Tess of the D’urbervilles – Part 1

Getting all literary now. I read Tess of the D’urbervilles years ago and found it one of the most frustrating novels ever. Probably because I hadn’t read any other Thomas Hardy novels! Anyway, frustration was the impression I took away from it, but lately I’ve revisited the novel by listening to an audiobook version. The story is still as frustrating as ever, but I never realised how beautiful the prose is. I’m a huge fan of lyrical novels and Hardy’s descriptions of the landscapes and lifestyle of rural 19th Century Dorset, like this passage from Chapter 24:

Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.

July passed over their heads, and the Thermidorean weather which came in its wake seemed an effort on the part of Nature to match the state of hearts at Talbothays Dairy. The air of the place, so fresh in the spring and early summer, was stagnant and enervating now. Its heavy scents weighed upon them, and at mid-day the landscape seemed lying in a swoon. Ethiopic scorchings browned the upper slopes of the pastures, but there was still bright green herbage here where the watercourses purled. And as Clare was oppressed by the outward heats, so was he burdened inwardly by waxing fervour of passion for the soft and silent Tess.

Actually, I think I’ve appreciated the novel more by listening to the audiobook. The narrator Peter Firth is very good, bringing to life not just the lyrical parts but also the varied accents of its characters.

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