It’s time for another edition of Bad Book Covers! Today we’ll be looking at Thomas Hardy’s 1891 shocking realist novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Dracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and Hyde, Pamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green Gables, Vanity Fair, Turn of the Screw, She, and The Jungle Book.
1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.
2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.
3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the plot, here is a martini-fueled recap that’s lovingly swaddled in cuss words. If you already know the story, then skip down to the covers below.
WARNING FOR DISCUSSIONS OF RAPE
John Durbeyfield, an uneducated peasant, runs into the local vicar. The vicar tells him that he, John, may be descended from noble blood, since “Durbeyfield” is a corruption of “d’Urberville”–a nearly extinct aristocratic family. John goes, “AWWWWWWW YEAAAAAAAAAAH” and immediately gets drunk to celebrate.
He’s too full of dat sizzurp to drive his wares to the market that night, so his eldest daughter, Tess, is like, “Oh, ffs, I’ll do it.” Only, because she hadn’t been planning on staying up the entire night to cover for her dad’s fuckwittery (and because Redbull hasn’t been invented yet), she is exhausted setting out and falls asleep at the … wheel? Reins? Horse? Falls asleep at the horse. Anyway, another speeding carriage drives head-on into them and kills the Durbeyfield family’s only horse.
RIP, PrancerHoof, we barely knew ye.
Tess feels so hideously guilty over accidentally causing her family’s total economic ruin that she decides to throw herself on the mercy of a distant relation, an old Mrs. d’Urberville, and beg her for a job. Instead of meeting Mrs. d’Urberville, Tess runs into her sexy-but-shitty son, Alec, who is basically just a walking hard on. He’s like, “Hey, baby, baby, sure you can have a job. You can look after the chickens, which everyone knows is the sexiest job on a farm.”
Alec is pretty creepy (he even hides under Tess’s bed at one point), but her parents are like, “Oooh, he’s rich. What are the chances on a scale from zero to zero that he’ll marry you?” Tess is uninterested in Alec, but she’s also pretty innocent and wants to stay long enough to earn money to buy a replacement horse for her family.
Tess goes to a party with some villagers one night, only she inadvertently pisses of a rough crowd and is about to get beat up when, all of a sudden–ALEC D’URBERVILLE TO THE RESCUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He rides in on a white horse and sweeps her up and they gallop off into the woods together. He gets lost in the fog and tells Tess to wait there while he gets his bearings. When he comes back, Tess has fallen asleep under a tree, and Alec looms closer and closer and closer and–
Nine months later, Tess has a baby and living back at home with her parents. Was she raped or did she submit willingly to his sexual advances? This was the big, controversial debate when the book came out. I personally read it as rape, because 1.) she was NOT into him at all, 2.) he’s well-established as a sexual predator, 3.) the book is subtitled ‘A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented’, and 4.) SHE WAS ASLEEP, but there is juuuuust enough ambiguity for people to go, ‘Eh, maybe she was into it.’
Tess names her baby ‘Sorrow’, which is probably not the best way to set your already-disadvantaged son up for the future. Then the baby dies. Because this is a Thomas Hardy novel, so of course he does.
Tess moves away to work as a milkmaid in another village where people don’t know her tragic backstory and her poor child-naming choices. She meets this dude named Angel Clare, a vicar’s son, and all the other milkmaids are like HUBBA HUBBA, because Angel Clare is like George Clooney and Idris Elba and Orlando Bloom wrapped up in one nubile package. Angel falls in love with Tess and asks her to marry him. Tess is like, ‘Well, he should probably know about my past before we get married,’ so the night before the wedding she writes him a letter confessing her ‘sins’ and slips it underneath his door. The next day he’s still cool with the marriage, so she’s like, ‘Awesome! He forgives me for being sexually assaulted! Nothing could possibly go wrong now!’
Except Angel never received Tess’s letter–it got shoved underneath the carpet when she slid it under his door. They get married, and Angel confesses to her that he once had a love affair with a woman. Tess thinks that’s cool, and–realizing that he never got her letter–tells him about Alec d’Urberville. Angel, in the biggest dick move in maybe all of literature, is like, “YOU WHORE” and leaves her, asking one of the other milkmaid biddies to come with him and be his mistress.
