War and Peace really has to be one of the very best novels ever written! It has to be in my top-five favorite books too. This was the third time that...moreWar and Peace really has to be one of the very best novels ever written! It has to be in my top-five favorite books too. This was the third time that I have read this wonderful book, and I really enjoyed it ever so much this last time; I savored every word and sentence. You can't help but become swept up in the characters and the stream of history that goes by during the ten years or so that War and Peace encompasses. I really don't understand what scares off so many people from reading this novel. In fact, I didn't want it to end - as though I wanted to see how the characters lived out the rest of their lives. Read this book!(less)
This was a compelling and absorbing novel from the get-go! One that I simply could not put down. I felt like I just wanted to bundle little Jane up an...moreThis was a compelling and absorbing novel from the get-go! One that I simply could not put down. I felt like I just wanted to bundle little Jane up and take good care of her throughout her time at Lowood School (God, what a hellish institution!). This book makes you laugh, and it makes you cry; but it always makes you think. I really enjoyed Charlotte Bronte's expression of, in my opinion, modern feminism throughout the telling of this tale. I am stunned that I have waited this long to read this most beautiful novel; and highly recommend this book. I believe that Jane Eyre, Villette, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are my three favorite Bronte sisters novels. Also, I went out and rented two versions of Jane Eyre film adaptations through Netflix, including the recent BBC production. The earlier William Hurt/Charlotte Gainsborough version was priceless too.(less)
I just finished reading A.S. Byatt’s novel, Possession, again for about the fourth time. It has been several years since I last read it, and I have to...moreI just finished reading A.S. Byatt’s novel, Possession, again for about the fourth time. It has been several years since I last read it, and I have to say that I saw it in a completely new light. It is a literary masterpiece that is exquisitely plotted and written.
This time around I very carefully studied the epigraphs leading off most of the chapters and all of the beautiful poetry included in the text. I don’t know that I gave much more than a cursory glance to the poetry during previous reads. This time though, I focused on Byatt’s poetry and discovered just how much it enriched and influenced the novel’s dual plots.
Regarding the epigraphs, I recommend that the reader carefully study each epigraph before reading the chapter; and then upon finishing the chapter, go back and read it again and see if you correctly figured out the true meaning of it. There are little puzzles and clues throughout the entire novel, most of them residing within the poetry sections.
This is a beautiful love story, achieving a level of romantic passion, emotion, and anguish like that of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with the Byronic or Gothic touches of the Bronte sisters. It is clear, to me, why Byatt was awarded the Booker Prize for Possession in 1990; and that this novel is clearly destined to be a classic work of literature.(less)
From the start this book just grabs you and off you go with Elinor and Marianne. As a younger man, I was always somewhat frightened, and even intimida...moreFrom the start this book just grabs you and off you go with Elinor and Marianne. As a younger man, I was always somewhat frightened, and even intimidated, to read Jane Austen; although I certainly don't know why now. I read "Pride and Prejudice" and "Sense and Sensibility" many years ago, and enjoyed them immensely; but never continued with the rest of her canon. Now that I am much older, I have since corrected that terrible mistake and have read all of her works, several times, and in the order written.
With "Sense and Sensibility" I was immediately captivated with Austen's deft plotting, character development, and prose style. "Sense and Sensibility" is a beautiful, timeless novel portraying that ever so foreign and mysterious relationship that exists between sisters regarding life, family, and the loves in their lives. It is easy, very easy, to get lost in this world of life and love that Jane Austen presents for us in "Sense and Sensibility." While I love all of Jane Austen's novels, I'd have to say that "Persuasion", "Emma", and "Sense and Sensibility" are clearly my top three.(less)
All I can say is that this is just a marvelous 'laugh-out-loud' book that deserves to be read again and again. If you have a friend in low spirits, gi...moreAll I can say is that this is just a marvelous 'laugh-out-loud' book that deserves to be read again and again. If you have a friend in low spirits, give 'em a copy; it'll be sure to bring 'em around!
