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Is Tess of the D'Urbervilles a Feminist Novel?

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Over the last several months I have been reading one of the most talked about pieces of feminist literature from the Victorian era. Admittedly, it has taken me a long time to finish this masterpiece but it was so worth the wait.


I spent the entirety of this novel with my heart throbbing in my chest as Hardy depicted the horrific lives of women in the 1800s with such honest brutality. I have been dying to write this blog post to explore my thoughts on this book which is so arguably relevant today, especially during this week's light on sexual harassment.



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Hi Elliejean,  

Welcome to BGO!  This is an interesting question: I'm an English teachet, so I'm always looking for ways to get young people to engage with classic texts. Would be interested to hear more of your thoughts as we are usibg this text this year. As meg says, we like the discussion to take place here - that's what we exist for! Please do join in other threads too. 

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    • By cherrypie
      I am about a quarter of the way through this book it having been recommended to me by a friend. Having read a number of Thomas Hardy books in the past she remembers this of all of them as being her favorite. Having read many books by Thomas Hardy myself I have to admit that I am not sure so far why she was so keen on this book in particular.
      As with all Thomas Hardy books the book is beautifully written. So far the reader has met few but the main characters as the story takes place in a very small community. The main characters are Elfride the daughter of the local vicar, the vicar himself and Stephen Smith an assistant of a London architect. Stephen comes to stay with the family for a short time to complete drawings of the church and tower which are in need of repair. Although perfectly likable Elfide and Stephen are no Gabriel Oak or Bathsheba Everdene and the story so far although pleasent is very slow moving. As my friend, whose recommendations are usually sound, enjoyed the book so much I can only assume that the story will get going eventually.
    • By David
      Restored Thread
      Hazel 12th December 2006 04:29 PM
      Bathsheba inherits a farm and with it 3 suitors determined to marry her, but she makes a bad choice and with this choice comes great tragedies. The plot as simple as I can make it.
      This was my first Hardy book and I will definitely go on to read more. I really loved the names that Hardy gave to his characters: Gabriel Oak; the solid, decent, dependable shepherd, Farmer Boldwood; the middle-aged, stern and forthright farmer, and Francis Troy, the philandering rake who is also a soldier.
      It is the events that appear out of character that cause much of the tragedy here and to Hardy's credit the events are credible and almost inevitable. My favourite creation of Hardy's was to make the normally laconic Boldwood, desperate, needy and bullying as he begs Bathsheba to promise to marry him on a number of occasions. I was actually embarrassed for him and felt a great deal of discomfort as Bathsheba squirmed.
      I am not normally enamoured with country novels, or descriptions of the land and animals that go with this kind of novel but it seemed a perfect setting for this tale and was as much a character within as any of the humankind.
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      David 12th December 2006 05:26 PM
      Great novel, Hazel, and I'm quite envious at what you have left to discover! I also enjoyed those characters and Hardy really is skilful at taking people whom you would not think to be particularly endearing, yet giving them something through which we can empathise. Not just Boldwood, but the foolish, vain Bathsheba too. Some classic scenes, including the gloriously symbolic sword exercises Troy demonstrates to Bathsheba!
      I'm also a huge fan of the rustic chorus, who just crack me up: some fantastic characters! You also begin to see Hardy's elegy for the disappearing ways of life in the country as the Industrial Revolution moves out from the cities to mechanise the fields. There is a sense of both celebration and sadness.
      The inevitability you mention, Hazel, is a key concept in his writing - the idea of character being fate, as well as the patterns and cycles in lives on both the small scale of the individual as well as the grand scale of humanity form the backbone of his thinking.
      This novel, when looked at across Hardy's work, always has the feel for me of one of Shakespeare's later comedies, such as Twelfth Night: much to amuse, but a dark undertone that threatens to consume. Just as the darkness breaks out in Shakespeare's tragedies, so that happens here with the later books, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. They have less of the lightness, but they are much the better novels.
      chuntzy 12th December 2006 07:00 PM
      Both of the above messages have brought back some good memories of reading Thomas Hardy. I, too, started with 'Far From the Madding Crowd' and then the novels David mentions. The last one I read was 'Jude the Obscure'. A terrific writer: I'll just have to borrow the latest biography of him by Claire Tomalin.
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      Tess of the d'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - 1891
      I couldn't really find a short synopsis describing enough of the story without revealing too much.
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    • By The Bard
      I've just finished reading The Woodlanders , which I hadn't re-read since the ice age, and I was somewhat surprised at how ponderous I found Hardy's style in the novel. Very long-winded, more circumlocutions than you can shake a stick at! They struck me as particularly inappropriate given the elemental nature of much that Hardy is writing about. However, I was interested to come across the passages concerning the 1857 Divorce and Matrimonial Act, on which, of course the last part of the plot hinges. I had forgotten all about that, but shouldn't have since I use extracts from the Act as a contextual document in my edition of Pinero's The Second Mrs Tanqueray which I've mentioned in another thread. The Act is but background for the play, but quite crucial for Hardy's novel.
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