October 20, 2015

Tess of the d'Urbervilles - A Tragedy Unavoidable?


Just finished reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the first Thomas Hardy I've ever read, will not be the last for sure. I wonder what made me to neglect this literature classic for so long. I watched movie "Tess" when I was a teenager, it somehow didn't strike me as hard as "Jane Eyre" or some other films adapted from literature masterpieces. Recently, for some obscure reasons I picked up the original book, found myself immediately drawn into the story.

There's not much I could say about this book that is not been already said by others. Tess - an astonishingly beautiful peasant girl, a "fine creature", yet unbelievably selfless even downtrodden, tries relentlessly to make a better life for her family and herself, ends up being hanged. Not even that, none of the miserable happenings befall her is her fault, but she endures them all nonetheless. The tragedy is simply beyond anyone can bare. Her ultimate sacrifice seems avoidable, as I myself already "designed" a dozen of different endings, however, I have to admit, what she does at the end - murdering Alec d'Urbervilles is completely understandable under the context. Basically, Thomas Hardy just created a flawless tragedy, let his readers continue to moan for her heroine for centuries.

Yes, it's still valid to argue, that Tess doesn't have to kill Alec. But thinking through all her life, it would be too much for her to be rational at that mind-blown moment. She has suffered too much for too long. She puts all those burdens on her slim shoulder since she was still a child, takes charge of things that her parents are responsible for. And she is raped, taken advantage by a man she doesn't love simply because she wants to help her family! And at the end, she gives herself up again to her rapist only for save her family. The painful fact is, despite her complete altruism, Tess herself thinks she is responsible for all of her troubles, and her not being "pure" is (more or less) her own fault! That's why at the end, when Angel comes back to her, she feels she loses all hope because she has been sleeping with Alec again!

In my life I found, that if one is used to give, one would always give; and those who surround him/her would be so used to "take" and they would always do. It seems from certain perspectives, human population can be simple divided into two categories: those who give and whose who take. Tess falls in to the first category, but by an extreme measure. More tragically, at the moment she finally gets her love - Angel Clare, he turns out to be a victim - or "slave", by Hardy's word - of moral tradition, cannot forgive Tess's "stained" past. All these suffering, disappointment and despair, inevitably lead Tess to her final explosion, channels all her anger into the one who she believes responsible for all her misery.

Who is culprit? It can be Alec d'Urbervilles, or her husband Angel Clare. If we go a little deeper, it can be her destitute family, her parents - her alcoholic father and her somewhat selfish mother. Yet if we make one step farther, it's doubtlessly social ideology, the double stance on sexual relationship. Or, ultimately, that "President of the Immortal", the fate, who "played" this brutal life game against beautiful, pure, hapless yet tenacious Tess d'Urbervilles.

It's a real tragedy:  a possibly most beautiful creature ever being created then being destroyed, so unnecessary yet so UNAVOIDABLY.

Hardy was not only a master of flawless plot, but also a poet. The pastoral landscape under his pen is so amazingly alive, so humane and sometime even propitious, that in the contrast to Tess's fate, it confuses us, goes beyond our comprehension.

What a sad, yet thrilling reading experience! But, I am glad I finally discovered Hardy. Looking forward for more of his masterpieces!


  1. Although it's a tragedy, you could also that by the end Tess has grown from a naive and vulnerable person who can easily be manipulated, to someone who has the strength of character to take the law into her own hands even though she knows the likely result. I like Tess - she could definitely take that wimp Jane Eyre in a fight.

  2. Hardy's view of the human condition was not too rosy. 'Crass Casualty' rules our lives and we all end up doomed and defeated in the end. I remember reading "Return Of The Native" in high school and being very impressed with it. Loved the character of Eustacia Vye.


    "I never cared for Life: Life cared for me,
    And hence I owed it some fidelity.
    It now says, "Cease; at length thou hast learnt to grind
    Sufficient toll for an unwilling mind,
    And I dismiss thee--not without regard
    That thou didst ask no ill-advised reward,
    Nor sought in me much more than thou couldst find."
    -Thomas Hardy