One novel frequently assigned to high school and college students is "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." The classic novel is frequently referenced on various assessments such as the Advanced Placement English Literature Exams, International Baccalaureate exams and SAT essays. Being knowledgable about the novel provides rich material for students seeking to raise their scores on these tests.
In this Victorian British novel, the heroine is a young woman from Marlott in what Hardy calls Wessex country. This area of England is today's Dorset. Tess, a beautiful, adolescent girl just coming into young womanhood, possesses a natural sensuality mixed with a trusting innocence of the opposite sex.
Her father, the plain, simple and somewhat impoverished John Durbeyfield learns from a dusty peddler who passes him on the lane that he is a direct descendant of a noble family by the name of D'Urberville, Perhaps Durbeyfield would have let this newly found knowledge pass by were it not for his wife, Joan, who insists upon sending the lovely Tess to visit the D'Urbervilles, who live quite a distance away, to visit and establish a kinship.
Tess is reluctant, but her mother, who must stay home and care for her many younger children, is insistent, and Tess wants to please her mother.
What follows is a tale which, in essence, becomes ancient Greek tragedy retold in the Victorian novel. As a representative of an economically deprived and decaying ancestral family, Tess is now a member of a lower social class rejected by the aristocracy of the time. That once-noble family, like many other ancestral families of the time, has given way to social and moral decay.
The resulting story follows Tess as she goes through her life facing one hurdle after another, with each situation becoming more hopeless than the next, all brought on by that one moment in time when Tess and her parents found out they were born into a noble family.
Such is the writing of Thomas Hardy, one of the greatest English writers of all time.
Hardy was born in Dorset near Dorchester in the mid-1800s. At first he was an apprenticed architect, but he began writing in his early 20s and moved to London. He became a prolific writer, widely considered ahead of his time, and much criticized for his overly graphic, even "lewd" scenes, tame by our modern standards.
Some of his important novels were "Far from the Madding Crowd," "The Return of the Native" and "The Mayor of Casterbridge." His greatest work, according to critics, was "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." He later turned to writing poetry, a genre in which he greatly excelled.
Young Tess Durbeyfield attempts to restore her family’s fortunes by claiming their connection with the aristocratic d’Urbervilles. But Alec d’Urberville is a rich wastrel who seduces her and makes her life miserable. When Tess meets Angel Clare, she is offered true love and happiness, but her past catches up with her and she faces an agonizing moral choice.
Thomas Hardy’s indictment of society’s double standards, and his depiction of Tess as “a pure woman,” caused controversy in his day and has held the imagination of readers ever since. Hardy thought it his finest novel and Tess the most deeply felt character he ever created. Download and start listening now!