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Book Review: Tess of the d’Urbervilles

December 24, 2020

I read this book because it was my sister’s book. She passed away this year. Many of her novels came to me.

I really knew nothing about it, except that it is considered one of the 100 greatest books ever written. My sister read all 100. Of course, the list of the greatest 100 books ever written is a pretty subjective list. Tess of the d’Urbervilles falls somewhere between 70 and 90 on most lists that books from all over the world.

So, I didn’t have high expectations. I can confidently say that Tess exceeded my low expectations. In fact, if I had high expectations, it would have still exceeded them.

Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles in 1891. Nearly 150 years ago. And yet, the story was a gripping and captivating as anything I’ve read.

The story is about Tess Durbeyfield. She’s both victim and heroine. Despite being written in what might be considered a more genteel age, the story involved rape, murder, illegitimate birth, infant mortality. Hardly genteel topics.

But, the amazing thing was Hardy’s writing. His use of language sometimes made me want to go back and reread a passage just to enjoy the interplay of words. He spent entire paragraphs describing the how a barn looked. Or how to properly milk a cow.

The story at times didn’t move like many modern stories. Instead, it strolled through the English countryside. Hardy’s characters come alive (and some die) in a way that makes you want to meet some of them, and makes you want to punch some of them in the face.

Every hour spent reading this amazing book was an hour, a day or an entire season spent with Angel Clare, Tess, enjoying the beautiful English countryside.

What I Liked

Virtually everything. The settings, the characters, the plot. It was masterful. I especially enjoyed reading someone describing a world I didn’t know anything about, in a manner that was contemporary. It was like time travelling but, only being able to see and hear, but not interact.

What I Didn’t

At times Hardy’s prose is too far removed. He uses phrases or objects that are contemporary to him, but I had no idea what they were. Sometimes I got it from context. Other times, I just allowed myself to be confused and went on. It knocked me out of the story briefly, but it was such an engaging story, I had no trouble jumping right back in.

What it Means To You

While I enjoyed this book, I can imagine those who wouldn’t enjoy it. As I said, Hardy uses words to paint pictures, great sweeping vistas and warm intimate settings. But, if you are reading to “find out what happens next” you are going to go pages and pages before the next piece of dialogue. You might even consider it slow.

My Rating

If I am reading books from the 100 Greatest Books list, I would imagine I’m going to come up with a lot of four our of four stars.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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