Tess of the d’Urbervilles
by Thomas Hardy
I read this as it was the subject of the 7 May 2016 episode of Melvyn Bragg’s BBC podcast ‘In Our Time‘.
I started this book with some trepidation, books I have tried of previous centuries often have flowery language and are not very relate-able. Fortunately this was better. There is a lot of commentary on the social aspects of the story in the narration, like John Fowles or D. H. Lawrence. The language is very rich and full of archaic and obscure words, not enough to put you off, but it gives the prose a weight that makes you slow down to appreciate it. Not since Melvyn Peake’s Gormenghast series have I actually enjoyed just the reading (at first).
As for the story, Tess is a young woman who right from the start has more responsibility thrust on her than a woman of nineteen would expect. Her horse dies, her father appears to be related to aristocracy and so she must make her way indignantly in the world. At just over half way, in part 5 her new husband finds about a previous boyfriend. His reaction is so over the top, the reality of the story ceased and it began to feel like some type of farce. On reading a synopsis, I found that Tess, way back in part 2 had a baby that died. This was something I completely missed, I don’t recall her having sex !
It now becomes apparent that this is an exercise in style over substance. The ability of the author to clearly convey a plot has been compromised and I lost all interest in continuing.
As for the podcast……..
It does explain why I missed the part where Tess gets pregnant. It’s not actually mentioned, apparently the act is only implied. And they do pick up on my point about the rich and dense nature of the prose. However for a modern reader, it is a slow read, and I didn’t finish it. So it only gets a rating of 1/5.