25 May 2017

Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I was going to try to make some kind of link between Tess Durbeyfield and River Song, but being women is pretty much all they have in common. I guess they both die? Anyway, I have a review up of series two of The Diary of River Song.

Trade paperback, 518 pages
Published 2003 (originally 1891)

Previously read January and February 2010
Acquired June 2014

Reread October 2014
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

As I skim back through my old lesson plans to write up my most recent reread of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, which took place in the context of teaching it, I'm impressed by the number of significant ideas and themes I took note of: evolution, history, women's roles, rape and sexual coercion, truth and selfhood, hidden psychology, and social forces are the ones I noted down-- of course there are many others, too. There's a lot going on in this novel, and you could write papers (or blog posts and blog posts; this is my third) and papers on it and only scratch the surface.

What always impresses about Hardy is his ability to link the cultural to the psychological. (I guess this is really what naturalism is all about, and he was probably its foremost British practitioner.) We perfectly understand the sometimes poor choices that Tess makes, both on the level of the cultural forces operating on her (Victorian society of course had a lot of expectations for the way women should act, which didn't always accord with what they encountered in the real world), and on the level of individual psychology (Tess always has a perfectly good reason to do what she does-- and somehow so does Angel and even Alec!). My students and I came up with the idea of "active passivity" to sum up Tess: she seems to never do anything... but not doing something often requires enormous force of will on her part. She puts so much work into not reacting so that she can fulfill what society expects of her. She's a victim of herself and her circumstances, in a way that really only a Victorian novel can depict.

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