John Durbeyfield, a 'haggler' and a drunk, is weaving his way one afternoon towards the pub when he meets the village priest, Parson Tringham. The priest informs him that his family have distinguished ancestry. They are descended from the d'Urbervilles, a
*Many spoilers ahead* I have to say, that the British know how to impress me. I read Thomas Hardy’s book “Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented” the first time when I was only a teenager. The second time was just now, right before I started to watch this BBC TV miniseries after I bought it on DVD. First of all, it makes me feel ashamed to be a man and how we treated and in some places and societies still do treat women. This story takes place in Wessex in the time of the industrial revolution and more specific the period called the “long depression”. Tess grows up in a poor family of farmers, her father drinks, her mother has a simple and practical view of the world, her brothers and sisters also seem to be part of responsibilities. Tess is sent off, forced by some adverse conditions, to ask for help and work with a wealthy family, the d’Urbervilles, whom she believes to be distant relatives. She gets the immediate help, but in addition to that, the son of Lady D’Urberville rapes her. Tess runs back to her family and 9 months later gives birth to a son. This little boy, she names him Sorrow, dies soon, but here the local reverend shows his “Christian values” and denies her first the christening and then a burial of her son. Leaving the family farm again, she ends up to be a dairy maid, where she meets Angel. She met him before at a dance, right before her only, in my eyes, true mistake happens which was in itself only an accident: falling asleep on her father’s carriage and the following death of their only horse. Tess and Angel fall in love with each other and you begin to hope for Tess that now her life might become what she, this pure, innocent and warm-hearted woman deserves. Still ashamed of being raped, she tells Angel nothing of it, but Angel is open minded and so one might hope for the best. They do get married and now Tess “confesses” to him, but his reaction is pitiful. He leaves her behind, goes to Brazil to follow his dream and Tess is left again on her own to fight for herself. Very hard times lie ahead and for over a year Tess is forced to labour for a very little wage and the means to simply stay afloat and to await the return of Angel. Her father dies and her family is forced out of their homestead and again it is Tess who comes to the rescue and helps her mother and siblings. Her belief in love kept her hoping for Angel’s return, but it is Alec d’Urberville, he who raped her and whom she despises, who keeps beleaguering her with promises of a better life for her and her family if only she becomes his subject. All the letters she writes to Angel remain unanswered and eventually she becomes Alec’s plaything. Angel, who was struck by yellow fever eventually returns and starts to search for her. He does find her, but she sends him away, as it is too late now and she is no longer worthy of being his wife, because she sold herself to Alec. Angel leaves, but Tess has a change of heart and wants to follow him and in the ensuing fight with Alec, she stabs him to death, a more than justified end for her rapist and captor. Tess and Angel only have a few days in which they fly from the police, but eventually they get caught, in a magnificent and deeply symbolic scene with Tess sleeping on the alter at Stonehenge. Her two final words are: I’m ready. Tess is executed for her crime, a woman who truly was innocent by any moral standard. The book is good, but this miniseries did capture the aspect of Tess’s life beautifully. Give it a try and I do believe that it will keep you thinking for many hours why Hardy wrote it that way, why Tess is going through this martyrdom and why it had to end this way.
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