I have just finished reading this novel again, for the umpteenth time, and still can only marvel at the wit and craft that Austen has applied to this fabulous book. I think this time, I really concentrated on the thought-processes and maturation of Lizzy's feelings as she works through her relationship with Mr. Darcy from start to finish. Also, it seems that with the exception of Catherine Morland's mother and father in Northanger Abbey, that Austen created in her novels, in the main, some truly abominable and inept parents. While Mr. Bennet is clever-tongued, he is an atrocious father and indifferent husband; and Mrs. Bennet -- well, what can be said there that hasn't been said? Ughh!
I know that this may seem heretical to ardent Janeites, but I don't think that "Pride and Prejudice" is Austen's very best effort. Don't get me wrong, this novel is certainly in my top-twenty; but I believe that Austen honed her craft over time and delivered her real literary masterpieces in "Emma" and "Persuasion". I surmise that if we polled Austen on this issue, she'd agree. Is "Pride and Prejudice" the novel to introduce a new reader to Austen for the first time? You betcha! They'd be hooked from the first sentence; just as I was! It is a wonderfully clever romantic novel that happens to be very funny, and provides these terrific character studies of people of whom we all know in our own lives today.(less)
"Emma" was a fun read! This is, I believe, Jane Austen's most polished novel; and it shows. It is, if you'll indulge me for a moment, a mystery with a...more"Emma" was a fun read! This is, I believe, Jane Austen's most polished novel; and it shows. It is, if you'll indulge me for a moment, a mystery with a series of smaller mysteries inside of it. The reader is constantly trying to keep track of little details and facts that help inform one to what is actually going on. Austen skillfully keeps the reader off-balance, or even confused, as we move from character to character and event to event. All is most certainly not what it seems until near the very end of the novel, with delightful surprises along the way. One almost needs a little scorecard to jot down notes to help keep one's thoughts organized; which I surmise is just what Jane Austen wanted us to do. Her object lesson is to be observant and true (which our little Emma learns along the way).
The reader can't help but fall in love with the vivacious Emma and her 'apparent' match-making skills. Again, Jane Austen does a wonderful job of placing us in the minds and manners of a group of interesting characters in the bucolic English countryside in the early 19th century. It was wonderful to watch the attraction and love between Emma and Mr. Knightley become more apparent in spite of Emma's missteps. Jane Austen's insertion of her subtle humor makes this novel every bit as enjoyable as her 'laugh-out-loud' "Pride and Prejudice." "Emma", of all of Austen's beautiful novels, is always the book to pick up and immerse one's self in on a beautiful spring day.(less)
"Persuasion" was Jane Austen's last completed work before her death; and one that I think she'd have continued to work on to make it even more perfect...more"Persuasion" was Jane Austen's last completed work before her death; and one that I think she'd have continued to work on to make it even more perfect that it already is.
"Persuasion" is an achingly beautiful love story. A short, but incredibly rich novel, that presents the feelings and thoughts of the beautiful Anne Elliot and the man that she has loved for eight years, Royal Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth. Again, Jane Austen develops her plotting and characters in an effort to show that the affairs of the heart are difficult and trying, but ultimately always well worth the effort.
"Persuasion" is, in my opinion, Jane Austen's most elegant and sophisticated novel; and one of my all-time favorites. This novel should be included in everyone's library and read and re-read many, many times over one's life. It is truly a very special book!(less)
Lady Susan is a short epistolary novella written by Jane Austen. What intrigued me is that Lady Susan really is the most morally bankrupt (maybe 'amor...moreLady Susan is a short epistolary novella written by Jane Austen. What intrigued me is that Lady Susan really is the most morally bankrupt (maybe 'amoral' is better?) of any of Austen heroines (and I use the term 'heroine' loosely here). She will think, say and do anything to achieve her means. This novella, presented as series of letters, was written by the young Jane Austen, and first published long after her death. One surmises that she probably did not intend for it to see the light of day in its present guise. The Watsons and Sanditon are fragments she was working on in the last few months of her life. It would have been interesting to see where they ended as completed novels. Maybe I am a bit of a dilettante, but I will not read versions of the The Watsons or Sanditon completed by other authors; it just doesn't interest me at this point in time. Having Lady Susan and the other fragments made purchasing this book a worthwhile addition to my collection of the Austen canon.(less)
I have just finished reading Middlemarch, and this pretty much completes my reading of George Eliot's major works. Middlemarch truly is quite the subl...moreI have just finished reading Middlemarch, and this pretty much completes my reading of George Eliot's major works. Middlemarch truly is quite the sublime novel from start to finish. At first blush one has this sense of simply being immersed in a rather quiet and pastoral story, but there's really very much more going on here as one turns the pages.It is a story of rural England during the period of great reforms in politics, religion, agriculture, manufacturing, medicine, and even transportation. Mostly though, it is the story of human beings, and what it means to be human.
