I listened to Tess of the d'Urbervilles on my drive to Texas for graduate school in 2009. Apparently, I found the female narrator's voice for Tess whiny, desperate, and weak, and it influenced me so much that I found myself hating the heroine on that alone.
But I generally appreciated the book. It covered a lot of ground and life instances, and showed a deep struggle between religion, society and nature (nature meaning a person's natural instincts and desires).
I managed to take a few scribbled notes while listening and driving with my knees down the old Route 66. Here's my recap from that long-ago trip.
- Again I noticed a lot of outdoor, especially garden, liminal spaces. In essence, what I remember from class (please don't hate if I've mislead, Professor Younger), the liminal space is where the relationship between two characters is developing--becoming evident to reader, and likely to the characters as well. It's sexually charged without having to be sexual. In some instances its sensual, others playful, others still have an air of discovery.
- Before Tess's big fall from grace, the sexual imagery was dripping from the speakers. I can only imagine viewing the words on the pages. It's filled with rather blunt innuendos, if I can even call them that.
- Tess failed me as a heroine. Sure she was the dream single lady--making her own dough and going her own way, kicking ass and taking names at the end. But she could have prevented her misery multiple times, as the novel points out, if she had only followed through on her instincts. I'm wondering what that says about women. Through the novel, is Hardy critiquing women? Is he letting the novel's last hurrah to atone for Tess's indecision? In my eyes she's a wreck, but was her headstrong manner something for Nineteenth-Century feminists to applaud?
- Every male in this novel is represented (at one time, if note entirely) as a jackass. Surprisingly, the guy who really redeems himself in this reader's eyes, is Alec d'Urberville. Stalker? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Whiny? Yes. But damn it he tried to fix his past mistakes. Angel Clare just waltzed in from abroad and caused destruction. And he WON. The guy who tried to fix things lost. What does that say about turning away from society and God? Hmmmm?
So many question. So little answers.