I want to read the book all over again. And again. And again. But somehow I know more likely than not, I never will.
Oh what a tragic story; so beautifully told.
Tess, O dear Tess, only if I had found you, discovered you before anyone else did! If only I could be the one your beautiful eyes sought, only if I could be the breeze you enjoyed the intimacy of, only if I was the reason not for your misery but for your miserable loving heart, only if I could live up to the purity of your soul… only if … only if.
This is probably the only story that had me empathizing with the female character fully. I’ve read many, attempted my best to understand the emotions and acts, probably even understood some, but the acceptance of them, I guess has been beyond my intellect. I’ve never really liked the word ‘empathy’ though; it sounds so farcical. I can only imagine but not actually feel Tess’s pain and agony even if I want to; how can I? No-one could have lived Tess’s life, her sacrifices in love but her. So strong in character yet so weak and vulnerable in love.
Tess’s devastating path is paved all the way, very cunningly, by Fate. Manipulated by Alec d’Urberville, a player, her life changes for the worse as she unwillingly graduates to be a woman from an innocent teenager, without chancing upon and enjoying the imperfection of ladyship. But then, I hold her imbecile and selfish parents more responsible than Alec for her plight; one cannot send Hansel and Gretel out into the forest without the fear of being eaten up, no matter how optimistic and needy they be. Poverty, shame and self-respect guide her on to the path of a dairy in another town and as a dairymaid. Fate brings her to encounter Angel Clare, a rebel with a cause, a man of meaning and virtues, of character and strength, knowledge and passion, a gentleman; a vessel of innocence commensurate with that that of Tess’s.
And they fall in love, naturally like the wind and clouds, like the night and stars. Try as much as she can, Tess fails to reveal her past to Angel and when she does, on the night of their union; the revelation is as much a disaster as Fate. Angel, clouded by his morals and the stringent path of his thoughts and righteousness, can’t place her as the one he fell in love with. He abandons her – a punishment as severe to him as to her. What transpires later is more tragic and as Fate, yet again leaves its marks cutting through the flesh, pricking the soul; one wonders if pain is innate in some; inseparable, necessary, like the torso, the brain, the heart and other organs one is born with. What time heals, time brings back again and it’s futile to ask or reason out the mockery.
Allow me a little exaggeration as I have shouted out a number of times reading those paragraphs of mental turmoil, separation and despair, pleading with Angel to reconsider, not abandon her, not despise her, trying to convince him that Tess is pure, as pure as his thoughts. But Angel Clare isn’t Chaucer’s Troilus, another soul so full of love, so pure in love, an apt match. But who really knows, perhaps Troilus would’ve reacted just as Angel did; alas we are guarded, controlled and manipulated by the fortuities of providence.
We fall in love. We do. Fall.
Tess fell. Angel fell. And the rise is never devoid of sacrifice. And in Tess’s case, murder!
There’s innocence in the story, an innocence to be cherished in its plainness. Not just the characters, but the description of the countryside, the scenery, the expanses of the fields, the rivers and pathways, the horse-carts transport you to an era devoid of technology (how much I’ve hated to use this word here), to a life of minimalism and free of the cacophony of hurriedness.
Throughout the story, I visualized a known face to Tess’s, I morphed it to hers. I sought comfort snuggling myself in the elfin cave on her face shaped with every smile. I took her hand and walked the countryside. But I had to remind myself that it’s a story; Tess isn’t a face, a body. I wonder if a Tess ever existed. Does she? Do you Tess? I hope you do.
I have put Thomas Hardy on a pedestal; this book has been my introduction to him and I only want to get acquainted more. The writing is so clean, devoid of pompousness, with so much respect to the characters and the reader. There’s something about the classics; there’s something about Charles Dickens, D.H.Lawrence, Thomas Hardy; there’s honesty and innocence.
My rating – 10/10
Book cover - © https://oldbookdepot.in/product/tess-of-the-durbervilles-wordworth-classics-2-2/
Thomas Hardy - © https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/thomas-hardy