Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

PENGUIN, 1982/1891

Thomas Hardy used to speak of Tess as if she were a real person, and once he wrote: ‘I have not been able to put on paper all that she is, or was, to me.’ It is true that in Tess he created on of the most striking and tragic of his heroines, whose sufferings cannot fail to grip the imagination long after the book is finished.

As a boy Thomas Hardy had been no stranger to poverty; and he unfolds his story of Tess, struggling to overcome the pitfalls that poverty and ignorance strew in her way, with peculiar intensity. In doing so, he mounts an assault on conventional Victorian society’s pharisaic morality, its unforgiving religion and rigid class system, and mourns the desecration by the machine of traditional agricultural life. With its sensitive depiction of the wronged Tess and powerful criticism of social convention, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is one of the most moving and poetic of Hardy’s novels.

Referred as Dickens of the fields, Thomas Hardy explores human nature as well as the county of Wessex in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The main character of the book is the eponymous Tess Durbeyfield, whose father in the beginning of the book discovers that he is one of the direct descendants of the great, but now forgotten, d’Urbervilles. The Durbeyfields are peasants in a small village of Marlott, and the news instantly give rise to higher expectations for the eldest daughter, Tess. Once they hear that a gentleman named Alec d’Urberville has settled in a nearby village, the family sends Tess to do introductions with the family in hopes of securing a wealthy connection. Tess, an obedient and religious young girl agrees despite feeling that there is something amiss in the situation. Alec d’Urberville is charming and immediately taken in by Tess, but his intentions are not as pure as expected. After a tragic night Tess is set to return home as a fallen woman. The story of Tess of the D’Urbervilles follows her journey and how one misguided event affects the life of a young country girl.

This is the first Thomas Hardy book that I’ve read, and I was very impressed by the writing. If you enjoy Victorian literature but dislike Dickens, go check out Thomas Hardy. The descriptions of the Wessex countryside formed a great backdrop for the events of the story, and the characters – especially Tess – made me keeping turning page after page. I enjoyed the book so much that instead of reading it in one sitting, I took my time with it – savouring the story. The beauty of the writing is strongly contrasted by the topic of sexual hypocrisy in the Victorian society as well as the social inequality. Tess is an adorable character and so strong in her beliefs that it is heartbreaking to see her struggle in the winds of social pressure. Beside the fall of the main character, the book also features criticism toward the fall of the countryside at the time of industrial revolution.

For me, Tess of the D’Urbervilles was one of those books that you just love as a whole. The story has many interesting elements, such as discussions on religion, faith, strenght etc., but it is hard to pinpoint what exactly made me love this book. I must, however, admit that I did not enjoy the ending of the book as much as I enjoyed the rest of the book. Due to the atmosphere of Victorian England, Thomas Hardy had to rewrite Tess of the D’Urbervilles a few times before it was published, and even after publication he continued omitting passages and including more morally acceptable elements. My edition included a very specific notation of all the changes that Hardy made to the manuscript after its first publication, and it was interesting to see how the small changes affected the feeling of the story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Tess of the D’Urberville very very much, and I recommend it to everyone who enjoys classics and poetic language.


Yet it was in that vale that her sorrow had taken shape and she did not love it as formerly. Beauty to her, as to all who have felt, lay not in the thing, but in what the thing symbolized.


6 thoughts on “Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

  1. I have always personally found Dickens quite hard to read, but I love Thomas Hardy and especially Tess of the D’urbervilles!
    Great review!

  2. It really looks like a compelling read – I didn’t expect that from Hardy.
    And I wonder what Tess ‘did’ to come under such criticism.
    ”If you enjoy Victorian literature but dislike Dickens, go check out Thomas Hardy”.From this line,I gather I must give it a go! 😉
    Your review has suddenly made me look forward to reading this novel!

    • Thank you for your comment! I realise I was a bit vague on the plot in this review but I didn’t want to spoil anything 🙂 If you want a more precise description, you should check the Goodreads blurb.

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