Customer Review

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At Talbothay's Dairy, 21 Dec. 2002
This review is from: Tess of the D'urbervilles (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
There really isn't much I can add to what has already been said about this wonderful Thomas Hardy novel. One of the things that really struck me about Tess was the importance of setting and how Hardy relates Tess's emotional state to the setting in which she finds herself. The contrasting settings of Talbothays Dairy and Flintcomb-Ash seem to represent the opposing forces in Tess's own life.
At Talbothays, the air is "clear, bracing and ethereal," the river flows like the pure River of Life," and the atmosphere "set up (Tess's) spirits wonderfully." For Tess, the valley where the dairy is located is akin to Paradise and she feels an emotional high while she is there.
In the dairy, itself, the milkers form "a little battalion of men and women," often "singing songs to entice the cows to produce milk." Everyone works together to bring about a common goal, a common good. At Talbothays, Tess is able to escape the pressures and prejudices of Victorian England. She is at the peak of happiness in her life and falls in love and marries the intellectual and difficult Angel Clare.
It is when her marriage to Angel fails, that Tess moves to the dreary and desolate Flintcomb-Ash. Flintcomb-Ash is in direct contrast to Talbothays. There is not a single "green pasture," nor anything besides "fallow and turnips everywhere" at the "starve-acre place." Here, Tess reaches a new emotional low and her heart is as empty and dark as the setting in which she finds herself. In contrast to the camaraderie at Talbothays, at Flintcomb-Ash, "nobody come near (Tess)" as she stands "enshrouded in her uniform" working "hour after hour." The other workers at Flintcomb-Ash do not fare much better and most are kept busy in the fields in order to earn enough money to simply survive. There is no time for friendship in this place.
Obviously, Hardy was a master at description and the use of setting to emphasize the emotional state of his characters, Tess in particular. Although this book is a masterpiece of sensual language, Tess is also a wonderful example of the use of contrasting settings to convey strong emotional states in a way that mere words alone never could. Tess is a book that should not be overlooked by anyone.
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