Eliot gives us a wonderful cast of characters in Middlemarch, and they cut across all class lines from the landed gentry, tradesmen and women, and the simple country rustics that work the land and work in the manor houses. While perhaps Dickensian in cast, the peoples that populate the novel are not laden with the satire or comedy of a Dickens or Thackeray novel. No, these are all people that we can relate to even in this modern age. These are your neighbors, some rich, some poor; these are your physicians; your pastors; your shopkeepers, and so forth. The people of Middlemarch are your family, friends, and acquaintances and become even more so as the novel moves along.
As much as I truly enjoyed the plots in Eliot's Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and Silas Marner, I'd have to say that Eliot "kicked it up a notch" in Middlemarch. This is a stately, sedate, sophisticated, and complexly elegant novel. It really does demand the reader's full dedication and attention as it is read too, much like I found when I read her last novel Daniel Deronda. Boy, is it worth the extra effort, and one can't help but find oneself savoring the pacing and structure of the novel as Eliot lays out the tale.
Eliot herself compares one of her primary characters, Dorothea Brooke, to St. Theresa de Avila. She is a genuinely decent human being who very much cares for the welfare of all of those around her, including even the man she marries early in the novel--Edward Casaubon. Interestingly, at least to me, that through the novel there was an almost tidal 'ebb and flow' of how the reader viewed many of the characters. The one exception was Dorothea, as she always stayed above the fray and maintains her 'saintliness'. I suppose that some could say that maybe Dorothea's saintliness was laid on a bit thick, but I think the character of Dorothea and her actions are important in helping to bring home the novel's overall message and moral impact. I think that this was also true in different degrees with some of the other characters, such as Tertius Lydgate, Rev. Farebrother, Caleb Garth, his wife, and their daughter Mary Garth. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the novel though is Eliot's ability to make her readers empathize and even sympathize with the characters that are not so likeable, e.g., Bulstrode or Casaubon.
Finally, I have to again say that somehow I really think that George Eliot had to have been some sort of inspiration for, or influence upon, the later works of Thomas Hardy. I really do see a somewhat similar approach to realism and naturalism in the works of these two important authors. While Eliot's novels don't showcase the impact of Fate or Chance perhaps as prominently as Hardy, they both inject a big dose of reality in the day-to-day lives of their characters. Bad things do happen to good and bad people alike, just like Life. The beauty of Middlemarch is that it depicts the indomitable Human spirit at its finest (and, dare I say, at its worst at times too). Those who wish to do good can; and for those who don't, well they get caught out.
Great book! I highly recommend reading this novel. I have to be honest and fess up that I tried to read this book off and on for 20+ years, and it just never took with me. I was finally able to sink my teeth (and brain) into it and just let myself become immersed in the peoples and landscape of Middlemarch, and what a profoundly satisfying and enriching experience it has been. In all reality, I think that I am at a point in my reading and comprehension these days that I was finally ready for what Virginia Woolf described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." I do look forward to re-reading it again at some point and thinking about the messages and lessons of this rich novel that George Eliot has crafted and left us.(less)
I cry in anguish, "Oh Villette, Villette, Villette!"
It was a feeling that came upon me as I read this novel; the palpable feeling of—
The cold grey sto...moreI cry in anguish, "Oh Villette, Villette, Villette!"
It was a feeling that came upon me as I read this novel; the palpable feeling of—
The cold grey storms of the fall and winter, the relentless building winds, the rain pounding against the window—those dark and dreary days of loneliness—all of the losses have brought you a smothering and almost overwhelming mantle of grief. You see, and write of, the Love around you, but feel the throbbing ache, day after day, night after night, of never receiving Love in return.
I lost count of the tears that fell as I read your account, Miss Lucy Snowe; or, should I call you, Miss Charlotte?
