Monday, November 12, 2007

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

First of all, much thanks to notaconnoisseur for taking over the blog while I vacationed in London for the week. I credit notaconnoisseur for my reading fanaticism—though I will never achieve her level of voracity.

As a self-proclaimed reader, one of my favorite stops in London was the British Library. I was particularly drawn to the special collections area that includes many rare texts, including Thomas Hardy’s handwritten manuscript of Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

The first time I encountered Tess was in a high school English class. My immediate reaction to the book was dislike. Everything goes wrong in Tess’s life, and I found her troubles depressing and self-fulfilling.

My English teacher insisted Alec raped Tess, but I was a teenage-know-it-all and knew the relationship was consensual. Why, I reasoned, would Tess return to Alec if he raped her? And what was so bad about him in the first place?

As I’ve mentioned before, I always root for the wrong man, and no matter how despicably Alec acted, I wanted Tess and Alec to be together. I found Angel insipid and hypocritical. He was much better suited to Tess’s younger sister, Liza Lu.

I thoroughly disliked the book and placed it on my most-hated list.

Fortunately, I have read the book several more times since leaving adolescence. Age does wonders for perspective (though Jane Eyre insists that wisdom is not a result of age alone but “depends on the use you have made of your time and experience”).

I now realize that Tess is not just foolhardy, and Alec is not a charming rake. She is young and impressionable. Regardless of what she feels for Alec, he has power and control over her.

Angel, on the other hand, is still insipid and hypocritical.

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