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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 11 September 2001
This is a novel so saturated with emotion it is almost too much just to read it. The plot revolves around the eponymous heroine, Tess Durbeyfield, a young and innocent girl who plunges headfirst into adulthood by giving birth to an illegitimate child. Tess is immediately condemned by a cruel society and her unavoidable fate is dragged out in heart wrenching detail by Hardy. What is most interesting about the novel is the author's obvious love for his character, and it is fascinating to imagine Hardy wishing for a happy ending just like the reader, yet at the same time knowing that he is unable to help Tess, his own creation. Everyone should read this novel, it has romance, murder, tragedy, injustice, intricate social commentary, and an intoxicating melancholia. The character of Tess is so well conceived by Hardy, she appears so realistic that the reader finds themselves weeping tears for her as if she were a loved one. Persevere with Hardy's somewhat lengthy descriptions of the surrounding landscape and you will find this novel to be as beautifully perfect as I did.
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on 27 October 2014
Tess is one of my favourite characters in the whole world. If ever I have to cycle home in the rain, or I feel sorry for myself I just think of Tess harvesting turnips or walking 15 miles and then having her shoes stolen. Hardship and unfairness don't begin to describe her treatment. Tess is an inspiration and in writing about her, Hardy trumpeted the incredible abuse of women in our society at that time. We would do well to bear in mind that even in this day and age, plenty of societies in the world would be prepared to stone women who are equally as unfortunate and essentially as innocent as Tess.
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on 25 July 2011
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.
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on 29 April 2013
When you read a book and begin to feel the fatigue of the characters, the sadness, the hunger, the fear, the betrayal, the strength and vulnerability of love, passion and life. That's when you know, the author has succeeded in absorbing you into a world where, just for that moment of reading it's just you and Tess.
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on 21 August 1998
Tess of the D'Urbevilles, by Thomas Hardy, is a wonderful novel, which tragically and poignantly follows the ill-fated life of its heroine, Tess Durbeyfield. Through his exquisite use of imagery, his reflection of Tess in nature, and the continuing thread of tragedy which he weaves throughout the novel, Hardy is able to present to us one of the most memorable figures in English literature. Despite her sincerity and integrity, Tess is forever destined for disappointment, and Hardy's immensely lucid and descriptive writing allows the reader to appreciate this. I would recommend this tremendous piece of fiction to any readers interested in reading the work of a brilliant Victorian author, or for those who appreciate the paradox of sadness and beauty represented in the figure of a strong protagonist.
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on 3 November 2006
I have to give Tess five stars because no book I have read before or since has moved me to such a degree. Thirty years later I still have my original copy, entirely disintegrated, the glue dissolved, in part I'm sure by my hot adolescent tears. It simply tore me apart - I remember in particular strugggling to finish Tess's letter from Flintcomb-Ash through eyes fogged with grief and that after finishing the book I was well-nigh inconsolable for days. I spent the following summer touring the Dorset locations on my bicycle as a kind of pilgrimage, and remember those cruel hills pretty well too.

But having said that, I was sixteen at the time and emotionally wide open. Reading it five years later, I could hardly get past the clumsiness and infelicities in the writing and the crude manipulation and melodrama of the plot. How could I have fallen for this? Reading it again another ten years further on I better understood the theatricality of it - it should be read in some ways like the old ballads with which Hardy was very familiar, with their highly exaggerated representations of good and evil - but the magic had gone.

Maybe the key is that Tess is a book written by an emotional adolescent - Hardy was a writer who arguably never really grew up, and his own relationships seem to bear this out - which speaks most forcefully to other adolescents. The melodrama and the suffering, the torment and the injustice which Tess is put through really are meat and drink to the average sensitive sixteen year old, but seem perhaps a bit foolish in retrospect.

But this isn't really a criticism. 'Tess' is by far the greatest of Hardy's novels and the high point of his career as a novelist (Jude the Obscure would tip over into self parody) and is written with a rare passion - Hardy said that he loved Tess and, although he perhaps had a funny way of showing it, his depth of feeling for his creation really comes through. Like 'The Catcher in the Rye', if you're in the right demographic - a sixteen year old or someone who still feels like one - you're going to love it. If not, you may wonder what all the fuss is about and should perhaps move straight on to Dickens.
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on 4 September 2008
I have to give Tess five stars because no other book I have ever read has moved me to such a degree. Thirty years later I still have my original copy, entirely disintegrated, the glue dissolved, very possibly by my hot adolescent tears. It simply tore me apart - I remember in particular struggling to finish Tess's letter from Flintcomb-Ash through eyes blurred with grief, and that after finishing the book I was well-nigh inconsolable for days. I spent the following summer touring the Dorset locations on my bicycle as a kind of pilgrimage, and remember those cruel hills pretty well too.

