Oh, dear dear Tessy! What can I say? You come from a family of lazy idiots. Perhaps that was your first problem. But I get ahead of myself.
Let me start with the fact that this book is so complex for me that I feel that I must view it through several lenses at once: literary, psychological, theological, and personal.1. Literary:
This book was a beautiful painting of rural English country life at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Pastoral life became accessible for me in a way that no book has ever made it. The plot itself wound on in an interesting way. The villains were complex and the heroine/victim was sympathetic (maybe just pathetic...I'm not sure). The prose was highly readable and boosted my vocabulary satisfactorily (reconnoitre, modicum, revived my love of "whilst", etc., etc.) All in all 4.5 stars.2. Psychological:
As I have been watching more than my fair share of TV crime drama lately, I couldn't help but look at this book through this lens. Clearly, Tess is highly susceptible to being manipulated and battered. Dear ol mom and dad set her up for it from her earliest childhood. Mom postpones chores until the last minute and then acts as if she is so ladened with responsibility that she couldn't possibly bare the load alone. Dad constantly trying to justify laziness and conning Tess into taking up the slack. She didn't have much of a chance when master manipulator Alec D'Urberville comes on the scene. Angel Clare lording his power over her with the hot and cold technique, holding out the proverbial carrot of hope. So, by the end of the book, which plays out like an episode of Snapped, it's no wonder that poor Tessy has a psychological brake with reality. The problem is that Tess is nice and pretty and self-indulgently self-loathing. Rather than get mad at being victimized, she owns it and wishes she were dead. She states as much, so often that I was nearly inclined to see her put out of her misery. "Oh, the angst of living! *sigh* Why aren't I dead yet?" Aside from her stubborn--even prideful--tendency to choose the hard row to hoe or the stupid decision, there wasn't much to Tess. Her thoughts and beliefs were even borrowed from Angel. In a word, this book made me ANGRY. Angry at her parents. Angry at Alec. Angry at Angel and his freaking high horse hypocrisy. And ultimately angry at Tess for being such a door mat. No real likable people in this book. One star (enjoyment)/4 stars (complex & interesting)=2 stars.3. Theological:
Hardy makes it pretty clear that he does not believe in Christianity or God or the afterlife. He takes it far enough as to be preachy. I hated this element of the book. One star.4. Personally:
Finally, I liked many elements of the book. The language, the descriptions of rural life, and the plot points were all great. But I did not really enjoy this book. I told my wife that if I could become a literary assassin, I would go into this book and kill off several of the characters early on and save us all a bunch of trouble and heartache. It was all so maddening. In the end I was happy to see it finished. 2 stars.
Average of all lenses=3 stars, but I doubt I will ever read this again.