaking. The Julie Christie film was mentioned above - I'd also recommend the Masterpiece Classic version that came out a few years ago with Gemma Arterton. I loved it!

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    1. Anbolyn - Thanks for the recommendation! I couldn't find the Julie Christie film at the library either, so I've moved the Masterpiece Classic version to the top of my Netflix queue.

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  10. You ha e me wanting to read this. I've seen the fil, which I adored, at least twice. But, I've never read the novel.

    Here's a naughty thing I do with my Classic Cub list: keep changing the titles. Off to erase something and add Tess!

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    1. Bellezza - My Classics Club list is constantly evolving, too! I think I read somewhere that it was acceptable ;-)

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  11. I need to read this one. I've read Hardy's Return of the Native and Jude the Obscure. Both were devastating, but so good!

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    1. Melissa - And I need to read Hardy's other novels! Guess I'm a new fan.

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  12. One of the things I remember most vividly from this one is how angry I was while reading. It was one of the first times a book made me so furious because of its internal story and characters. On the one hand it was awful, but on the other hand it was powerful and different and has stuck with me this long. And yes. The ending was just... it's been six years and I'm still speechless.

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    1. Biblio - It seemed so unusual for me, well into middle age, to become that angered at a work of fiction! I can't think of another novel that has had that effect on me. Strangely, I'm not sure whether that is a tribute to or an indictment of Hardy and his work. Either way, I plan to read more.

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  13. This is one that I've wanted to tackle for a long time. I would certainly do the reading/listening combo again!

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    1. Staci - I'm sure Simon Vance would be glad to help you get through it, too!

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  14. Oh, Tess, such a sad, sad, depressing book! I listened to it a few years ago (definitely not read by Simon Vance) and I must say I began to wish Tess would just get run over by a dump truck to put her out of her misery!

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    1. Lisa - Every time I thought things couldn't possibly get any worse for poor Tess, some other hardship blocked her path! So, so sad.

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  15. I listened to the audio too and liked it too. Poor Tess left me so sad. Glad that you liked this classic too.

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    1. Stacybuckeye - This has to be one of the saddest books I've ever read.

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  16. Sorry to come late to this, but I've only just discovered your blog. The Julie Christie / Alan Bates Hardy movie was Far From the Madding Crowd, which is why you can't find the Tess one, which was directed by Roman Polanski as long time later.

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    1. Thanks, Jon. Far From the Madding Crowd will be my next Hardy, so I'll finally watch the Julie Christie/Alan Bates movie after reading it :-)

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