Tess of the d’Urbervilles Published
The 30th of November 1891 AD
Tess was to prove Thomas Hardy ’s penultimate Wessex novel, the reaction to Jude the Obscure four years after it moving him to focus on poetry and drama.
A love story and a tragedy, Tess is a subtler and darker evocation of rural life than, say, Far From the Madding Crowd , the author at his mature height. In the latter we always feel Gabriel Oak will conquer the adversities of agricultural life; in Tess the hard labour on Groby’s farm, the precarious livelihood of the Durbeyfields and their eventual eviction, build towards the heroine’s inevitable doom. Yet the naturalness of the countryside is highlighted by the murder of Alec occurring in the urban setting of seaside resort Sandbourne – in reality Bournemouth .
Hardy attacks Victorian sexual mores in the novel, Angel hypocritically rejecting Tess for her affair with Alec – possibly begun with her rape - while having admitted to one of his own. Later he thinks on a whim to take a mistress, and then drops the idea as quickly. As with Jude, this exploration of sexual matters brought some contemporary criticism.
The scene at Stonehenge where Tess is eventually captured is one of the most memorable in Hardy’s novels, drenched with the symbolism of the woman as sacrificial victim lying on the pagan altar, its visual strength one of many reasons the novel has been repeatedly filmed.
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