Tess of the D'Urbervilles is my first Thomas Hardy. Having put it on my list a long time ago I finally borrowed it from the library and knuckled down to read the huge book. I am an ardent fan of classics, nevertheless, I had no clue about Thomas Hardy's style of writing; I did not know how much I would be able to connect with the book or how far the writing would take me. I needn't have worried; Thomas Hardy wastes no time in setting the pace of the plot from the very first chapter onwards and what followed was more a heartrending memoir of Tess's life than just a novel to enjoy.
Through circumstances under her control or otherwise, Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her foolhardy parents on a mission to visit a rich old lady in the neighbouring village. The lady's name is D'Urberville (an ancient noble family's name) and the impoverished Durbeyfields are led to believe that they themselves are descendants of the family of D'Urberville. Fueled partly by penury and partly by greed, Tess's parents (somewhat incorrectly - the reasons for which, I shall not reveal here) assume the rich lady from Tantridge to be their relation and corner Tess into making the journey to Tantridge to "claim next of kin". On her way to Tantridge Tess meets perchance, the old lady's son Alec D'Urberville and therewith lies her downfall.
The direction of Tess's life is completely decided by two men: Alec D'Urberville and Angel Clare. The first one is the nemesis who causes her life to careen off track. The second is the husband with whom she is desperately in love and who spurs her for the past that was quite out of her control.
Of the two men, both of whom are enamored with Tess Durbeyfield, there comes a time when you wonder which one really is the villain of Tess's life.
Thomas Hardy's attempt to question the prejudices of an iron-fettered society works on target. While you read the book you forced to ponder over one question: Is illiteracy a deterrent to shun the evils of a society that gloried in crucifying women for the fault of immoral men or is education? The line is fine and you may have to figure out that one for yourself. Tess was a country bumpkin who ate her bitter bread without question or complaint. Tess loved her husband in spite of his inability to "love" his wife when she finally plucks up the courage to tell him of her past. She loved him even as she suffered and never thought to blame anybody but herself for the ills that befell her. But the readers are persuaded otherwise.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles will sit comfortably on the truly unprejudiced but for those of us who are, it will make us take out our little prejudices and examine their sense or their folly while forcing us to answer this question with absolute honesty: Should the past ever matter when you truly love someone?