Tuesday, April 12, 2011



A young woman falls victim to an unscrupulous man and spends her life suffering the consequences of his sin.


This is a story about double standards, making it very frustrating to read. Tess is an innocent girl who is essentially raped, but she cannot overcome the sense that she has done something wrong. Her angelic new husband, apparently a progressive thinker, cannot see past the loss of her virtue, despite his own indiscretions. Everybody suffers, but no one more than Tess. This is an odd mix of deception and honesty, convention and irreverence that highlights the changing values of Hardy's England.

There are many moments in this story when things almost work out. If only Tess had said something slightly different at any given moment Angel might have relented. If only one circumstance had been slightly different, Tess might not have made the choices she did. If only a tiny scrap of humanity or love had entered one character's mind, another might not have suffered. These little moments make this story tense and fascinating.

The great thing about Hardy's writing style is that he has a way of pulling back and describing broad, panoramic scenes and then zeroing in on tiny details. He shows you the extraordinary curve of an eyelash or a stray shadow, and then seemlessly returns to the sweeping mystery of the countryside. The rich language pulls you into this story of love, betrayal, history and deception and does not let you go.


Here's the good old Project Gutenberg link
And here's another review of this book from Sarcastic Female Literary Circle


Free Kindle edition


Do you think people can ever fully overcome a checkered past in the eyes of others?


  1. +JMJ+

    This is a great review of Tess! It has been years since I read the book, but there's something about the "If Only" element you mention that has haunted me since. Tess seems to be a microcosm for a great sense of loss that Hardy feels whenever he looks at his own beloved England.

    I'm also glad you noticed Thomas Hardy's very visual writing style. Although I read this book on my own in high school, one of my professors assigned it for a class on "visual" writers who created "cinematic" images before there was such a thing as cinema. (In his class, we also read Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells.)

  2. Hardy was a great believer in fate. So he contrives his stories to "prove" his philosophies. As much as I enjoyed reading Tess I couldn't escape the fact that Hardy was causing everything to happen to his heroine in order to prove his own point.
    Very nice review!

  3. Thanks for the linky love :)

    And great review! I agree entirely. Fascinating yet frustrating at the same time. I know so many people that had to put the book down for a bit while reading.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. Sharon, your comment about fate makes a lot of sense. It kept bothering me that nothing Tess did ever seemed to improve her situation.

  5. Hardy is one of my fave writers so as a proud new Kindle owner I'll be working my way through them again for free. Just finished Mayor of Casterbridge, different perspective now from when I was 17, so will be re reading Tess soon!

  6. Reading this book was such an unpleasant and downright depressing experience for me that I promptly followed it up with Willa Cather's "Song of the Lark" -- in which the heroine is refreshingly NOT exploited and mistreated by every man she meets. Granting the artistic strengths of "Tess", I still swore off Hardy after this one.


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