|Tragic Tess of the d'Ubervilles|
Tess of the d'Ubervilles
by Thomas Hardy
Spoiler alert, Tess hangs at the end. Tess of the d'Ubervilles was Hardy's most controversial novel because it depicts what passed for immorality back in the 1890s. Today, Tess would be running just about par for the course on conventional morality but Victorian prudery was in high dudgeon when Tess was published. Tess is a famous tragic heroine of the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, again, Hardy is pulling his trick of setting a book in the recent past but importing "Modern" themes.
Here, Tess is seduced by an arriviste cousin, has a child, the child dies, then she marries another guy, doesn't tell him about her misfortune before the marriage, tells him AFTER the marriage, is abandoned by said husband, then picks up again with the cousin who got her in trouble in the first place, then her husband returns to claim her and she murders the other dude. Then she hangs.
Tragic, to say the least. Tess of the d'Ubervilles is a good example of a work that had a mixed reception upon initial publication but which then gained lasting status as both a classic and hit due to critics simply being wrong/judging the work on the basis of "morality" as supposed to artistic merit or success at entertaining the Audience.
Despite the rural settings, Hardy was a strong precursor to the modern Novelist, if only because his pacing, plotting and command of theme elevates him above the discursive style of the Victorian Novel (George Eliot excepted.) As the Wikipedia page says, Hardy's work carries the "ache of modernity," and I would not disagree with that assessment.