This is one of those books [along with Lorna Doone, Jamaca Inn, Mill On the Floss, etc] that a reader feels they should read, I can recall them being on suggested reading lists at school when we had book reports to do as term homework. This digitised form from the original was soon winged to my Kindle for my delights. How glad I am to have read it now and not when I was a teen, the language alone would have bewildered me.
Tess Durbeyfield is the eldest daughter of an impoverished man who in passing discovers he is the descendant from the extinct nobled family of d’Urberville’s and is referred to as Sir John, but the drunken poverty and hand to mouth existence in rural wessex barely keeps his roof leak free. Tess is sent on a path to find an ancestor in a hope that some good fortune may come their way, whether by association or marriage. The story really highlights the utter hypocracy of the self righteous rigidity of the social morality at that time. A man can chase, woe, seduce or take any woman he wishes and is seen as a strong man, a manly protective fellow, but if a woman is chased, seduced and/or taken before that band of gold is on her finger she is branded for life as wicked, immoral and a blght upon the character of any man who subsequently takes to her; and that it was her fault for causing the men to do so to her.
Wronged by a man who she innocently trusted, and thrown into heart wrenching tragedy, she seeks solace, an escape somewhere where she is not known, in hard work. Here she happens upon a better man who quickly adores her and in gentlemanly fashion courts her, she finding herself in the midst of true love relents to marry him, fretful and fearful what her past secrets would do to this pure delicate emotion. Her salvation is hard lived, and a mix of misunderstandings, pride, undeservedness part them and the hardest of labours eek out a dire existence for Tess. Things get worse when the fearful figure from her past reappears and twists her mind, wears down her resolve and convinces her of things he has no knowledge of. The climax is ultimate and leaves the reader in reflection of what might have been, if only …..
The pace of the book was even until the last three or four chapters which seemed hasty, almost as if Hardy was not sure how the book would end but when he decided hurried to get there, maybe there was a publishers deadline. Several times I felt myself wanting to scream at the focused character “Just say …..”, but as with other works, pride, fear, conventionality gag the person from speaking the truth and makes for gripping reading.