I decided to re-read this after hearing it discussed on the radio. It really is a wonderful novel, without the excessive melodrama of, say Jude the Obscure.
Tess is such a strong and human character; the men involved are weak, each in their different way. The setting is Hardy’s Wessex, a semi-fictitious part of England, where the made-up place names map onto real places but the environment is rural and full of echoes of the characters’ moods and situations. The onset of modernity and how it changes an ancient way of life is one of the themes of the book. But the drama concerns Tess, a product of the soil and the times, full of natural beauty and artless virtue but brought down by the narrow-mindedness and solipsism of the men who surround her.
Brilliant and a real classic.