I have loved the hatchets wielded on Vulpes Libris this week – someone invent an award quickly! I haven’t always agreed with them. In fact, I felt downright defensive during the attack on Tolstoy. However, as I haven’t yet read The Kreutzer Sonata, I’ll let it pass … Mark well, my pretty little book foxes, I shall be compelled to return to this at a later date.
Attention turned to Thomas Hardy and Jude the Obscure – a book I have always found therapeutic. Hardy has to be the king of mislit and no matter how tough reality gets, Jude’s experiences make it feel better!
Quite by chance I was preparing for my book group, the next title being Tess of the D’Urbervilles. To be honest, I’ve avoided Tess like the plague. I saw the film – the Roman Polanski one – a few years ago and always felt that I couldn’t approach the novel. My blood would boil. Imagine my surprise when I found myself falling asleep … day after day after day …..
***** Spoiler alert *****
My problem is a major one. Tess’s sob story doesn’t convince me. She’s too pretty, too bland, sweetly dairy and milk-maidy … and so utterly fixated on being a victim that she is unable to free herself from her circumstances. And she had opportunity aplenty. Why was noone on hand to administer a good shaking/kick up the posterior and drive some sense in her head. Too honest to keep silent? Too proud to accept charity from your in-laws? Good grief girl – whine all you wish but all that achieved was an appointment with the gallows! Actions have consequences and you landed exactly where your own choices put you.
I would have applauded you, however, had you turned on that hypocritical guttersnipe that you called Angel. Oh no, his halo didn’t slip. But to use as a pretext for your crime a statement which only you could interpret as a lie. That’s completely dishonourable and I have no sympathy!
***** End of spoilers *****
All of the above making the plot sound like a ménage-à-trois of the highly dramatic kind and a darned sight more interesting to read than it was. How so? In a word, pacing. A leisurely amble through the countryside – landscape prefiguring drama ad nauseam. In addition, we know that Tess and Angel will marry, we also know that Tess will tell her secret but do we really need 120 pages of romantic idyll and belly-aching to get us to that point? Particularly as the pivotal scenes with Alec are so obscured – the first discretely smothered in fog, the second hidden behind closed doors. Is this inconsistency or genius? Don’t know. Don’t care. I was just relieved to get to the end.
I’ve written the above before I start a thorough investigation of the novel. I do like to know my way around the book group reads especially as I lead the discussion. The novel may well rise in my estimation when I start reading the critiques and appreciating Hardy’s stylistic devices – use of landscapes, foreshadowing and omens. I already appreciate the subtlety in the characterisations of Alec and Angel – lots of blurring boundaries there. The most enjoyable part of the novel, in fact, and a heady mix for a book group blood-bath discussion.
As for the question Is Alec a rapist? , I found an excellent essay on this in The Folio Book of Literary Puzzles. If you’re not a Folio Society enthusiast like me, the same essay can be found in John Sutherland’s Was Heathcliffe A Murderer?