Back in school, our library and the librarian believed in stocking up books which were classics instead of books which were a rage among teenagers back then. Slowly, books like Harry potter and Agatha Christie started showing up. We had a library hour and would receive periodicals to read during the hour. Then we were given exactly 2 minutes to pick a book and get back to our place as per the roll call. We would have one or maximum two weeks to return it. That was my first brush with Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’Ubervilles. I had a principle to not return books until I had finished reading them. This book was the only exception.
When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.
Tess’s character right from the start was hapless, helpless, foolish and plain stupid. There is just a fine line of difference between being courageous and being stupid. Tess was plain stupid. Alec was a man of arrogance and almost always had his way. The characterization was totally unbalanced. Imagine the plight of a 16 year old who studied in an all girls school reading this book. I had to stop reading before it left a wrong impression on me. Years after, I had picked up this book again recently and finished reading it. Anger would be only emotion. The writer sounded so chauvinistic. On hindsight, may be that is what he intended. After all, this is a book from the 19th century when women were looked up as no more than mere visual entertainment. Imagine being constantly pursued by a guy who first insults you, then tries to make amends by convincing you to marry him. I’m thankful that I didn’t finish reading that book back then. I wouldn’t probably know to be angry with the writer back then. But, now I do know why! However, one thing hasn’t changed since then. The woman is always blamed for the rape and eventually, she herself ends up in a state of mind where she feels that she is to fault. Civilization hasn’t evolved much, hasn’t it?