Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tess of the D'urbervilles 2008 Episode 1 Recap: Review and Professional Rants

I just watched Episodes 1 and 2 of the 2008 version of Tess of the D'urbervilles and have taken it upon myself to write a recap. Why have I chosen to do such a foolish thing? Because, mes amies, I need space to vent and spew out my spiraling emotions. And as seeing psychiatrist would send my bank account into a fit of apoplexy ( not to mention the poor psychiatrist), I decided to do a little DIY therapy: writing style.

First of all I would hereby like to state that contrary to my usual habits, I watched the series before reading the book. And now that that confessional is done, let's turn back to business.

The titular heroine Tess Durbeyfield ( an enchantingly lovely Gemma Aterton) is embarrassed by her father Mr. Durbeyfield, who is elated to discover that he is the descendant of a very old and illustrious family that went by the posh name of "D'uberville. I must say I really feel for Tess here. She can't help loving her father and sinking even further into embarrassment under the weight of that love. Her mother ( played to perfection by Ruth Jones) is an opportunist of the highest level, even more thrilled than her husband at this piece of news, and presenting a spoon with the family crest on it as evidence.

That spoon looks more like a ladle to me. But anyways...
Hmm, must check my own family spoons. Nah, on second thoughts, I remember they were bought at some nondescript supermarket twenty years ago.

Moving on... one night Tess gets into an accident as she is carting the family's beehives to the market. Unfortunately her family's horse is fatally injured, and is shot to put it out of its misery. Poor White Beauty. The loss of the animal deals a blow to a family that is already financially constrained, and Tess's mother persuades Tess to trot off to the D'urberville chateau to beg ask for employment. Unfortunately the first person Tess comes across is the smarmy Alec D'urberville who has "shifty" written all over him. Unfortunately Tess is only seventeen and very unworldly, and while she is uncomfortable with Alec's barely-disguised leers, she remains civil towards him. Alec, meanwhile, who is clearly bored and aching for something dubious to do, is taken with Tess. Not only is she jaw-droppingly beautiful, but there is an odd grace about her that belies her origins, and in spite of her natural deference to him, she shows him that she possesses spirit and a mind of her own.

Alec tries to seduce Tess with strawberries... FAIL

Alec proposes hiring Tess as the new poultry manager as their last girl disappeared mysteriously, and he has no problem persuading his old, invalid mother, Mrs. D'urberville to do so. Mrs. D'urberville is blind and has a love for birds that is tantamount to obsession. Having no love left over for her son ( rightly, I say) she likes to push his buttons by reminding him that he really isn't a D'urberville and that his father, whow as called Stoke, took on the D'urberville name because he thought it would raise him in polite society. Shocker! So Alec isn't a D'urberville after all??
Her expression is priceless... priceless!

A library?? Drool alert! Drool alert!
Alec attempts to seduce Tess, first with strawberries (unsuccessful), then with books (almost successful). Tess secretly desires to be a schoolteacher, and looks upon education very seriously. She is better-educated than her parents, but not as well as a fine young lady would be. This throws her into an interesting position whereby she's obviously more qualified and more literate than those of her class, but doesn't possess the education of those above her. Such a position, made confusing by education, reminds me of Pamela in Samuel Richardson's eponymous novel. Like Tess, Pamela was a servant preyed upon by her master, and like Tess she'd had some education, as her former mistress had taught her to read and write.

Tess might be innocent, but she's not stupid. Alec's attempts merely increase her distrust of him, and unable to secure her willing consent to be seduced, he rapes her.


I hate this man so much for destroying Tess, that I can't think straight. Must go dunk my head in a bucket of ice-water.

Tess leaves and Alec has the nerve to run after her and ask her to be his mistress. WHAT is wrong with you?? You've destroyed her life and now you want to make it worse? Creep. Tess informs him that she can never love him. She doesn't even hate him for what he's done to her. He's nothing but dust and ashes to her now. You tell 'im sista!

Alec's too lazy to push her further ( I think he's done quite enough of that already), and a broken-hearted Tess returns home. She tries to keep a brave face towards her siblings, but breaks down and confesses the truth to her parents. She asks her mother why she never warned her against such things. Yeah, Mrs. Durbeyfield. You were so greedy for money you destroyed your daughter's life. When Mrs. D tries to blame Tess, Tess rises up and cries out that she never read all the novels that explained such behaviour, that she was only seventeen, an innocent child. It's achingly sad to hear Tess herself acknowledging that her innocence has been destroyed. As the weeks go by, Tess retreats more and more into the shadows of her dingy house, unable to sit for more than two minutes without crying, the freedom and sweet naivete that came with her innocence forever destroyed.


