Masterpiece Theater: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (JAN 4th & 11th / PBS; check for re-runs, too!)
So beautiful and so sad. Beautiful in the characters, wonderfully realised for the time. Tess especially, a child to whom things happen, things beyond her understanding or control, and who is swept along by the tide of events bewildered, but still strong and true herself and her morals – yes, even at the end.
Some of you may have studied Thomas Hardy novels (AP English/colllege/etc.). Maybe your parents liked Julie Christie in Far From The Maddening Crowd?
As a teen, Hardy came across as quite “modern”, b/c he writes about lower/middle-class protagonists (who often think/dream “outside the box.”) They are Brits of the late 1800s who live/work in the country; Hardy appreciates these average people (Gabriel, the shepherd in Far From the Maddening Crowd, is the main romantic hero).
Thomas Hardy also knows how to create love triangles (usually VERY odd)! Love at first sight, terrible tragedies, and the search for self-knowledge are some of his themes. He goes into “dark” areas of life; many younger students thought he was TOO “doom and gloom” (remember the events surrounding Jude and Sue’s children at end of Jude the Obscure?) His heroes are not stock character types, but young gals/guys looking to learn and get a (little) ahead of where they were born into.
Tess Derbyfield is an unsually pretty, innocent, 16 y.o. country girl who dreams of being a teacher. (In the Polanski version, Nastassja Kinski played Tess, so you know she’s supposed to be country-fabulous!)
Tess is simple, hard-working, but with great pride/dignity. Her dad, a seller of agricultural materials, is often out of work and/or drunk. This is a great embarrassment to her, though her mom and younger sibs don’t take much offense. One day, the father discovers that they have some rich relations who hold the same ancient family name of D’Urberville. Mother is overjoyed, suggesting that Tess go to their estate to ask for help (a job per chance?) She doesn’t want to go, but sees no other choice. Maybe she can save up for studies?
When Tess arrives at the cousins’ house, she meets Alec- a clever, smooth-talking, calculating young man. Right away, he gives her the job as “poultry manager”; this causes raised eyebrows/jealousy among the other staff. He also starts to work on breaking down her defenses- attention, compliments, gifts. (The image I got was a wolf ensnaring a lamb.) There is a memorable incident involving fresh, bright-red strawberries (both in the book and mini-series). Alec’s elderly, frail mother doesn’t seem to notice what’s going on…
Tess is in a very dangerous position- she has no male protector, and must rely solely on her own instincts!
Watch out girl- he’s no white knight!