But having said that, I was sixteen at the time and emotionally wide open. Reading it just five years later, I could hardly get past the clumsiness and infelicities in the writing and the crude manipulation and melodrama of the plot. How could I have fallen for this? Reading it again another ten years further on I better understood the theatricality of it - it should be read in some ways like the old ballads with which Hardy was very familiar, with their highly exaggerated representations of good and evil - but the magic had gone.

Maybe the key is that Tess is a book written by an emotional adolescent - Hardy was a writer who arguably never really grew up, and his own relationships seem to bear this out - which speaks most forcefully to other adolescents. The melodrama and the suffering, the torment and the injustice which Tess is put through really are meat and drink to the average sensitive adolescent, but seem perhaps a bit foolish in retrospect.

But this isn't really a criticism. 'Tess' is by far the greatest of Hardy's novels and the high point of his career as a novelist (Jude the Obscure would tip over into self parody) and is written with a rare passion - Hardy said that he loved Tess and, although he perhaps had a funny way of showing it, his depth of feeling for his creation really comes through. Like 'The Catcher in the Rye', if you're in the right demographic - a sixteen year old or someone who still feels like one - you're going to love it. If not, you may wonder what all the fuss is about and should perhaps move straight on to Dickens.
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on 27 September 2014
Thomas Hardy at his very best.
For people who have never read it and for people who had to read it at school perhaps they should read it again for shear enjoyment.
The description of country life from a bygone time is full of intense hardship with a certain nobility in labour. There is a wonderful sense of tension that stays with you all the way through this tragic story.
It really is worth every star.
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on 3 October 2003
It'd been a while since I read a truly magnificent book. My last "#1 in drama" held its position firmly for about 10 years (Het oog van de engel by Nelleke Noordervliet - in Dutch, that is), despite the fact that quite a few books have passed (most notably the books by Yoko Ogawa, unfortunately only translated in French). Douglas Adams' books, Catch 22 and Stephen Fry's The Liar were supreme, but in an entirely different category. But now there's Tess, which, as far a drama goes, is a non sequitur.
Of course there's the top layer of romantic/pastoral drama, but that's just the surface. The real bliss here lies in the fact that is doesn't classify as a classic story in the romantic tradition at all, a fact which expresses itself in the way the story is told. The switching between romantic musings suddenly shattered by harsh commentaries or switched to an almost documentary description of the surroundings keeps you alert to the story, which might be drawn out, but that's the point - you've got to live with Tess. That's the only way to get into her character, because Hardy simply never takes a stand, and that's one of the secrets of the book. Ok, difficult now to imagine people acting so stupid because of moral conventions, but that's the only hurdle to take (however - look around you). Despite the fact that there's this really romantic "back to nature" message in it all (which strangly does not convey itself in the depiction of the life of Tess, but rather, in de description of the Dorset countryside), there's simply no denying that Hardy's way of writing has one foot firmly in de industrial era, delivering a comment on it - attacking it with its own weapons, mixing his anger with his (o so clear between the lines) love for the main character, with her with qualities and her flaws. Don't miss out on this one.
Stupid that it's been waiting for me for more than a century. Hands down 5 stars.
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on 8 October 2011
For some reason I never got round to reading this book as a young adult, but had watched the exquisite film Tess by Roman Polanski, which still remains one of my all time favourite films. Now I am of a certain age and it is near impossible to read any of the paperback classics because of the ridiculously small font! Then along comes the wonderful 'Kindle' where you can change the font to match your failing eyesight! So one of my first reads was Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and what a wonderful read it was! It never failed to keep me totally enthralled, the characters was life size and full of realism. The narrative is gripping, tragic and beautiful, but most people know that! Certainly the Polanski's film was true to the story and made me think higher of his achievement in creating the celluloid masterpiece! And, thank you for creating the Kindle!
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