I'd mentioned before that Tess of the D'urbervilles reminded me strongly of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela. Written in the eighteenth century, Pamela chronicles the story of a beautiful servant girl harassed by her master. When seduction fails to affect Pamela's virtuous heart, her master tries to rape her and eventually kidnaps her in order to keep her under his power. Like Tess, Pamela is somewhat educated, and the fact that seems not to belong to any particular stratum of society is a theme echoed by Tess. These girls are not merely servants, but characters, with thoughts, feelings and aspirations. Pamela fears for her virtue, Tess does not, but loses something even more precious: her innocence.

Tess's innocence must not be confused with empty-headed naivete. She might not have been fully awakened to Alec's nefarious plans, but the fact that she distrusts him is evident even to him. Alec's callous disregard for everything except his carnal appetite ends up ruining the life of a girl whose life will obviously never be the same again. Had Tess been a Viscount's daughter, things might have turned out differently for her, but her birth condemns her to the fringes of society where no one will even think of advocating for her.And why should anyone advocate for her? Has what Alec has done a terrible crime?

Uh, YES. Not only is rape a terrible and disgusting act, but in Tess, it destroys her sweet innocence, robbing her of something she can never get back. Not only does this loss permanently alter her character, but it also thrusts her into a realisation of a dangerous, unforgiving world. Perhaps she should have had this realisation a long time ago, for with it she would have never allowed herself to fall into Alec's clutches. But such speculation is nothing finer than a waste of time, and I will close this recap with a reminder of that verse in the Bible which tells us to be "as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." I used to think that that was an odd oxymoron, but after Tess, I can see how this advice is useful.

Gemma Arterton- I loved her portrayal of Tess. It hit all the right notes without making me feel the tiniest bit of annoyance towards her. I remember reading Pamela, and wanting to throw a shoe at the heroine for being so idiotic and simpering. I like Tess's spunkiness and intelligence. Hooray for intelligent heroines!

Hans Matheson- His Alec D'urberville is so convincing, I have to keep reminding myself that he is an actor and is only playing a role . He is at once infuriating, hateful, mocking and pitiable. For all he's done, I cannot bring myself to hate him. Like Tess I can only scorn and pity him.

Ruth Jones- Her Mrs. D'urberville is an interesting character, for she will literally sell her own daughter in order to keep the family's heads afloat. Her barely-concealed obsession with financial security and her pathetic pride in the D'urberville name bar her from ever being a good mother to Tess. I largely blame Mrs. D'urbeville for what happened to Tess. A good mother would have been very concerned over where her daughter was going off to work, especially if she was alone and defenseless. Was Mrs. D'urberville a bad mother, or was she a good one twisted by her circumstances?

That's it for my first recap! I'm looking to finish recapping all four episodes. It's going to be uphill work, especially with a somber drama like Tess, but I'm hoping there'll be little moments of levity to lighten the burden.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I know I haven't been around much, but I'm not too worried about that because there are about a hundred and thirty-four other blogs better looking and better written than mine, and I'm sure my dear followers and readers are happily occupied reading those. But my dad told me about the 10 aid workers recently killed in Afghanistan, and I felt I had to share the information. And my thoughts on it. Of course.

As I was reading about the ten aid workers and their commitment to a tough, financially unrewarding, dangerous job in order to help those in need, I was deeply moved. These people practised what Jesus preached. Their love and service to the Afghan people is a shining testament and example to me. I hope that God will use me, weak and fallible as I am, to show His love and to demonstrate His power and majesty in the same manner one day. I also pray that He prepares me for such a task, and that He will equip me daily to be ready fpr the trials and hardships that will come my way.

I'm glad that all over the world there are Christians demonstrating Christ's perfect, blessed, amazing love in a thousand different ways. It inspires me to keep on even when there are days when I fail, days when I need to bring myself to my knees to ask God for forgiveness for my wilful stubborness. I hope this this will inspire you too.

Here's the link with additional information:

For my next post, I'm working on a recap of the period drama series I'm currently watching. Stay tuned for some not-so-insightful musings! ;)

Yours, in Christ's love,


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Historian: A book about... vampires??

