The hypocrisies surrounding virginity are tiresomely common to some of us, especially to women like me who come from cultures that place inordinate amounts of significance on being “good”, that even adjectives such as “good”, “moral”, “pure” and “virtuous” are mindlessly linked to something that’s laughably insignificant in the rich landscape of human life. Tess of D’urbervilles is a classic story that heart-wrenchingly picks apart the prejudices and cruelties that an honest and sincere, and may I add, wholeheartedly pristine woman goes through on account of losing her virginity due to unfortunate circumstances in a Victorian, patriarchal society. As is still the case now in certain societies, Virginity is only precious for women, that too women of a certain section of society. Men have no such standards or expectations of course, no matter their social class. Ostracized by her community, Tess is constantly searching for acceptance, even forgiveness, to bury her past and lead a better future. Wronged by one man, she nurtures hope for another. But, even the idealists among men, the most educated, progressive and cultured of them all can be hypocritical in their personal lives. Abandoned again by the man she trusts and loves the most, Tess wanders in a society that offers little consideration, even protection, to women like Tess who have no “men” to safeguard their dignity. Everybody knows this is a story that is doomed for tragedy. However, the brilliant and beautiful writing and the wise discussions on morality make this a worthy read.
This is a story that is still relevant in so many parts of the world, and that’s saddening. How cruel these societies can be in labelling victims and pushing them further into tragic situations. Tess represents every young girl in a poor family that’s struggling to put food on the table and support her large family. She represents the strong-spirited, beautiful girl who gets heedlessly exploited by men with power and money and then repeatedly abandoned and shunned by hypocritical idiots who don’t understand the basics of compassion or morality.
We all know many such stories, and are painfully aware of many more stories waiting to be born. And I’m not going to offer any new insights on the subject. People need to crack open their minds and begin questioning the convoluted dictates stemming out of an outdated patchwork of religion, tradition, and culture. There is a scene in the book where Tess feels her pregnant belly and is genuinely amazed and happy at the prospect of new life. She then quickly catches herself and wonders why she does not feel guilt or sorrow at that moment, why she has to remind herself to feel guilty, why deep down her natural instincts don’t find anything morally wrong with her state, and how she can’t understand why everything in her life has to derail and be doomed. It was a powerful scene to me, still vivid after so many weeks, and the writing elevated Tess’s genuine wonderment and innocence. It touched me.
Thomas Hardy’s writing needs no mention from someone like me. His writing carries grace, eloquence, beauty, and such perspicacity to articulate the angst of an innocent and troubled woman’s mind. He describes his characters and their psyche with so much depth of insight, verbalizing their every subtle feeling and emotion. I also love how he interweaves the roles played by religion, conscience, and morality into the story and the characters without letting the discussion of the themes dominate the characters. I can write essays on each of the characters and what they represent, but since this is not a literature assignment, I will just say that everything about the book is just deeply beautiful. There are so many layers and symbols to every character and setting.
I love books that beautifully narrate poignant stories of social injustices, especially from the viewpoints of morality and religion. This book is one such a classic and it has my high recommendation.