Surprising Sunday: Tess of d’Urbervilles

Posted 22 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Surprising Sunday: Tess of d’UrbervillesTess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Published by Harper & Brothers Publishers on 1920
Pages: 508
four-half-stars

Tess Durbeyfield, a peasant girl and cast-off descendant of English aristocracy, has become one of the most famous female protagonists in 19th-century British literature. Betrayed by the two men in her life - Alec D’Urberville, her seducer/rapist and father of her fated child; and Angel, her intellectual and pious husband - Tess takes justice, and her own destiny, into her delicate hands. In telling her desperate and passionate story, Hardy brings Tess to life with an extraordinary vividness that makes her live in the heart of the reader long after the novel is concluded.

I decided to pick up this audio-book for my drive from Chicago to Atlanta. I was pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable it was. I had been dreading this book for a long time, but knew I was going to have to read it eventually if I ever wanted to complete the 1001 Books to Read Challenge.

This book was surprisingly modern. Tess is a strong female character. From the beginning she’s not afraid to do what is necessary for her family, even when her mother and father seem childish and much more naive than Tess. She takes responsibility for things that she feels are her fault and works extraordinarily hard throughout the entire novel. 

She can’t quite be classified as a feminist, as she accepts her lot and often feels as if it’s her fault. But she is stoic and strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas Hardy was a feminist of sorts. That of course, is solely based on this novel. 

Alec d’Urberville is immediately unlikable. This is (naturally) reinforced after he rapes Tess. The language that Hardy uses surrounding the rape is full of euphemisms. It probably took me about half of the book to solidly determine that she had been raped and not just seduced. 


Angel Clare starts out likable enough, wooing and insisting on Tess to take his hand in marriage, that is until he turns into a total hypocritical ass. He’s also nearly an atheist in a family of pious people. His choice to reject the faith of his father results in his loss of the opportunity for a university education – instead he decides to take up the lifestyle of a gentleman farmer, which puts Tess directly in his path. 

I was rather shocked by the ending. 

Narration was good, unremarkable.

#814 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010)

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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