One of my ongoing life projects is to slog my way through “the list” of classic books. Also I’m working my way through a list of 100 books one should read during their life that I found somewhere, don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter. Thus Tess of the D’Urbervilles came up on my mental jukebox and I wasted a day of my life reading it.
My overly brief summary is a poor young woman who is voluptuous for her age is brought to shame by a rich man who is supposed to be helping her family. As a result she has a baby and is shunned by her village. The baby dies. Later Tess runs off to get away and takes work as a milk maid on a farm far from her home village. She meets, falls in love with and marries a man she idolizes and thinks is a virtuous and beyond reproach kind of man.
On their wedding night he confesses to her that he had a fling with a woman who tempted him beyond his ability to resist. (poor men, they just can’t handle us women) Tess is relieved by this revelation and unburdens her sordid past to her groom. He is shocked, horrified, repulsed, decides he doesn’t really love her after all, and leaves her to her own devices. He runs away from England all together to try his hand at farming in Brazil. Yea, yea, finding out your wife is not a virgin on her wedding night can do that to a man. At least it did in the 1800s according to Thomas Hardy. Although today it can still be a death sentence to a woman if she lives in some places in the Middle East.
Tess spends the next few years descending further into poverty and degredation, fighting off the advances of various men who find her looks overwhelming, claiming to be married, but no one believes her. For some reason known only to the author she continues to defend and be true to the husband who abandoned her. She eventually ends up homeless with a mother and sisters to care for and gets so desperate that she finally gives in and hooks back up with the guy (D’Urberville) who brought her to shame in the first place.
Meanwhile, the husband, after years of illness and failure in Brazil decides that he loves Tess after all and comes back to England to reclaim her. Alas he finds her living with the evil D’Urberville. Tess is so undone by this and wants to be with her “true” husband so bad that –get this- she stabs D’Urberville in the heart with a fruit knife and runs off to be with said husband. He dies and the landlady discovers this fact by noticing that blood is dripping through the ceiling from their room upstairs.
Tess tells her husband what she did and they wander the country side for days hiding in various bushes and abandoned houses. But justice must prevail you see. She is caught of course. The final scene is Mr. Lily White husband and Tess’s sister are standing on a hillside looking at the prison. A black flag is raised indicating the Tess has been hanged for her crime. THE END.
I’m outraged by various things about this book. The main thing being it is yet another book written by a man who seems to think that he knows how the secret heart and mind of a young woman, or any woman for that matter, operates. Another thing that bugs me is that this book is given to our young women to read and touted as a classic. The main message being “see this is what happens to bad girls.” I’m still seething and I read the book over a week ago.