Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

100 Books by 40: Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented


I am starting with an aside. I don’t watch much TV, outside Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I was watching Fringe. I just started back up with Dexter. I feel like I have gone from drinking a 20 dollar bottle of wine to a 50 dollar bottle of wine. Dexter is a great show. I dropped off after the Julia Stiles season; I hate her. And that season was such a disappointment after the John Lithgow season. So far Colin Hanks is a vast improvement over Stiles.

Now then Tess, this was a great book. It is set in 1870’s England. The book primarily tells the tale of what happens to women as a result of sexual indiscretion as opposed to men. Things have changed little from the time of this novel to today. Men are still easily forgiven if not encouraged to express themselves sexually, and women are still penalized. Sure the consequences have changed, but the overall practices are quite similar. Girls who claim rape are bullied on Twitter (thanks Stubenville rape case). Women who advocate for accessible birth control are called sluts (thanks Rush Limbaugh).

The author was very sympathetic to Tess. The author seems to argue that sexuality, particularly female sexuality is natural. There is one bit that I didn’t enjoy about the book, and discussing it requires a spoiler alert.

*********************SPOILER ALERT**********************************
Tess ultimately murders the man who took here virginity. There are many things that lead to this which makes the reader sympathetic to Tess’ actions. She flees with the man who she actually loves; she is apprehended while sleeping on the altar of Stonehenge. This metaphor for nature being sacrificed at the altar of convention and religion was a bit too much for me. I felt like this bit was heavy-handed. Otherwise the book was really great.

5 thoughts on “100 Books by 40: Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented

  1. I got my screen name (and the name of my solo music project, which is essentially the same name) from that book! I didn’t love it, but goddamn did I love that line about the ache of modernism. So much. So, so much.

    • Yeah, that was an excellent line. Mostly I was annoyed with the end. The rest of the book was pretty good.

      • I feel like in high school and college people kept telling me I’d love Thomas Hardy (Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess, Return of the Native) and I never really did. I suspect I would like him more now.

      • I have another Hardy book in my list of 100. He certainly was writing from an unusual perspective for the time. I have noticed that I don’t connect emotionally to the British Literature very well. I feel a little unsophisticated as a reader saying that, but it’s true.

      • Yeah, I think there is some kind of cultural disconnect. And your list seems to be heavy on the Brits, for sure. It was really apparent to me when reading Jane Austen that there were things that were happening that I just did not understand in a different way than reading American books of the same age.

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