This novel, this Villette, like an arrow fletched fair, flew true, oh so true, and pierced your beating heart; and from that mortal wound poured the secrets of your soul, your inner-most being; laid bare for all to see. The incalculable loss of your older sisters, then Branwell, your dearest Emily, and finally quiet little Anne. This towering testament to loneliness, to sorrow, swept me, your Reader, relentlessly through the unimagined torrent of your human emotions—your grief, your fears, your reserved passion, your quiet grace, steadfast loyalty, and your resolute strength and faith.
I felt guilty as I read, Little Woman, looking over my shoulder at every pause; afraid that you should find me picking the lock of your secret diary; spellbound as I turned the pages, one after the other, reading your most intimate, personal, and painful thoughts and the passionate feelings that poured forth onto the page. Intensely captivated by the dialog between your Passion and your Reason, the conversations between your Imagination and your Matter; but I read on. Until it became too much; I averted my eyes, and I wept.
As I sit here, writing these words, I am absolutely overwhelmed. I don’t know that I have ever read a book that has moved me quite like Charlotte Bronte’s final novel, Villette. A timeless and moving experience from its first words, to its final “Farewell.” I am without words, Little Woman. I know this though, Miss Lucy Snowe, Miss Charlotte Bronte, I shall Love you always.
In tribute to the commitment you made to all who have read, or will read, this personal ‘Testament’ of yours over the ages, may your own words prove prophetic—
“Proof of a life to come must be given. In fire and in blood do we trace the record throughout nature. In fire and in blood does it cross our own experience. Sufferer, faint not through terror of this burning evidence. Tired wayfarer, gird up thy loins, look upward, march onward. Pilgrims and brother mourners, join in friendly company. Dark through the wilderness of this world stretches the way for most of us; equal and steady be our tread; be our cross our banner. For staff we have His promise, whose ‘word is tried, whose way is perfect:’ for present hope His providence, ‘who gives the shield of salvation, whose gentleness makes great;’ for final home His bosom, who ‘dwells in the height of Heaven;’ for crowning prize a glory, exceeding and eternal.”
In completing Our Mutual Friend, I believe that I may well have just finished reading the finest book written in the English language. One could perha...moreIn completing Our Mutual Friend, I believe that I may well have just finished reading the finest book written in the English language. One could perhaps argue that the prose of Austen in her novel Emma is more perfect; but the plotting and characters of Dickens in Our Mutual Friend is exquisite. Our Mutual Friend rivals Tolstoy’s War and Peace in breadth, scope, scale, and number of characters; but while War and Peace proceeds forward majestically in a linear fashion; Our Mutual Friend, like Dickens’ “Circumlocution Office” (Little Dorrit) proceeds circuitously, bobbing and weaving, exposing its mysteries and delights, one-by-one, like peeling back the layers of an onion.
In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens plumbs the deep and dark depths of humanity’s soul with the creation and actions of some of fiction’s most horrifying villains. At the same time Dickens balances the novel’s darkness and depravity as we meet, and fall in love with, some of the kindest, noblest, and most good-natured saints and souls that ever graced the pages of his novels. One cannot but be completely taken with little Jenny Wren (“my back is bad, and my legs are queer”), and the beautiful Bella Wilfur and Lizzie Hexam, and kindly Betty Higdon. One must admire and respect the steadfastness and resolute nature of John Rokesmith, Eugene Wrayburn, and Mortimer Lightwood. One cannot help but laugh and smile at the comical goodness of Our Mutual Friend’s saints: the Boffins, Mr. Twemlow, “Rumty” Wilfur, and Mr. Riah. Then there are the multitude in the gray ambiguity between light and dark; the Veneerings, and those of “Podsnappery” like the Lammles. But it is the grotesque evil of the novel’s villains that makes the good characters shine so bright. There’s “Weggery”, an awful tasting dose of “Fascination” Fledgeby, all horrifyingly blended with “Rogue” Riderhood and the Dark Prince himself – Bradley Headstone.
From Dickens’ pen, Our Mutual Friend falls forth onto the printed pages like the brush strokes on the canvas of the grandest painting of an old master. Our Mutual Friend depicts the freshness and rawness of human emotions in all of its attendant forms, including: joy and happiness, pain and sorrow, anger and hatred, and love and tenderness. Like looking too closely at a painting of Hieronymous Bosch, we have an almost macabre fascination as we follow the novel’s characters through life’s stages – life, death, rebirth, and even resurrection. Primary roles and responsibilities are switched too; with children ‘raising’ parents, the disadvantaged aiding the advantaged, and the poor enriching the well-off.
