Thursday, 5 May 2011

TESS IN A MESS

I’ve been doing quite a lot of tutoring over the past couple of days, so have started but not had chance to finish Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
I have a real fondness for this one. It was one of the first books I read when, aged 16, I decided that I wanted to be ‘well-read’ (oh the pretensions of youth!) There was a small, independent bookshop in Plymouth called ‘Chapter and Verse’. I used to go there after school and browse the shelves, then buy a couple of the cheapest novels which, at that time, were the classics. I’m still reading the same copy I bought back then.
Later, I studied it ‘properly’ as part of my English degree and my tutor group had a weekend in Dorset visiting Hardy’s cottage and all the important Wessex locations.
Then there was the Polanski film version but Tess didn’t sound like that in my head and Angel Clare certainly did not look like that in my imagination.

And I’ve not read it again since. Perhaps age makes a difference. Back then I was almost overcome with indignation at how society and convention destroyed Tess. I must admit, however, that ‘what a silly girl’ kept creeping in between me and the text today. Pure simple country girl or no pure simple country girl; did she really not know what was going on? It is no excuse, either, to say that she had no choice because she was loyal to her parents, or because the horse was dead, or because Alec was to blame. She showed plenty of independent spirit when she wanted to. She was, in my opinion, simply too easily flattered. She gives in to Alec immediately after she has had her altercation with the other women on the way back from the fair. Then it takes her weeks to wake up to her predicament. I do like Tess. I like the way she turns her life around by taking the job at the dairy and I’m looking forward to re-reading the rest of the book but I just don’t see her as the poor misguided creature, tossed and tortured by fate, that I used to.

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