Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

Written, as you can tell, several years ago, but needing a new home now that goodreads = amazon.

Not long ago I had a parting with my mother which was unexpectedly emotional. We both hastily pulled back from that, not being given to such displays with each other, but a few days later my mother wrote to say she was suddenly overwhelmed with the sense that there are more partings than meetings in life, if that were philosophically possible.

A mathematician, I fancy, would say this is a perfectly simple situation. If there is a parting, there must have been a meeting, just as for every ending a beginning. And yet this is simply not true, which is why science is so limited in what it can explain to us. In fact, the more one begins to consider the matter of meetings and partings the more complicated it all becomes.

My father died a couple of months ago. Was that his parting from me, as my mother moved him from one position from another to make his unconscious state more comfortable for him, only to see him stop breathing for ever? Or was it a few days prior when I arrived in Adelaide and he squeezed my hand, his last conscious gesture? Was that a greeting or a parting? A few years ago I had two of my closest friends die, suddenly, without warning, doing domestic chores one minute, dead moments later. Where is the parting? An innocuous affair on both occasions. Breakfast with one the day before, ‘see you on Friday, Maree’. Coffee with the other, ‘Til the weekend, Paul’. These are not partings.

And, if it comes to that, which meeting matches a parting? In the case of my relationship with my father, is his death to be counterpoised by my birth? My father most gingerly picking up this tiny thing who is appalled by the flat hairy chest she finds with the entirely inadequate nipple. ‘Whah. WHAHHHHHHH. Give me back to the one with the big breasts, get me outta here.’ Most likely complete relief on the part of both of us. Does this occasion in any way match up to our final parting?

Do we intuitively feel like the partings outweigh the meetings because in the end sadness overwhelms joy? But is this really true? Do not tiny moments of happiness have the capacity to overrun and totally banish the sadness that led up to them? Maybe some tiny twist in logic of which a mathematician might totally disapprove lets us see not meetings and partings, but partings and meetings, sadness leading to joy, not joy to sadness.

I’d forgotten until I just watched it, that Tess is a story of meetings and partings. In a life of cruel partings, and meetings which are always tainted so that joy is melancholic and not to be trusted, when Tess takes the final decisive step that permits her no more than a few days of the exquisite all-encompassing happiness which was so rightfully hers, but which she could only take through an act that ensured her happiness would be the briefest of things, still, do we not have a sense that those few sweet days are what she takes with her, that they negate every shitty dreadful thing that has happened to her before then?

If you read Tess, you do have to believe that, you have to see that there is one meeting in her life so blissful, so exactly what she knew it would be, being with her husband for the first consumated time, that it obliterated everything else that had been her sorry life.

I suppose this is what Blake is saying in the Augueries of Innoncence:

It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

And if you can do that, see how joy can win no matter that it is against great odds, if you can make eternity an hour, the tiniest thing infinity, how much richer are you for it – gee it’s hard though. Really hard. Yet Tess makes it look easy. There is a scene towards the end of the drama where she is about to be picked up by the police and her husband entreats them to let her sleep a little longer. She is lying on a rock, I imagine it’s freezing, she’s about to be arrested and hanged, but she’s sleeping like a baby. The reality of her life is her happiness. The rest is as nothing.


Added later. Then there are partings with no meetings, I realise as I read the following letter from a correspondent of my father’s who never met him, being a world away. I let Emilio know that my father had died.

Dear Cathy

I’ve just read your email message and I’m a bit shaken. I never met Mr Depasquale, I don’t even know how he looked like, but in these three years he has become a familiar figure to me. I read his books and essays about Boothby several times and I became somehow acquainted with him. I really wished that he could read my dissertation, in spite of its many shortcomings, and that he might perhaps tell me what he thought about it. Some days ago I had written a letter to him which I wanted to attach to the disseration, and there I told him that he was probably the only person in the world that could find specific errors and inconsistencies in my work for no one seems to have worked on Boothby extensively except for him and me.

I’m not going to work on Boothby any longer, and quite probably I will get a job that will have nothing to do with literature, alas – things go that way in Italy. Still, after Paul’s death I feel lonely. There is no need to say how grateful I am to him, as I think that is clear from my dissertation. Please, put a flower on his grave for me.

I am glad, nonetheless, to send you the outcome of my work. It is not a great work at all, and I must admit there were many problems about my research, but I wouldn’t bore you with such a thing. I still hope there may be something interesting in it.

I wish you all the best and send you, Mrs Depasquale, and your brother my sympathies for your loss. Hoping to hear from you soon.

Signed Emilio.

I don’t wish to be indiscreet or intrusive, but do you think you might send me a photo of Mr Depasquale. I would like to keep it. Of course, if you prefer not to, I will understand.

This letter caused many tears.

2 thoughts on “Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

  1. Wow, I’m writing my own review of Tess atm and I was looking through other people’s reviews when I found yours. I just wanted to say what a great post this is. A few years ago I lost one of my best friends closely followed by my father and in both cases our last partings were far from what I would have wanted them to be. I was glad Tess found her happiness in the end as well, I just wish it could have lasted longer.

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