Being a Hardy first timer, nothing could really prepare me for the incredibly seductive and bittersweet experience that was reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Every element of this novel knocked me for six:the genius quality of the writing, the characterisation, the complexity of plot and the evocation of emotion.
Hardy's Tess, along with Tolstoy's Anna, is quite possibly the strongest female protagonist of all time. The oxymoronic nature of her pure, tempting beauty is fortified in the altruistic strength of her character. So unwavering is her virtue, at the detriment always to her own well being, that we plead for her to act shelfishly even once, as we in her position would surely have done. But Tess continues to act in the interests solely of those she loves and despite the hardship thrust upon her by her social position and sex, she hardly dwells on her misfortune in a self absorbed manner.
As to the implications of the ambiguous episode between Tess and Alec in the woods, some have argued that the perception of proceeding events is greatly altered by the reader's conviction as to whether Tess was raped or seduced by Alec. Personally, I do not believe for a second that it should bear any significance whatever in our feelings towards Tess. Indeed, one cannot help but sympathise and admire the selfless Tess as she anticipates and accepts her tragic end.
Hardy is truly a master storyteller. His command and manipulation of the English language effectuates flowing descriptions of countryside settings and evinces the full rainbow spectrum of human emotion: the passionate reds, the desolate blues, the warm yellows together all delineate complex, three dimmensional characters whom each have nuances of both black and white within them. In fact, it is this true characterisation which sparks our own emotions, rendering them intense and heartfelt.
A ridiculously emotional read.