I recently indulged in Thomas Hardy’s 1892 novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and was taken aback at the affect it had on me both emotionally and ideologically. I have considered myself a feminist since I discovered the meaning of the word and this book highlighted to me the injustices faced by women during the 19th century and how much we have progressed as a society. ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ is a tragic novel which includes desperation, deceit, rape, love and loss, evoking a deep emotional response within the reader.
The part of the novel that really struck a chord with me was Angel’s rejection of Tess upon finding out her status as a fallen woman as a result of rape. Angel admits that Tess was ‘more sinned against’ rather than having sinned herself, but his reaction to rape and abandonment of his new wife that he was confessing his undying love to only moments before this discovery still had me thinking weeks after finishing the book. How could someone so loving and devoted turn so suddenly and be appalled and sickened by their wife based on something that happened to her due to the actions of another man? I perceived Angel’s character as kind, loving and accepting – a representation that Hardy presents to us to make his rejection more realistic, but as a 20th century reader we find this response shocking and can’t understand Angel’s reasoning whereas it is contextually accurate.
Tess is a victim of circumstance, as is the case with many other of Hardy’s female characters; Some consider Hardy a feminist for presenting women as victims of patriarchal society, as contextually during the 19th century women had very little rights compared to those of men. Hardy openly attacks the moral and social standards of the time and provides a very liberal view by humanising Tess and her situation to allow the reader to develop attachment to her character, thus evoking a stronger emotional response to her impossible situation and the ending of the novel.
But how did this book ‘change my life’? Hardy’s portrayal of women in society during the 1800’s made me realise how far we have come and the steps society has taken to ensure equality and liberate women. The novel documents the significant injustices that women faced and makes you consider as a reader the way in which you would react differently to Tess’ situation, but with that comes the realisation that due to her lower class status as a woman, she had no other choice or way of speaking out for herself. The book made me think a lot about morality and injustice that women faced during the Victorian era and to compare the standards in our society now, to the ones that they had back then.
This book might change your life, but also your outlook on the role of women in society today and how its changed throughout history. No matter whether you’re a fan of 19th century literature or not, this novel is a work of art. It’ll make your heart ache and your head spin with the events that continue to pull Tess down, whilst you continue to observe her resilience as a woman fighting against oppression and tragic circumstance.