When Tess Durbeyfield, the daughter of a poor villager, learns that she might be a descendant of the ancient D’Urberville family, her family pressures her to claim kinship in order to seek a portion of the fortune. But when her meeting with young Alec D’Urberville does not go as planned, she returns home a ruined woman. A kinder man, Angel Clare, seems to offer Tess a more stable life—but she must choose whether to reveal her past to him and risk losing everything, or stay quiet and live a lie. Set in the rural town of Wessex, Tess of the D’Urbervilles examines the impact of Victorian hypocrisy and societal struggles on the rural classes.
At once hopeful and tragic, Tess of the D’Urbervilles remains a scathing indictment of the injustices of English social and class structure. First published serially in the British newspaper The Graphic, the novel went on to become one of Thomas Hardy’s most successful, ranking number 26 on the BBC’s survey, “The Big Read.” It has been adapted countless times for stage and film.
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Anna Bentinck ratchets up the melodrama for this full-blooded reading of Hardy's classic a staple of high-school English classes everywhere. Students desperate to penetrate Hardy's notoriously slow masterpiece should turn to Bentinck, who gives it an intense emotional coloring. She makes Hardy sound like a brother to the Bront sisters: passionate and brooding. Bentinck alternates between a crisp, precise narrative voice that sounds like Helen Mirren, and Tess's own voice, quavering, shallow and meek. Bentinck retains her composure throughout, and her assured performance may be a welcome rescue for struggling 11th graders across the country.