Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Part II

While watching the second installment of the BBC's Tess of the D'Urbervilles the other night, I found myself desperately hoping that the storyline would diverge from that of the novel. I hoped that Tess would listen to her mother, and not tell Angel about Alec and the baby. She had attempted to make her tragic past known to him to him before the wedding, but he never got her letter. Well then, having tried her best, I wished that she would shut up and enjoy her wedding night. But no, our honest heroine did the noble and truthful thing, and revealed everything to her pompous, idealistic prig of a husband. He who had already lavished his manhood upon a whore suddenly could not bring himself to touch his sweet lovely bride. If I could have reached into the television screen and smacked him then I would have. Poor Tess, not only her wedding night was ruined but the entire rest of her life.

I do not understand why Angel did not confide his troubles to his parents, who seemed to be compassionate souls. They could have given him some balanced advice. Instead, he went off to Brazil, without explaining anything; the worried parents were left totally in the dark. If only Tess had been able to go to them, they might at least have helped her financially, saving her from drudgery and her family from destitution, all of which drove her back into awful Alec's arms. But when Tess approached Angel's parents, her shame kept her from speaking. Shame and guilt haunted her; she could not rid herself of it; I wonder if some of this had to do not only with being a "fallen women" but also with being the child of an alcoholic. Angel's flight did not help matters but ground the shame into her psyche. What a pathetic man. Did he ever really comprehend the depths to which he was loved by Tess?

The scene in which Tess weeps in the crypt of her noble ancestors, longing to join them in death, was devastating to watch. She had truly been "pushed beyond her strength," as one of her companions so aptly described her plight. In her courage, her sense of justice and proud bearing, Tess seemed to have more in common with the knights and ladies of the bygone world than with her peers. This is emphasized in the film when she walks into the room where Angel awaits her, clothed in velvet, her hair dressed like the ladies in the D'Urberville portraits, her dignity enhanced by her agony. And later, lying on the rock at Stonehenge, she looks like an effigy on a tomb. She is a human sacrifice in a civilization which is transitioning back into paganism. This may not be the symbolism which Hardy intended but it was what struck me while viewing the film.

The score and sets capture the rapture and joy of the love of Angel and Tess as well as the darkness and pain that separation inevitably brings to them. Overall, the film's characters were well-developed and believable. Alec the rapist oozes sleaziness, even when being a preacher, yet he may have persevered in his conversion had he not run into Tess again. There was something about Tess that seemed to bring out the abuser in him. The younger sister of Tess, Liza-Lou, was portrayed with sense and sorrow; when she grasps Angel's hand during Tess's execution there is no doubt that she will be taking care of him from that moment on.

It would be worth owning a copy of this excellent production, for enjoyment as well as for introducing young people to great literature. I understand that it can be pre-ordered directly from BBC America, or through Amazon.com. Share


Enbrethiliel said...


Every time I reread the last chapters of the novel, I also wish that the ending would change. For me, the worst part is when Tess and Angel meet again at the inn, and she tells him he has come too late. Well, if we haven't figured out before that point how weak he was, then his reaction should change our minds: for he just turns around and leaves her again.

If Angel had grown a pair in Brazil, he would have carried her out of that inn immediately, and to heck with Alec.

Gosh, I hate him all over again . . .

elena maria vidal said...

Really. He should have taken her away with him. She was his wife after all, and she was obviously unhappy with Alec.

Alan Phipps said...

"not only her wedding night was ruined but the entire rest of her life."

I also watched this presentation, and I agree with everything you have said. I enjoyed it, but alas I have no sympathy for Angel Clare. He seems to finally get it at the very end. It is depressing to see Tess so utterly and cruelly abused, even by her own husband.

elena maria vidal said...

He really was just not worthy of her.

arootdigger2 said...

Rejoice in the fact that she did not consumate the marriage with a forever two timing husband. Means no child!! She would not be saddled with that loser all her life. No regrets about that. She had grounds to leave the marriage as anulment?

No By comments I see she still stayed in marriage?.

She lost him, and honeymoon, but she had second chance for a great guy somewhere some other time. No?

At least she has wedding to remember and can cut the guy out of her pictures? NO?

Wonder if I can find the show. Or book. Sounds interesting.

elena maria vidal said...

