Believe it or not I read this novel during my study breaks when revising for a module called Literature in History as part of my literature degree at the University of East Anglia. Although this may not sound like much of a step outside of my studies I found reading a true realist text such as this a welcome break from the modernist and postmodernist texts that made up the majority of the module. With Tess I didn’t have to question whether her behaviour and actions where merely metaphorical, or whether the text was trying to enter into some universal philosophical debate about feminism, or whether some random magical scene might suddenly happen, totally out of the blue, to subvert the genre of realism. Tess’s world is one the reader can believe in with no need to take the happenings with a pinch of salt. I found this example of true realism refreshing rather than dull as it was not taken to the extreme.
The story unfolds in three sections but seems to unravel at some frightening speed. Within the first couple of pages the family horse has been killed and Tess is hiking off into the sunset to beg kin with some rich relations and her sad story of Tess’s life seems to go downhill from there.
Simply from reading just one Thomas Hardy novel I can tell I’m going to be a fan. I enjoyed the subtle and quaint use of language although at times the subtly made incidents difficult to comprehend. For example at the end of the first part the rape scene is so delicately implied that I barely realised what had happened until finding Tess in the next part suckling a child! This writing style is simply due to the era in which it was written but can make narrative more challenging follow, although the language use is simplistic enough.
The narrative takes some unexpected twists and turns and seems to race along the closer towards the end of the novel you get at the same time the events are well staggered and believable in the time frame it is meant to cover. Reading Tess took me on a journey, not a fantastical one or an action-packed one but a believable one, a tale which touched the heart. And yes, it did make me cry.
I’d although thoroughly recommend the BBC TV adaptation for one which closely follows the novel.