Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Pure Woman, Fatefully Presented

When my high school English teacher first recommended to me Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, it was only because she thought I would love the Trantridge "sex scene." She had so much faith that I would finish it in one sitting so that she could finally have someone to talk it over with.

In a public school such as ours, which is best known as being named after Kris Aquino's father, I was considered a bit of a book geek. But at the time Mrs. Nuguid pressed Tess into my hands, I had already started my romance with JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling. I kept the book, and it gathered dust on my shelf.

Four years later (which is a week ago), I was to move out to my own apartment. I had no TV, no radio, and naturally, since I was alone, I was bored to bits. And then I realized I still have Tess. Yosi in hand, I started reading the book.

Hardy is considered the master of tragic novels, as Shakespeare is to tragic dramas. Tess Durbeyfield, a handsome peasant girl, finds out she is a descendant of the ancient line of d'Urbervilles, a long-forgotten, once-powerful clan. Tess's mother then sends her to the remaining d'Urbervilles in Trantridge to claim ties, with the hopes of securing for her a "profitable marriage" with perhaps one of her cousins. Tess's story unfolds, towards her ultimate destruction.

I wish I could share insights into the book's brilliant arguments about pagan morality and the hypocrisy of the prevalent Christian tenets at Hardy's time, but when you have been a call center thrall for more than a year, parrotting the same lines over the phone again and again, day after after tedious day, you tend to lose not only your sanity but your originality as well. Of course, it's a petty excuse. Big smile.

Unless I appear trying hard too much, I'll just say I enjoyed the narrrative, the cliffhangers, the foreshadowings. I have always admired good storytellers, and abhorred those who murder otherwise interesting stories by screwing up the narration.

But the novel's main delight remains Tess, however superb the telling of her story is. She gains your sympathy and pity, yet you cant wholly accuse her of being just another damsel in distress. In her own words, she is someone who accepts her fate as the fruit of her own actions.

It's just a shame that Tess of the d'Urbervilles isn't usually on high school reading lists (owing perhaps to its dissenting views on Christian morality); but then again high school reading lists are just high school reading lists, at least in the case of substandard high schools.

I was surprised though that Tess would make a cameo appearance in that Sharon movie "Caregiver," which is of course just another Sharon movie. It was the book Sharon would choose when her English employer asks her to read to him something out of his bookshelf. You would of course wait patiently for an explanation why of all books, the director would choose Tess to appear in the movie. The eventual reappearance of the book at the end of the film is a tearjerker, provided you do not claim to be above such things, but if you were waiting for a more epiphanic realization of the book's significance in the movie, I am afraid you will be disappointed.

Then again, Hardy's Tess had been both popular but always misunderstood from the first day it was published.


nikaniks said...



semi-kinda-sort-of, almost, but not quite.