Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Yes, you might have known. After I blogged about the beautiful new Penguin hardcover classics, I talked myself into ordering one. Point and click. And I became the proud owner of this stunning edition of Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

My husband said, “Those had better not be yours,” when he saw the photo of the set of Penguin classics I had cut and pasted into the Feb. 3 blog entry.

“Of course not. I got that off the internet.”

But here I am with a new edition of Tess and he doesn't seem to have noticed. Anyway, I've earned it because I gave my nieces my beautiful Heritage edition with the woodcuts!

The Penguin has many exciting features, though some or most are from the 1998 Penguin paperback edition: a chronology of Hardy's life, a scholarly introduction (which I'm saving for later, because I like to be "refreshed" by the text before I read criticism), maps of Wessex, some of the original illustrations from the Graphic (which ran the serial of Tess), textual criticism (this is the original 1891 edition), a glossary, and excellent notes by Tim Dolin, the author of a book about George Eliot I'm reading.

I love, love the language. Hardy is both poetic and awkward, a strange combination, but it works. Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and The Mayor of Casterbridge are my favorites--I can only hope they will be included in the series--but Tess is a riveting novel, a thought-provoking and sensitive portrait of a woman ruined by rape, an aspiring teacher, whose past makes it impossible not only to develop her intellectual self but to pursue sexual relationships without blame. She works in a dairy, far from her hometown (well, village).

I have never been interested in textual criticism, but since Dolin interweaves it with the regular notes, I find myself fascinated by the history of Hardy's language: sometimes the serial was more sexually explicit, more often he added to it in later editions. Apparently his later 1912 revised edition is the most frequently printed, but I am honestly not sure which one I read. I'm not sure it matters. It's rather startling to realize that later may not mean better, but this is certainly true with Wordsworth's Prelude.

This is absolutely a lovely book! It was my favorite book when I was a gloomy teenager. I can remember staying up past midnight to finish it and then taking a bicycle ride (it was a small town) and pondering Angel's inexcplicable rejection and condemnation of Tess. Damn him!


Buried In Print said...

Lovely for you that you've gotten such an inspiring and appealing edition of this one; lovely for me that your enthusiasm is catching as I've chosen this as one of my dozen "Must Reads" for 2010 and had been dreading it a mite!

Frisbee said...

I do like Tess, but you can always switch it with another Hardy if you don't enjoy it!