This quote sums up pretty well what this novel is about.
It's a coming of age of a pretty and young maiden in 19th century England. Apart from her beauty she's an innocent spirit, who constantly sets others before herself.
Her young life, barely 16, starts out with her father finding out he's from an old and wealthy branch, named Urberville, which is now lost and debased to Durbeyfield.
Him being a haggler and basically a good for nothing kind of man, he let's that knowledge take the better of him and is responsible for the first gentle push of Tess towards the edge.
Tess struggles, as would any other 16y old when being told they have to travel to unknown family and declare a piece of their wealth as her own. But circumstances are against Tess and she unwillingly sets forth on a journey taking her closer still to that edge.
The first she meets, is Alex d'Urberville, a usurper of that once mighty family name and as he regards Tess, who is more beautiful and ripe in her looks than in her experience, starts off courting her.
Tess, being brought up sensibly, is standing her ground fairly well, not impressed with Alec's idea of courtship. None the less, being constantly near him, he finally sees an opportunity to get what he wants, eventually ending with Tess going home again and leaving him quite shaken at her sudden departure.
Then the novel spans a few months, and next time we meet Tess again, she's a young mother, trying to work for a living, while living at home. Both under the tyranny of her own guilty and ashamed mind and the tyranny of a smallminded community. When her boy suddenly gives way to illness, she sets off to a part of the country where her story might not be known and ends up as a dairy maid, where she meets the handsome and charismatic Angel.
I don't like Angel, he's not as decrepit as Alex, but from the start he's acting like a stubborn and spoilt little boy. Tess, however, falls in love with him and ends up marrying him, what he only achieved through continuously harrassing her until she gave way. It's not that she didn't want to marry him, but she felt that the stain of her past was not something she could bring forth into a marriage.
But, like I said, she marries him eventually and after trying and failing to tell him of her past mistakes, she eventually tells him on their wedding night. Perhaps not the best time to finally act upon her sensibilities, especially with the stoic Angel.
Tess is shaken when she realises the love Angel has for her isn't as solid as her love for him. He ultimately leaves her, but I am amazed she doesn't fight for him to stay. Okay, she has made a mistake albeit her fault or not, she's still the girl Angel fell in love with or so she thinks, but Angel didn't love her being, he loved the image he had of her. The pure dairy maid with an old name in her blood, not the image of her as a woman once held by someone other than himself.
He even confesses of something quite the same, before she told her story, but can't see that he's not fair upon her.
So, being just married and already left alone, the last thing she says to him is
Tess, going home again, is mortified of something being known about her current state of affairs, that she decides to not stay home and is forced to roam the countryside in search of work.
A few times she tries to reach him, but her own guilt and the facts she heard through friends, withhold her of reaching out.
Instead of Angel, Alec finds his way back to her. Being converted of his wicked way, he does another 180 when he sees Tess again.
He starts off with trying to do the right thing, but Tess shields him off.
She keeps the memory of her husband high and strives to be as respectable as she can be, even against the persistent attacks of her former lover.
In the end Angel finally changes his mind and comes home. He goes in search after her, finding out she relented to Alec. Tess takes extreme measures to be with Angel again and follows him into the countryside. I wish I could say they lived long and prosperous, but at least Tess was happy.
Well, I gave you more spoilers than I usually give, but with a classic english novel, knowing the plot line isn't the worst. Thomas Hardy paints this picture in such a lush and flavoursome way that only reading his words feels like you're tasting that day and age.
So, don't let it stop you for reading this novel. It starts out a little slow, with a lot of reflection on Tess's side of the story, for she is a girl that likes to overthink. The story takes flight, however, by the middle of the novel and you won't be able to put it down, feeling equally mad at Angel and Alec and frustrated about Tess's stubborn mind.
Angel and Alec are Tess's good and bad nature. I admit I was a little taken aback when Tess suddenly cleared away from Alec, I apparently has read right over her supposed rape, but I'm not so sure she was actually raped as most think. Would a rape victim go back to her attacker, especially the wilful Tess? That doesn't make sense.
I rather think that Alec seduced her and she was still too young to know what he was seducing her for and her own curiousness ended her up in a situation for which she wasn't ready. She might have wanted him to stop, but I think she was only frightened of how easy is eventually was for Alec to get what he wanted. But as he himself said, instead of giving into him easier, she pulled back from him quickly and thouroughly, which caused him to respect and want her even more.
When he has a chance at her again, he doesn't give up. He's set on having her, even if he only acquires the broken shell of what he could be.
Tess is mainly frightened of Alec because he's the personification of her own darkness. Being beautiful and witted, she knows her own power. She constantly tries to hide her looks and acts quite subdued in company of men, because she known what she could trigger.
Angel, on the other side, is all that Tess wants to be. He's pure and lyrical and all his wordly manners isn't means to have sex with innocent girls. He's Tess's idea of the ideal husband, having respect for her mind and manners. He showed affection in a more gentle and playful manner, whereas Alec liked to be dominant and belittle and insult her.
But as the dominant man never won her heart, the gentle man never won her passion. She trusts Angel more than he deserves and when he finally hears the truth, he cowers and hides, giving way to Tess' fears of not deserving anyone like him.
On top of meeting those two equally horrible men, she doesn't get a break ever. It seems as if she is already in purgatory, paying for the sin of innocence. In the background of her love story, there is the slow decrepit of England's history of farm workers slowly evolving into the industrial era. Thomas Hardy never takes the time to explicitly tell his views of how that time affected Tess, but he managed to let Tess her surroundings speak for itself.
I feel for Tess, all the trouble she's in, just because she wasn't a plain Durbeyfield.
I've started with a quote, I'll end with one.
What's Egypt to one, feels like the promised land for another.