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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on September 14, 2010 by acousticchick
Thomas Hardy is a terrible, terrible novelist. Someone must have told him that a really good book is dripping with sentimentality, contains unbearably long-winded descriptions of meadows (not that much to describe, really, about a meadow) and also detailed dairy-farming techniques, and has no discernible message. And instead of using his brain and realizing that these things made for a book that inspires only incredulity, Hardy took the advice and gave the world ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles.’ Which, may I emphasize, the world could have lived without.
Tess takes center stage in the book. She’s supposed to be spirited and courageous, but all she does is martyr herself into a puddle of victim-goo through the whole thing. The reader is obviously meant to exclaim, “Oh, how very sad!” at every chapter, but Tess’s woebegone passivity is more likely to induce nausea than sympathy. To illustrate this, I have provided an outline of the events of the book.
A) Tess’s cousin hits on her in a way that would be creepy and annoying even if they weren’t related (and yes, I know it didn’t matter back then).
B) Tess, refusing to stand up for herself, keeps getting stuck alone with the guy.
C) He rapes her and then disappears, leaving her to deal with the rape-baby, which dies.
A) Tess meets Dreamboat Man. High-school drama ensues. All the chicks on the farm make ga-ga eyes at the guy.
B) Dreamboat Man falls for Tess and proposes seven or eight times. Tess whines that she can’t marry him, but won’t tell him why. She does finally accept.
A) Dreamboat Man confesses that when he was younger, he spent some time carousing with French girls.
B) Tess says it’s no big deal, and tells him about the rape.
C) Dreamboat Man absolutely freaks out, says she’s not the woman he thought she was, and moves to Brazil indefinitely.
A) Except now he’s a preacher and very, very sorry.
B) He also thinks Tess should marry him. When she says no, he makes her swear she’ll never “tempt him” again. There is a disturbing lack of irony in this scene. The author may as well have said the rape was Tess’s fault. This notion is strengthened by the fact that Tess reacts not with indignation but with blank-faced assent.
C) Tess writes frantic letters to Dreamboat Man, begging him to come back.  When he doesn’t, she marries the guy who raped her because he has money.
A) He tracks Tess down and says he’s sorry. Tess’s reply is the one cool thing that happens in the book: She remembers she has a backbone and says coldly, “Too late.”
B) When Dreamboat Man leaves, Tess goes upstairs to talk to her rapist husband. She screams that he ruined her life and then sticks a knife in his chest. This might have been a good twist if the author hadn’t submerged the whole scene in melodrama and whining.
C) Unfortunately, Tess completely negates her earlier moment of mettle by running after Dreamboat Man. Er, happily ever after right?
A) Tess and Dreamboat Man wander through the forest together in a fog of secluded bliss.
B) Then they find Stonehenge. Tess declares that she and Dreamboat Man aren’t meant to be happy, and allows herself to be killed by druids. Which appear out of nowhere.
Far from being a strong role model for sufferers of adversity, Tess blames herself and takes injustice as though it’s exactly what she deserves. Thomas Hardy hasn’t presented an example of triumph or hope, but one of miserable acceptance. There’s nothing inspiring about this novel, and I’ve proved that you never need to read it. You’re welcome.