In Our Mutual Friend things are never as they appear or ought to be. On some levels, Our Mutual Friend is the quintessential detective novel or mystery; but it is really more a series of mysteries nested inside a larger mystery. The reader must pay close attention to the seemingly slightest detail, for all does truly come together in the march to the grand, and most satisfying, conclusion. Through it all, however, there is one overarching and unifying theme, one thread that connects all – The River Thames. The Thames is the source of life, of death, of rebirth, and even resurrection; it infects and purifies; it is the source of depravity, horror, and hope and prosperity. The river is always there, relentlessly rushing onward, carrying the flotsam and jetsam, and the hopes and desires, of the novel’s characters, and even those of the reader. All I can say, upon turning the last page with a sigh, is that this is a novel for the ages; and one that I shall visit and revisit; setting forth again in my little boat upon the river of Our Mutual Friend. (less)
This ain't an easy book to read. This is an uber-violent novel that paints a picture of the American West like something done by Hieronymus Bosch. I t...moreThis ain't an easy book to read. This is an uber-violent novel that paints a picture of the American West like something done by Hieronymus Bosch. I think Harold Bloom got it exactly right when he said,
"The violence is the book. The Judge [Holden] is the book, and the Judge is, short of Moby-Dick, the most monstrous apparition in all of American literature. The Judge is violence incarnate. The Judge stands for incessant warfare for its own sake."
While Blood Meridian is perhaps not as intellectually challenging as one of the novels of James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon, McCarthy has basically put a small thermonuclear device between the covers of this novel, and then double-dares you to open it and read it. It is my opinion that this novel is probably the most relentlessly brutal and savage novel that you'll ever read.
Blood Meridian is ostensibly based upon a series of historical events that occurred along the U.S./Mexico border region from Texas to San Diego in the mid-19th century, involving a gang of outlaws (the Glanton Gang) led by the fictional 'Judge Holden'--a man so evil that he almost defies description. And like Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, the novel is loaded with biblical references and imagery. The ending is vintage McCarthy too, i.e., completely and totally unexpected. All I can tell you is that I have read this novel several times, and each time I find myself somewhat ensorcelled, and in an almost evil or grimly terrifying sort of way, as I turn the pages. It may be the bildungsroman of 'The Kid' and his adventures, but there is absolutely nothing nostalgic or romantic about the West that McCarthy has painted in this novel.
Is Blood Meridian McCarthy's best novel? Well, the critics would sure have you think so. For me though, I think that I like his much earlier novel Outer Dark (1968) even more; and then his "Borderlands Trilogy" that includes All The Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998) are truly amazing novels that I re-read every few years. And for those of you who have read McCarthy's No Country for Old Men (2005), or saw the recent film adaptation by Joel and Ethan Coen of the same title; well, you obviously have an understanding of McCarthy's penchant for unrelenting violence and a difficult ending.
Update--10/14/2012: I just completed a re-read of this novel. The more I read it, the more I realize that it is simply exquisitely plotted and written...moreUpdate--10/14/2012: I just completed a re-read of this novel. The more I read it, the more I realize that it is simply exquisitely plotted and written. Hardy-the-poet shines through on just about every page as he describes the pastoral Wessex landscape and the country rustics that occupy it. This is truly a gem of a novel, and one of my favorites by Hardy.
I just completed re-reading Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, and just fell in love with it all over again! The first time I read the novel was last summer as a serialized group read with one of my groups on Shelfari.com. I loved it the first time through, but realized that I could find even more in it with a careful re-reading. I did.
It really is a beautiful novel, and so very well written with an engaging plot. The novel is loaded with allusion, much of it biblical; and even the character's names -- Bathsheba Everdene, Gabriel Oak, Farmer Boldwood, Fanny Robin, and Sergeant Frank Troy -- evoke comparisons to vivid images, scenes from Nature, or historical or mythological personages.
