Reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles took me 8 months, I know that sounds crazy, but it was necessary. I would read each chapter and then go through the chapter in detail to write each post. I would often look at online resources to make sure that I wasn’t missing any major details from the story. While some chapters read easily and flowed well, others were very heavy and even after reading analysis I wasn’t convinced what had happened, though I think Hardy intentionally left some things to interpretation.
One example is the “debasement” of Tess. When you read the book it’s obvious what happens, but the context is unclear. You know that Tess didn’t want to be with Alec, yet it’s never said she fought him and she stayed with him after the incident for several weeks. But when you read the research it’s clearly called a rape. In the end my conclusion was that Alec seduced Tess, and raped her emotionally more than physically. He took away her innocence and her chance of a pure marriage, offering her nothing in return.
But this is a reflection of Hardy’s writing. He often implies things in the novel, using long prose to describe something instead of just saying what something is. I think it’s in part the period that he wrote in and in part his style. Let’s face it; graphic descriptions of sex weren’t going to fly in Victorian England. But Hardy seemed to like his long paragraphs that described a setting so you felt like you were there instead of reading a book. It was probably more effective to someone living during the time period, instead of someone 100+ years later who has access to wikipedia on an iPad.
I could go into the symbolism that Hardy uses, there are tons there. It makes me think that there is more in Fifty Shades of Grey that I have missed. I think I’ll be reading more in depth on my next reread of Fifty Shades of Grey. On Twitter Erika told me she studied the book in school, and the influence in clear in a few places.
First, there was a lot of murmuring in Tess. I know one of the criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey was Erika’s use of the word murmur – why the heck didn’t people just say stuff? I suspect Erika picked that terminology up from Thomas Hardy.
Next, Tess is clearly a sad and tragic story – something that Erika has said herself. One of the major points Hardy makes in Tess is that she had no choice; her path was pre-determined by the gods. And I spent all this time being mad that Sir John got drunk and couldn’t drive the stupid wagon himself. Reading Fifty Shades of Grey is the complete opposite, and I have to wonder if this was intentional by Erika, or maybe a subconscious act.
As SM&I posted on Chapter XXXV, Christian thinks he’s Alec because of his money and his dark side. In reality though, he is Tess. He was taken advantage of by an older woman, who offered him nothing more than sex and maybe the chance to control his behavior and become more focused. The difference is that he is given the opportunity by E L James to take control of his life and change his path from one of tragedy and suffering to a happy life with Ana.
Ana, and even more so Christian, absolutely take control of their lives. Even when Christian is trying to tell Ana what to do, she is usually doing what she wants to do. Christian from his business life to his romantic life has a plan for everything, and a back up plan. He’s able to deviate and makes his decisions quickly. When Ana left Christian at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey it only took him a few days to work his way back to Ana, and he has a clear plan when he does. How long did Angel need to figure out that he still wanted to be with Tess? Over a year! Seriously, could these two pairs be any more different?
Angel and Christian do have one thing in common, night terrors. This surprised me quite a bit, it’s not something you hear much about and the night terrors are used quite differently in both books. For Christian it’s a relic of his past; however, for Angel it’s a response to Tess’ past. I wrote about this more last October.
While reading Tess was a time a struggle, I did enjoy reading it and analyzing it. I hope you have enjoyed it too!
Have you picked up anything from Tess that may have impacted E L James’ writing?