Actually, it didn't happen quite that way but I don't want to give away the whole story. Read the book or see the film~ they are great!

elena maria vidal said...

The DVD can be ordered directly from BBC America~ see the the blog post.

May said...

Oh, now I'm dying to see this! Thanks for the review. A very sad story, though. Especially given Tess' natural nobility, it's tragic to see her destroyed.

Enbrethiliel said...


I now also see Angel's sleepwalking on their wedding night in a whole new light. He was sleepwalking through life where Tess was concerned, wasn't he? He wanted her to stay a dream and couldn't handle the reality. His laying her in the tomb was a foreshadowing of what his failure to wake up and be a man would ultimately do to her.

Poor, poor Tess . . .

elena maria vidal said...

Do watch it, Hummingbird, you'll enjoy it.

Yes, Enbrethiliel, Angel was in a dream. I think that both Angel and Alec had a "madonna complex."

Anonymous said...

Great recap! Upon reading Fr. Longenecker's blog this morning
see http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/2009/01/pascals-bus.html

re: Pascal's wager, it came to me in a flash that both Alec and Angel are really one and same thing, the fallen man, the novel depicts two sides of the same coin. Consider

"Then I'm better off being religious because when I die
__it is better to have been religious and find there is no God
___than not to have believed and discover there is a God."

and consider further a human existence being modelled in God's image, in the very nitty-grittiness of our male - female relations, ie it is better

to have a helpmate (enjoy the company of women, and the "generation" to be shared in over time, love the Church and her sacraments, embrace the sacrifices of family life, "be religious")

than the original solitude of Adam, prefering one's own opinion, neglecting the company of others, succuming to "corruption" over time, despise bonding and obligations of any kind, most especially the Authority of "Church," shunning embraces of any kind even unto death (and thus reject the hand of God and find oneself ... lost... for eternity... )

oh Horror!

Tess's misfortune is she meets two "Adam"s, a kind of gnostic yin and yang between mind and body
[__] the first corrupted by false "natural law" family values, an adulterated 'nouveau riche' wealth vs the fidelity of the inherited d'Urberville estates (n.b. urb and ville both mean "city" and as Augustine would have us choose, the city of God is of course the preferable destination)
[__] the second corrupted by false "moral law" thinking separated from the reality of sin (the product of Henry VIII's male hubris and the reformation non-conformism of Cromwell et al. who imagine a pure "City on a Hill" of their own making) struggling against the odds outside the saving graces of Mother Church

Hardy's misfortune was to live in an era when the Catholic Church was most unpopular, both in the physical economy and the spiritual economy. He surely sensed the truth but to have embraced it wholeheartedly would have brought the world as he knew it to an end, (he was a successful man of letters who had climbed the social ladder to be on familiar terms with the heir to the throne, and his wife was an evangelical Episcopalian (the novel's character Mercy being perhaps modelled after her?) Perhaps he intuited that the God of second chances is a God of hope, whereby a remorseful Angel can love Liza Lou truely, the way he failed to do for her sister? The alternate fate is that of dissolute Alec "abandon hope all ye who enter in" (Spe salve! as our dear Papa Benni tells it)

Pray for the author's soul (and those of all the real 'Tess's out there) indeed the souls of all troubled artists who attempt to capture beauty in their art, for indeed 'tis as the German folk wisdom says regarding the sin of plagiarism: besser gut kopiert als schlecht erfunden (better well-copied than badly invented)

Anonymous said...

oops forgot to sign off
God bless Clare Krishan

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Clare, for giving us that fascinating background. I do find Tess mirrored in the very sad situations of many modern young women. And the Alecs/Angels are everywhere, too. The story truly does inspire another reason to pray.

Enbrethiliel said...


This novel was assigned in one of my Literature papers. The professor made a big deal about how Alec was depicted in devilish ways to make him the perfect foil to a character named Angel. The scene when he's actually holding a pitchfork, standing in front of a fire, and asking Tess whether he reminds her of the devil, for instance. (Was that in the movie?)

Angel, as his name suggests, has "fallen" from the heights of his silly ideals. What a pathetic, ineffectual guardian he turns out to be.

elena maria vidal said...

No, they didn't show that but thanks for reminding us of what was in the book. Yes, he certainly is a "fallen" Angel. He seems to pride himself on having broken with convention and being a neo-pagan, but he ends up being worse than the old pagans.