Thomas Hardy is one of several authors who appears more than once in the BBC Big Read poll – with both Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urberville’s featured in the Top 100. Published in 1891, Tess of the D’Urbevilles is one of the oldest classics on the list of 100, and – taking the 26th spot – also one of the best-loved.
Tess was suggested to me by a number of people, most recently one of my best friends Kim, and her mum Lesley, both of whom I often go to for reading recommendations. Set in Hardy’s Wessex, Tess of the D’Urbevilles tells the tale of eponymous heroine, Tess Durbeyfield, a young and innocent girl who plunges headfirst into adulthood by giving birth to the illegitimate child of her cousin’s, shortly after having left home for the first time. Condemned by those around her, Hardy depicts her misfortune through beautifully written prose as her fate unravels before the reader’s eyes.
Two years after the birth – and death – of her child; aptly named Sorrow, Tess is working as a milkmaid when she encounters someone from her past. Angel Clare, youngest son of Reverend James Clare, is now an apprentice farmer at Talbothays Dairy. The two of them fall in love, much to the disappointment of his family, and thus Tess must decide whether to reveal her secret past to her new love.
A heart-breaking novel rife with hypocrisy and false virtue, its appropriate subtitle, ‘A Pure Woman’ courted as much controversy as the text itself. The tale is – at times – a depressing one, and it is evident why Hardy’s beloved novel is seen as a bleak portrait of the double standards women faced in the nineteenth century. An exploration of two very different relationships that interweave until the tale’s climatic end, Tess of the D’Urbeville’s is a beautiful, harrowing tale of what it is to love and to lose.