Hardy's ability to inextricably link the pastoral landscape of his Wessex countryside with the emotions and thoughts of his characters is remarkable. As in The Return of the Native and the landscape of the Egdon Heath, Hardy makes the rolling hills, woodlands, hay fields and sheep pastures surrounding Weatherbury as much a primary protagonist and character in the novel as the human characters themselves. His prose associated with the placement and movement of the novel's human players within this landscape becomes almost lyrical and poetic; and as I am sure he intended, reflects his interpretation and representation of a time and place in southwestern England that was important to him, but is part of that heritage of what it means to be 'English.'
The story of the romantic 'square' involving Gabriel Oak, Bathsheba Everdene, Farmer Boldwood, and Frank Troy is a tale that resonates in each of us. We can relate, at different times, to the motives and actions of each as they pirouette through their dance of Life and Love against the pastoral backdrop of the farms and sheep paddocks of Weatherbury. This is the Nature of Hardy's beloved Wessex.
Like a hound on the trail, make sure to follow Hardy's use of the color 'scarlet' and 'red' through the novel. Read and experience Hardy's use of Fate, Chance, Change, and Irony working their primeval magics upon the landscape and human actors in this great play of Life. Far From the Madding Crowd is truly a timeless work from one of the Victorian period's great authors.(less)
Here I am, 54 years old, and for the very first time reading William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. "Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero." I disag...moreHere I am, 54 years old, and for the very first time reading William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. "Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero." I disagree with Thackeray. The 'Hero' of Vanity Fair is the steadfast and stalwart William Dobbin; of that there is no doubt. This novel is not the coming of age, or bildungsroman, of Becky Sharp. No, Miss Rebecca Sharp sprang from the womb enlivened with her desire to claw her way to the top. She can't help it, and nor should she; is she really any different than any of us? No, she's not. It is her methods that vary from what you and I might use; or do they?
To me, the narrator's voice in the novel was most amazing. It seemed that at every opportune moment, the narrator took a step back and informed us, the reader, of some nugget, some little moral, that placed the actions of the participants in the Fair in context. Vanity Fair is with us, all around us; and many times we never fully understand the roles that the players play. This voice of reason grounds us; makes us understand the joy, the pain, the happiness, and the sorrow that accompanies each of us in our journey through life. If we care to, we can learn to become better parents, better husbands, better wives, and better friends.
I also learned through the course of the novel that I can't outright condemn Becky Sharp. Becky is perhaps not a woman easily liked, but she is an admirable woman, a tough woman, and a woman I can respect. Strong-minded and willed, a terrible mother, but a battle-axe to those who take her head-on. Miss Becky Sharp -- Mrs. Rawdon Crawley -- is committed to living life at its fullest, and not one jot less. She is a woman of purpose, and that is a rare quality in many people.
The novel drips with satire from page to page; it is full of wit and sardonic humor. It is through the use of satire that we realize that the characters at the Fair are us -- have been us, and always will be us -- generation after generation, and nothing will change; only the time will change. There will always be Lord Steynes, Jos Sedleys, Old Osbornes, Mother Sedleys, Sir Pitt Crawleys, Miss Crawleys, the George Osbornes, William Dobbins, and Amelias. Our task, according to Thackeray, is to figure out how best to treat them, how best to interact and understand them, how to live with them. The real challenge, however, is how best to love, appreciate, and care for the Miss Becky Sharps in our lives. We do deserve to know her, to care for her, to appreciate her for whom she is, and she deserves to be brought in from the rambunctiousness and vagaries of the Fair.
In the end, it is Miss Sharp that gains at least some measure of redemption. It is she, and she alone, that removes the mote from Amelia's eyes regarding her feelings for William Dobbin. For Becky Sharp does understand honor, virtue, and integrity (or, does she?). Thackeray finishes appropriately -- For truly it can be said, "Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? -- Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out."
I have almost finished reading much of the major fiction of Thomas Hardy this summer. I just completed Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and only have Jude t...moreI have almost finished reading much of the major fiction of Thomas Hardy this summer. I just completed Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and only have Jude the Obscure left to read. All I can say is that this has been one of the most intense novels that I believe that I've ever read. This novel rivals the literary and emotional experiences I have had with Hardy's The Return of the Native, Charlotte Bronte's Villette, Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, and Tolstoy's masterpiece, Anna Karenina. In my opinion, Tess of the d'Urbervilles is one of the monumental literary achievements of the entire Victorian Era. A stunning novel!
