Since finishing my undergrad degree, I haven’t had assigned reading. Seriously.
In my urge to be ‘serious’ I picked up Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Tess follows a young English woman as she is acted upon by the men in society. Her life and social standing are utterly reliant on the men who provide or remove standing, wealth and security.
There must be a lot of criticism on this book. In a nutshell, Tess is from a poor, previously noble, family whose parents ask her to reach out to distant relatives for assistance. One of these cousins starts a relationship with her that ends in the birth of a child, although he doesn’t know this and doesn’t provide for the child. Years later, Tess moves to a dairy where she meets Angel Clare, with whom she falls deeply in love. They marry and she tells him her story, for which he disowns her and moves to Brazil. In the years of his absence and her poverty, she turns back to Alec, her noble cousin.
When Angel returns, the shit hits the fan. I won’t ruin the ending but I didn’t see that one coming.
I thought that Hardy uses Tess to demonstrate the forces that move society. No man wishes Tess harm, they are simply following their desires. Somehow it is Tess who bears the brunt of these expressions. She is painted to the be innocent victim, the passive vessel. She doesn’t have a will and bends to the needs of the men in her life, her parent and her brothers and sisters.
The feminist in me doesn’t like that much.