My favourite book: Tess of the d’Urbervilles

With our treasured libraries closed, we are staying in touch with our West Sussex librarians by asking them about their favourite books.

Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 4:08 pm
Graeme Page - My Favourite Book

This week Graeme Page, library assistant at Littlehampton Library, talks about Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

“Reading has been a constant in my life from the moment I learned how. In almost every photo of me as a child I am proudly waving a book or comic. Back then my reading material of choice was made up of Doctor Who novelisations, Rupert Bear, Marvel and DC Comics and anything to do with dinosaurs. As a teenager I devoured any and every horror novel on which I could lay my hands, from masters of the genre such as H P Lovecraft, Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell to the more lurid and less well written end of the market. It was only upon hitting my twenties that I felt the need to expand my literary horizons and to embark on a campaign to work my way through the classics...

“I enjoyed Dickens and Dostoevsky, but wasn’t so keen on either Jane Austen or George Eliot. Sorry everyone!

"It was, however, Thomas Hardy who was the one for me. Tess of the d’Urbervilles hit hard. It’s bleak and frequently melodramatic and poor Tess has to endure a largely woeful existence but the writing is wonderful. Hardy’s descriptions of nature and sense of location are near unparalleled. I was struck by how, despite having been written over a hundred years ago, the character of Tess felt so alive and almost modern, her emotions as fresh as our own, her outlook and concerns so similar.

“Tess Durbeyfield lives a rural life, full of hardship and simple pleasures. It is at a May Day dance that she first sees a handsome young man, Angel Clare, who will come to play a big part in her future. Her father, meanwhile, is told by a parson that he is the descendant of a noble and wealthy family, the d’Urbervilles. He sends Tess to the family seat to claim her kinship and hopefully turn the tide of their own fortunes. Here she meets Alec d’Urberville, an encounter which is to have a profound and long-lasting effect on both their lives. Her existence from this point on is the classic rollercoaster ride, highs and lows, times of pleasure and companionship and moments of heartbreaking tragedy, her fate linked inextricably with those of both Angel and Alec.

“Tess is one of our most vibrant, courageous and tragic literary characters, from her poor beginnings in a beautifully realised scenario of country living, rituals and festivities and building to a thrilling climax at Stonehenge.

“It’s not a fun read by any means but, let’s face it, any book which features rape, murder and a baby named Sorrow was never going to be Bridget Jones!

“I have only reread Tess of the d’Urbervilles once and, although still loving it, was more aware on this occasion of the slight creakiness of some of the plot devices. But this didn’t stop me feeling for Tess and her miserable life.

“There have been a number of film and TV adaptations. Roman Polanski’s 1979 version looks gorgeous and, whilst enjoyable in the main, does miss out huge chunks of plot and loses something of the look of Hardy’s Wessex by being filmed in France! The BBC’s 2008 adaptation is more faithful in tone and builds to a gripping climax but I still feel nobody has quite managed to capture on screen the mood of the novel. I’m optimistic, though...

"But, perhaps the most telling and obvious mark of the long lasting effect Hardy’s novel has had on me is that my daughter is named... Tess!”

West Sussex Libraries are closed until further notice, but they’ve introduced a virtual hub of your local library’s online services at https://arena.westsussex.gov.uk/web/arena/currentoffer

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