Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Anglais) Broché – 28 mars 2003
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T. Hardy situe son récit dans l'Angleterre puritaine du 19ème siècle, dans les milieux ruraux du pays. Tess, jolie jeune fille, est stigmatisée très jeune par sa liaison -courte et forcée- avec un libertin. Par la suite, toute ses tentatives pour retrouver une vie "normale" échoueront, car la morale étriquée de l'époque (spécialement envers les femmes) ne saurait lui pardonner sa "faute".
Tess, par certains côtés, peut être comparée à Lady Chatterley : Les deux femmes sont la victime des préjugés de leur époque, et toutes deux finiront par se révolter, mais de façon très différente. Lady Chatterley fuira son milieu et son pays pour suivre celui qu'elle aime, Tess tuera celui qu'elle considère comme le responsable de ses malheurs. Pour Lady Chatterley, la vie continuera, celle de Tess se terminera au bout d'une corde.
Le livre est très agréable à lire, en dépit de quelques longueurs, le style est toujours alerte et élégant, les phrases, plutôt longues, sont toujours très équilibrées. Les descriptions des paysages champêtres sont remarquables, les lire revient à contempler une toile de Constable ou de Turner.
Un livre que je recommande, donc, il peut être lu assez facilement, même par ceux qui ne maitrisent pas à fond les subtilités de l'anglais.
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Also, it's pretty amazing that he blatantly pointed out the sexual double standards of his time and their utter hipocrysy. It's so crazy that people in Hardy's day were outraged after the publication of this book by the subtitle, "A Pure Woman," because Tess was raped. When you keep in mind how firmly these ideas of purity and female sexuality were implanted in people's minds, it makes the plot completely believable.
In it, we meet young Tess Durbeyfield, a simple English farm girl who struggles to make it through everyday life. Her father, convinced he's the rightful heir of an extinct family of Norman nobles, the D'Urbervilles, is a shiftless layabout who drinks and lets his numerous children do his chores. The family starves quite pitifully until fate puts in the first of several appearances. Tess meets a rich young bravo who goes by the D'Urberville name and decides to merge his bloodline with that of Tess, no matter what she thinks about that.
Alec D'Urberville is one of two men whose attentions cause Tess much heartache and make up the substance of the book. Actually, there are three such men if you count Hardy, which I pretty much do. Alec is a right cad and Angel Clare, the other man, manages the impressive feat of being much worse, but neither lays for Tess the snares Hardy does, of horrible coincidences, contrived reverses in character, and way too much tolerance for ill treatment. There's even a letter-swallowing carpet. Man, I hate when carpets do that!
When Hardy isn't pounding poor Tess into the ground, he's doing the same to us, pointing out how Tess in her misery represents the nullity of our common existence. "She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly - the thought of the world's concern at her situation - was founded on an illusion," he writes. "She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anyone but herself."
Here's the rub. "Tess" is a pretty pleasing book to read if you manage to ignore or at least discount the plot. Hardy writes with great verve and knowledge about the world of his characters, fictional Wessex with its villages of hayricks and barn dances. At times it's like reading Wordsworth, and at others it's like reading Lovecraft. I don't know how else to describe a writer who can wax so lyrical and then shift into something darkly surreal and macabre without missing a beat. He was a master of description at the height of his powers in 1891 when he published this.
"Tess" is also a deep book, with much Biblical allusion and symbolic foreshadowing matted into the subtext. Reading the novel with an online study guide helps bring out a rich harvest of Hardy's learned genius, as you can see the careful layering and connecting up he does throughout the book.
Alas, it doesn't make the story itself any more digestible.
Tess herself is hard not to care for, but she's frustratingly passive in a way that can not be blamed simply on the time and place where her story is set. She seems more of a piece with something Hardy was trying to say of the human condition, of suffering being one's lot in this vale of tears. You keep hoping things will turn around, but pretty soon you see the author has other ideas. Hardy pretty much wants her to suffer, so she does.
Maybe in some imaginary alternative existence, I'll be treated to the scene of Hardy being called to some kind of literary court of law, answering for the misery he put me through here. I'll gladly waive my charges against him - only if they let me watch when it's Tess's turn to collect.