Tess goes back to her family and, after a while, runs into Alec d’Urberville again, who asks Tess to be his mistress. Tess’s father dies suddenly and her mother is like, “PROSTITUTE YOURSELF FOR OUR WELFARE, GIRL”, so Tess breaks out the ruffly knickers of despair and goes off with Alec.
Years later, Angel comes back from wherever he’s been, and finds Tess and tells her that he was wrong to leave her and begs for her forgiveness. She is devastated, as she is Alec’s mistress now and still hates his guts, but hey, her mother is living the high life, so I guess everyone’s happy.
Except for Tess, who instantly goes upstairs where Alec is sleeping and STABS HIM TO DEATH IN HIS GODDAMN PREDATOR FACE.
She tells Angel about the murder, and they run off in the sunset together and have five blissfully happy days on the lam before the law catches up with them. In the maybe most ridiculous scene in the book, they end up trying to evade the police at Stonehenge, but then they get caught and Tess goes to her death on the gallows, and Angel vows to look after Tess’s younger siblings. THE END.
The moral of the story is: PrancerHoof and Sorrow were the lucky ones to get out of this bleak tale so early.
Phew, that was an exhausting recap. ON TO THE COVERS!
Let’s start with the worst of the worst today. This is a category I call Angel Clare Was Right: Tess is a Whore
What the actual shitting fuck is this
You’re damn right: she is no Angel
Because Angel was a total cockmuffin
Never mind, I love this cover now
I could actually kill someone for this cover.
“Should we show Tess innocently sleeping?”
“Nah, let’s show her swooning in a vague state of sultry undress in Alec’s arms. That’s totally what happened in that scene.”
“Do you like my coy flowers of sexual awakening?”
Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the Strawberries of Sex
A related category: Tess Undressed
Because everyone does farm work in their underwear.
I, too, always brood with my back (and presumably breasts?) exposed. It helps me to think.
Nipples in the Cemetery: A Thomas Hardy Novel.
And what good “Bad Book Covers” post would be complete without an Inaccurate Costuming section?
Stop using this goddamn painting for EVERYTHING.
Wow, if Tess had managed to live until 1910, she could have had that outfit in every color!
I . . . I don’t even know what that hat is.
Is Tess a sous chef? Some sort of Puritan maiden? A smurf?
Thank god that Tess–the poor teenage farm girl–is 45 years old and can afford expensive lace collars and jewelry!
The art department clearly has no idea when this novel is supposed to be set.
(hint: it’s the 1870s)
Fun fact: that second cover is a photograph of the French painter and model Juliet Manet. Who has absolutely nothing to do with anything.
Then there’s a category called Women Who Are Bored As Shit
Here’s a good overlap between this category and the last one:
“I, Tess, the Mexican mural painter from the 1930s, am ever so bored with life.”
“Goddamn it, Gary, you Holstein mother fucker.”
“Yeah. I am rolling my eyes at you, Gregory, and I’d like to hear what you think you’re gonna do about it.”
*flicks cigarette into cattle pen*
“Waiting around for your life to be ruined is literally the worst. Can’t we just get it over with?”
“I wonder where my hypocritical, estranged husband is.
“Oh. I just remembered: I don’t care.”
“You know what would liven up the day? More horse impalement. Should I? Oh, go on. I’ll be a devil.”
And then we have a section that is technically fine, but a little repetitive: Tess is a Sleepy Bitch
Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Now With Extra Armpit
Eh, we’ll just use Sir Frederic Leighton’s “Flaming June” painting. It’s 1890s-ish. A woman falls asleep in the book. It’s probably thematically appropriate.
To wrap things up, we should (for the sake of fairness) include some Good Covers
These are all lovely and creepy and oppressive and at least vaguely thoughtful.
That’s it for me today–as always, I’m open to suggestions for books for another one of these posts.