Titles are odd things. When my colleague told me about a book called " The Historian", I (unsurprisingly) assumed it was about a historian. You know, old man with snow-white beard, piercing dark eyes and a stylised vocabulary. So when my colleague proceeded to crush these assumptions with the information that the book was about Dracula, I was slightly intrigued. A week later, she dumped the near 600 page tome onto my desk and I proceeded to sink my teeth into it. HAHA, lame joke right there. Oh yez, I couldn't resist. Sorry.

So I'm living in Canada right now and I understand that there's this craze about vampires. Personally speaking, I was never that much into vampires anyway. In the countries that I grew up, there were a myriad of other superstitions and ghostly creatures, and while I knew what vampires were, I was never fascinated by them. Maybe it's because I lump all blood suckers together, and after being covered with mosquito bites in every imaginable place, and after witnessing leeches do their thing, I couldn't bring myself to find any appeal in the idea of a blood-sucking human (?) being.

With the advent of Twilight however, I am forced to gnash my own teeth at the thought that I am confronted by vampires in every bookshop I go. Yes, I've read Twilight. Okay, okay, so I read one chapter. A little bemused by the fuss, I thought I'd give Twilight a try, reasoning that if so many people liked it, it had to be good, right? Riiiiiiight.

I mean, there are other things to write about in the world you know. I've pretty much stopped going into bookshops nowadays. Everything is so generic and vampire-based, and I can't wait until this madness is over and people get hooked onto nut-cracking newts or whatever other spine-chilling mythical creature there is out there in this crazy world.

Anyway. Where was I? Ah, The Historian.

The book is structured in such a way that there are actually two ( or at times, three) stories occurring with each alternating chapter. The narrator is a young girl whose name we are never told ( like the Girl in Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca), a lonely, inquisitive little thing, who when exploring her absent father's library chances upon a strange old book with nothing on its pages except an eerie woodcut of a dragon and the word " Drakulya."
Little Miss then proceeds to read a couple of letters which are mysteriously addressed to " my dear and unfortunate successor."
Most intrigued, she confronts her father with her finding, and instead of getting angry as most normal parents would upon hearing that their perspicacious offspring have been reading their private correspondence, he instead begins to tell her a story. It all started when he was a university student doing research in the library ( the library again!). Suddenly he found the book with the dragon woodcut at his elbow. Thinking someone had left it behind, he returned it to the librarian. The very next day, the book  is back at his customary cubicle. Intrigued, he shows the book to his advisor, Professor Bartolomeo Rossi, who tells him that years ago, he received the exact book... and he suspects it all ties in to Dracula.

Who is Dracula? In The Historian, the premise is that the vampire Dracula is an actual being, based on the 15th century prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes. Such a personage did exist, and I love how Kostova takes this fact and works it in with with whole vampire myth. The girl's father, Paul, then begins telling his story, and the story of her mother. I know this sounds terribly simple, but it's not; half the story is narrated by Paul, some of it is narrated by Paul through letter format, some is narrated by Rossi through letters to Paul (!), and there is even some narration by the girl's mother.

While this is no blood 'n' guts horror novel (thank God for that), I did come perilously close to screaming a couple of times because it gets rather creepy, especially if you are reading at night. I was smart and did the bulk of it during the sunny daytime ;)

This is what I'd dub an " intellectual" novel, and apparently Kostova herself was going for a serious, almost Victorian tone. As a lover of history, I enjoyed the mysteries and clues revealed in maps and old books and parchments galore. I also enjoyed Kostova's marvelous descriptions of exotic countries like Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria. It's obvious that she's been to those places before, but each of her words felt like the artful strokes of a brush on a beautiful painting. I felt like getting out a map and planning out a trip to Eastern Europe ASAP.

The only downside was that I didn't bond with any of the characters at all. I felt that they were all rather far away from me ( with the slight exception of Paul) and some of the girl's reactions seemed a little too cool and distant considering the tense situations she was in. Another irritant is that the book is so long, the end feels rather rushed, as if Kostova had only just woken up to the fact that she needed to write " The End" somewhere. A rushed ending is definitely not a satisfactory ending folks.

However, I really enjoyed this book. While my heart might not have been too caught up in it; my brain was certainly engaged, and for this I thank Kostova for realizing that there are readers who do want to exercise their brains. And apart from one ambiguous scene which I'm still puzzling over, and people sometimes taking the Lord's name  ( grr) in tense situations, this was a pretty good ride. Which is nice for me. I have made a vow not to read books with sex scenes or negative messages, and that's pretty much shut the door on modern fiction for me. So it's nice to have books like these where I can read without getting too disgusted.

So that's it for this review! What should I read next?