I'm pretty sure I read this back when I was living in London and had hour-long commutes, which gave me time for reading long books. The only thing I remembered was that Tess had some hardships and spent time one winter digging "Swedes" (Swedish turnips; actually, rutabaga) out of the frozen ground. Well, actually, that doesn't happen until well into the book, and is not exactly all that important in the overall story.
Quick synopsis: Tess, a beautiful, good hearted country girl, is driven insane by two privileged, egotistical assholes, one who takes pride in being rather a rake, the other a pompous, holier-than-thou moralist with a few skeletons in his own personal closet. But despite the gloomy plot trajectory, this is really a good book. Thomas Hardy was a gifted writer.
So, actually, Tess Derbyfield, is a beautiful, strong, hardworking country girl. Oh, I already said that. Anyway, her parents are rather silly, especially her father. The father hears that he is actually a direct descendant of a noble family, once prominent in their part of Wessex. The family was then known as D'Urberville, but all traces of the family seem to have disappeared. Tess' parents discover a rich, old lady not all that far away who goes by the name of D'Urberville, so send Tess off to claim kinship, hoping to get some support thereby. Tess goes, but meets only the roguish son of the old lady, not the lady herself. But, Tess is offered a place tending to the old lady's chickens and teaching her birds to sing. That works for a while, but the son, Alec, continues pressing his attentions on Tess. Eventually, Tess runs back home. But Alec insists on helping her flee from him (weird, huh?) and then seems to "seduce" her. Probably, he raped her, but books weren't all that explicit in olden days. All we know is that Tess returns home pregnant.
Eventually, Tess has a baby. The baby dies a few months after birth. Tess gets depressed. Eventually, she goes off to a farm in the opposite direction to become a milk maid. There is a well-off, third son of a clergyman, Angel Clare, working the farm. His father refused to send him to university (because Angel wasn't theologically pure
enough, or something), so the son must learn to make his way. His approach is to apprentice himself as a farmworker in a number of places so as to learn all the intricacies of farming. Then he'll buy a farm, either in England or in America (or the colonies). All the milkmaids fall hopelessly in love with Mr. Clare, but he clearly favors Tess. Tess, for her part, because she has been besmirched, tries to turn his head toward one of the other milkmaids, but he won't have it.
Eventually, stuff happens and Angel and Tess marry: she relents after repeated refusals. She tries to tell him why she is "unworthy", but doesn't get to why until the evening after their wedding. Once the wedding is over, it's confession time. Angel first, then Tess. Well, he's no Angel, having sewed a few wild oats in his time, so to speak. But for some reason, he takes amiss that Tess was "disadvantaged" by another egoist who was "sewing a few wild oats" himself. The old story that rules for the goose don't apply to the gander. So, Angel decides they must not consummate the marriage. Rather, after a few days, they part. Angel goes off to try his hand at farming in Brazil. Tess soon loses what money Angel provided, mostly by trying to help out her imprudent family, and she is too proud to apply to Angel's parents for additional funds. Thus, Tess is off looking for farm-labor jobs and ends up at the place where she was digging Swedes in wintertime.
Naturally, bad things happen. Angel gets very sick in Brazil and loses touch with Tess. Alec shows up again and renews his attempts to "seduce" her. Tess' father dies and her mother and siblings are evicted from their house. And so forth. It's not a happy book.
But, although it might not be a happy book, it is a very good one. Hardy is a gifted writer and does a wonderful job of "showing" the lives of his characters. One gets a great feel for the lives of the farm folk working the farms, of the changing of the seasons, of the various aspects of the countryside, and so forth.
I've taken rather a shine to Hardy in the past year. And to think my interest in Hardy was all because I fell in love, via a picture in Time
magazine, with an actress who was playing one of his heroines in a recent movie adaptation of one of Hardy's works. Please don't tell my spouse.