A tragedy in six parts, Tess of the d'Urbervilles is set in Hardy's fictional Wessex in southwestern England. The novel follows the beautiful Tess Durbeyfield from the age of about sixteen until she is about twenty or twenty-one. The story's plot revolves around Tess and the two men that feature prominently in her life; the first is Alec Stoke-d'Urberville, and the second is the youngest son of a Methodist minister, Angel Clare. Like in all of Hardy's novels, names are everything. For example, it turns out that even Tess's name, 'Durbeyfield,' is simply a corruption, over time, of the name of her noble d'Urberville ancestors who now reside in their stone vaults in the church-yard in Kingsbere.
With all the recent reviews of Hardy’s novels that I have written this summer I am sure that I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but Hardy’s descriptions of the pastoral lives of the Wessex simple folk are ever so beautiful and enchanting. With his descriptions I always feel like I am right there experiencing the moment with the characters of the novel. Even in the scenes loaded with human drama and pathos there is always the touchstone to the natural environment. Hardy’s literary signature seems to be his ability to relate, and even bind together, the natural environment with the environment of real human emotion.
This is a novel of double-standards and sacrifice and the young and noble Tess is the unfortunate recipient of the negative consequences associated with the actions and feelings of both Alec and Angel. Tess becomes, if you will, the Magdalen continually seeking redemption from those who probably can't, or won't grant it. Based upon Hardy's own view of the Victorian society, it was highly unlikely that the Magdalen could be absolved or redeemed, and I believe that that realization must have affected him profoundly. In reading this novel, I have come to believe that Hardy loved Tess more than any other woman that he "invented" and wrote about; you can almost feel his love for this "pure woman" emanating from each page. Hardy wrote in one of his notebooks in 1895 that “Love lives on propinquity, but dies of contact.” For me, this relatively short sentence completely illuminates the common thread and theme that links every one of Hardy’s novels and much of his poetry.
Symbolism, visual imagery, and allusion are all deftly used by Hardy as this 'folk tale' is recounted; and at times it does feel like a nightmarishly horrifying folk tale told around the fire on a dark and stormy night. There are numerous references to Milton's Paradise Lost, the Book of Genesis, and several of the Pauline letters of The New Testament. This is a harsh and unforgiving world that Tess finds herself in, with 'Punishment' the watchword and little in the way of 'Hope' or 'Happiness' looming on her horizon. Mixed with the religious, there are also numerous examples of pagan symbolism and rituals; all of which contribute to the colored pigments that Hardy has applied to the canvas of Tess's life as the sacrificial victim of her society.
Having now read most of Hardy's novels, and a good number of his short stories, I can make the observation that Hardy likes to include a 'witch' in his tales. There are good witches and bad witches, but they are all here in Hardy’s Wessex, including: 'Bathsheba Everdene' (Far From the Madding Crowd); 'Eustacia Vye' (The Return of the Native); 'Lucetta Le Sueur' or ‘Elizabeth Jane’ (The Mayor of Casterbridge); 'Felice Charmond' (The Woodlanders); 'Tess'; and, finally, 'Sue Bridehead' and ‘Arabella Donn’ (Jude the Obscure). Think about it for a moment, if you will; but each of these women absolutely bewitches and intoxicates one or more of the male characters in each of the novels; generally with tragic and disastrous results. And Tess is no different. Both Alec and Angel are completely besotted with Tess, and almost continually blame her for being a 'temptress'; the 'Eve' to their 'Adam.'
I have to say that both, Alec and Angel, infuriated me to no end throughout much of the novel. While Tess, with her simple ways and innocence, makes bad decisions (with Fate's kind help, I might add), these two men are the basest, most cowardly, hypocritical, and end up becoming two of the most despicable male protagonists in fiction, in my opinion. Each of these men, at numerous times, could well have done the right thing and brought Tess salvation and full redemption, as well as given her the love and affection that she so desired and deserved.
Finally, even when Angel Clare comes to his senses and realizes what Tess is, and what she means to him, it is Tess, herself, that says, near the end, "It is too late...Too late, too late!"