Tess of the d'Urbervilles is the 19th century novel lately thought to be one of the inspirations of E .L.James' Fifty Shades of Grey. It depicts the life of an impressionable, naive, somewhat educated young woman, who yearns to be free to live her own life, but finds herself constricted by the bonds of the sexual, religious and socially hypocritical customs that have surrounded her from birth.
Considered a Victorian Realist, Thomas Hardy criticized social constraints on those living in the 19th and early 20th century through most of his novels. He was also a renowned poet and many of his works were set to music by notable English composers. He was an Anglican who questioned traditional Christian views and had difficulty reconciling the 'horrors of pain' with the so called existence of a loving God. He also showed in his writings a fascination with the supernatural even as he held a strong emotional attachment to the Christian liturgy and rituals which were a major influence in his childhood. The narrator, Jennifer M. Dixon, is a board-certified Music Therapist and Licensed Counselor, veteran of Michigan Opera, Piccolo Opera and Community Theater.
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Odd performance; Frustrating book
Not really. Hardy did an admirable job pointing out the hypocrisy of Victorian double standards and the damage they could wreak on a woman's life. But to do so, he apparently felt that he needed to make the heroine a weak, pathetic, simpering, long-suffering little simpleton. Kind of like Victor Hugo's Fantine (who, to be sympathetic, had to be somehow inherently "pure" despite her sins), Hardy made Tess into some sort of uber-victim for the Victorian age. It undoubtedly served a useful rhetorical purpose at the time, but it makes for extremely frustrating reading in the 21st century.
There were strange silences at times in this reading -- sometimes it almost felt like the book had accidentally skipped ahead (this might be an editing problem, rather than an issue with Ms. Dixon's performance). For her performance, Ms. Dixon sounded a bit fatigued at times and she placed emphasis in odd places in some sentences. She used a weird voice for most of the female characters that made pretty much all of them sound like blathering idiots or old biddies. She made Tess sound completely pathetic, but that's consistent with the writing at least. I would be curious to see if I enjoyed this book more reading it myself.
No. But I never go see film adaptations of Victorian novels. Mini-series are a different story.