This was a second reading of Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece. I have also read and loved The Return of the Native. Why should anyone in 2014 read a novel written in 1892? I’ll happily tell you why. The characters and the themes are timeless. And Hardy is a master of symbolism, description, and character development. He is able to weave together the story of a singular character, the artfully rendered fertility goddess, Tess Durbeyfield (revealed by an amateur genealogist to be descended from the noble Norman family the D’Urbervilles). She is a pure and lovely woman caught between the grinding gears of the old (symbolized by dances and music, superstition and blind religion, and ghost stories) and the new (symbolized by modern farming techniques, machines, and stodgy Victorian mores). She is raped by her first admirer, a profligate youth of new and unearned industrial revolution wealth. The man, Alec D’Urberville, is a pretender to the noble name, having adopted it for social-climbing. He is loose of morals, cruel, and thoughtless… perhaps capable of loving Tess, but spoiling it all with impatience, privilege, and lack of moral training. When true love later comes along for poor Tess, it is cursed to fail by the actions of the rapist as they put Tess in category of an adulteress, even though she had no choice in the matter and goes far beyond anything that is reasonable to atone for her error. Unforgivable acts trump an angelic character and tragedy crushes all on the alter of pagan Stonehenge. It is a tragedy and an indictment of a crumbling, corrupt culture. It is a singular book. And no matter how hard you might find it to read a 100-plus year old book, it is worth every ounce of effort you can put into it.