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ClassicsOnline Home » HARDY, T.: Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Abridged)
Socially critical and emotionally complex, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is Hardy’s masterpiece. It tells the story of Tess Durbeyfield, forced by her family’s poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles. Violated by the son Alec; her hopes of rebuilding her life with the gentle and bookish Angel Clare founder when he learns of her past. Set among the lush pastures and bleak uplands of Hardy’s imagined Wessex, and filled with unforgettable images of tenderness and tragedy, the story examines conventional morality through Tess herself: one of the best-loved characters in English literature. Sensitively read by Imogen Stubbs.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy was born near Dorchester on 2 June 1840. It was in 1862, when he moved to London to pursue a career in architecture, that he began to write, but he did not begin his first novel until he moved back to Dorset in 1867 to become assistant to John Hicks, an architect and church restorer. Only fragments survive of this first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, but he continued to write and in 1871 Desperate Remedies was published, followed by Under the Greenwood Tree (1872) and A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873). In 1874 Hardy married his first wife, Emma Gifford, and in the same year Far from the Madding Crowd was published to considerable acclaim. Four years later he moved back to London; The Return of the Native was published in the same year and he became a prominent figure in literary circles.
Returning again to Dorset in 1885, Hardy continued his regular output: The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887) and a collection of short stories, Wessex Tales (1888). Tess of the d’Urbervilles was published in 1891 and his last novel, Jude the Obscure, appeared in 1895. Towards the end of his life, Hardy turned to the writing of poetry. Emma died in 1912 and in 1914 he married his secretary, Florence Dugdale, with whose help he began his autobiography, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy. This was published posthumously, as he died on 11 January 1928. His ashes were laid in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey and his heart was buried in the grave of his first wife at Stinsford, next to the tomb of his parents.
Thomas Hardy is admired not only for the power of his storytelling, but for his evocation of the English landscape. He wrote in his notebooks: ‘My art is to intensify the expression of things as is done by Crivelli, Bellini, etc., so that the heart and inner meaning is made visibly visible.’ He was thus not just interested in the landscape as a mirror for the mood or circumstances of the characters, but he wanted there to be no separation between the two, and it is this unity that gives his novels their particular force and intensity: the tranquil Vale of Blackmoor is Tess’s innocence; the Chase somehow colludes in her seduction; her affair with Angel is also a love affair with the Vale of the Big Dairies; Flintcomb-Ash is an active participant in Tess’s destitution; the altar-stone of Stonehenge offers itself for her ultimate sacrifice.
If the individual is indivisible from the landscape, it would seem that mechanisation also has a part to play, and that part is invariably malevolent. We see Tess suffer on the threshing machine, and her long, wet journey to the railway station marks the real beginning of her inevitable tragedy. In part she is that rural idyll which would soon be eclipsed, and finally swept away by the turning of the century.
Notes by Heather Godwin
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HARDY, T.: Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Abridged)