Tess of the D’Urbervilles
John Lennon sang “Living is easy with eyes closed” and indeed, blindness is as often chosen as imposed. Light and sight are readily equated with truth because they resonate universally. But while conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that everyone is a seeker of truth, denial, blame-shifting and avoidance is man’s default mindset. Why? Knowledge comes with insight, but it is joined by accountability.
As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:
Thus blindness—whether physical of metaphysical, literal or metaphorical—is a recurring theme throughout literature across the ages and genres. From Oedipus Rex, that archetypal tragic hero, who exchanges his intellectual blindness to his true identity as his father’s murderer and his mother’s husband for a self-induced physical blindness, to the enfeebled and blinded Edward Rochester at the end of Jane Eyre, to the absurd Hamm in Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame, the pages of great literature are filled with figures who exemplify this quality that defines the human condition. Paul describes this blindness in the New Testament as “see[ing] through a glass, darkly.” No wonder so many of the physical healings performed by Jesus were those that restored sight: such miracles serve as metaphors for the greater miracle that transforms us from ignorance to illumination. Jesus gave sight to the blind, and in a much smaller way great books do, too.
How can the blindness that prevents us from seeing others as they really are be tragic?
Can you think of examples of this from other works of literature or from real life?
John 4: 1-26
“Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.””
Literature, Liturgy & The Arts
The eldest of four children growing up in Dorset in the 1840s, Thomas Hardy apprenticed to a local architect in 1856 and worked as a draftsman in London in 1862. While visiting a church in Cornwall in 1870, he met and fell in love with his future wife, immortalized in his novel A Pair of Blue Eyes as well as in the poem “Beeny Cliff”: “O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea, / And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.” Hardy published Jude the Obscure in 1895.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
First published serially in bowdlerized form in the Graphic (July–December 1891) and in its entirety in book form (three volumes) the same year. It was subtitled A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented because Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code. Now considered Hardy’s masterwork, it departed from conventional Victorian fiction in its focus on the rural lower class and in its open treatment of sexuality and religion.
After her impoverished family learns of its noble lineage, naive Tess Durbeyfield is sent by her slothful father and ignorant mother to make an appeal to a nearby wealthy family who bear the ancestral name d’Urberville. Tess, attractive and innocent, is seduced by dissolute Alec d’Urberville and secretly bears a child, Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Later working as a dairymaid, she meets and marries Angel Clare, an idealistic gentleman who rejects Tess after learning of her past on their wedding night. Emotionally bereft and financially impoverished, Tess is trapped by necessity into giving in once again to d’Urberville, but she murders him when Angel returns.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).
Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.