Sunday, November 4, 2012
The book chronicles Tess, a poor girl from a family with a significant historic name. In a time of financial stress her family turns to a supposed relative bearing the D'Urberville name. When the son, Alec seduces her and she finds herself pregnant. She returns home only to have the baby die. When the family falls into financial hardship again Tess becomes a dairymaid in a farm several miles from homes. Here she meets Angel Clare who woos her despite Tess's repeated protests that she is not worthy of him.She repeatedly tries to convey her shame and downfall to Angel who refuses to listen to her, having firmly placed her on a pedestal She eventually consents to marriage and slips a note under his door telling him of her former fate. Unfortunately, it slides under a carpet and goes unread. She doesn't discover this until their wedding day and Angel finally consents to have a heart to heart about each of their follies on their wedding night after they are married. While he reveals his sins and is forgiven he turns against Tess when he discovers hers and leaves having never consummated their marriage.
It is here where I had my meltdown. I am in a fairly new relationship and as I read this book one gloomy/ cozy Saturday I was simultaneously angry and contemplative. I was furious with Angel and his off-handed refusal to see Tess for who she really is. I was also furious that he judged Tess for her actions in the past rather than her heart that he had fallen in love with. This got me all in a tizzy about how one can know that you are REALLY seeing someone for who they are and not just the idealized image of that person you have created in your mind. I thought long and hard about whether that could happen to me and concluded that it very well could. I have always been someone who places people on a pedestal only to have them later fall when they can't live up to my idolized version of them. The book led to a fairly significant internal inventory of my current relationship and also to an awesome heart to heart with my boyfriend about what we see in each other. I am thankful to the book for that, but feel that my epistemological crisis had very little to do with the point of the book which is about the sad state of affairs for women at the time and also Tess as a heroic character. I thought very little about Tess as a heroic figure as I read the book and just spent the majority of the time being horribly saddened by the fates that aligned against her.
Despite my half hearted enjoyment of the book I did find several awesome quotes that I loved:
"Tess was no insignificant creature to toy with and dismiss, but a woman living her precious life"
"I thought, Angel, that you loved me-me, my very self"
"Behold, when thy face is made bare, he that loved thee shall hate"
"In considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was"
I am on to book 35 which is Buddenbrooks now. As it is a translated novel I have had a hard time procuring a copy and ended up having to buy it on my ereader.