Friday, March 27, 2009

Tess Redux

After having recommended the recent BBC production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Parts I and II, I was delighted to receive the following insightful letter from writer Steve LaTulippe, published here with his permission:
Ms. Vidal:

I took your advice the other day and watched BBC's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (although, in some ways, I wish I hadn't).

I agree with you that it was a wonderful production, and the plot was absolutely spellbinding. As the story began its tragic downward spiral, I kept hoping against hope that a man - any man - would step forward and save her from her fate.

Instead, every man in her life failed her. Her father was a gluttonous fool, Alec was a lecherous sleaze, and Angel betrayed her in a truly unbelievable fashion (and let's not forget the sadistic farm manager, who seemed to delight in the misery of downtrodden women).

By the story's end, one thought was foremost in my mind: Tess' world was totally bereft of chivalry.

Many people today (especially feminists) deride chivalry as an archaic and insulting cultural artifact from the Dark Ages. In truth, chivalry is vital to the maintenance of civilization, since it sprang from Christ's message that the strong have the obligation to care for and protect the weak. Christ thus inverted what had been the general practice throughout pagan civilization (where the the young, the strong, and the beautiful were free to trample the weak and the vulnerable.)

In my days as a military officer, I had the occasion to travel to lands where chivalry never came into being. I've seen cultures where young men sit around and drink all day while women and children toil in horrifying filth. I vividly recall one incident when I helped a native woman carry a bucket of water. The mens' responses ranged from laughter (why would I be so stupid as to help a mere woman?) to anger (how dare I break their cultural taboos that defined such work as being only fit for women!)

Such is a world without chivalry, and it isn't pretty.

Tess was a beautiful young woman with a good head and a fierce sense of pride (in the best sense of the term). Any man with half a brain should have been eternally grateful to have such a woman as his wife.

Unfortunately, there were no men in her world with anywhere near half a brain.

In the end, she didn't deserve what she got, which broke my heart.

Steve LaTulippe, MD


SF said...

Interesting commentary on Tess.

Matterhorn said...

A wonderful letter! Thanks for posting this.

Enbrethiliel said...


It is so true!

Clare Marie-Therese Duroc said...

That's an angle on the story I had never considered, but it's very true. Thanks for sharing the letter.

Georgette said...

Lovely letter; very insightful indeed!

Alexandra said...

Oh, I am so glad you posted this. I feel the same way, and cannot read the book or watch the movie again! I thought I was wimpy, but I see that I am not.