A Spring Mantel

comments: 92


A few weekends ago, I spent not a small amount of time watching various movie versions of Thomas Hardy's novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles: the 1979 version with Natassia Kinski, the 1998 version with Justine Waddell (who is one of my favorite actors, and who you might know from the brilliant Wives and Daughters), and the 2008 version with Gemma Arterton.

I first read Tess of the D'Urbervilles in high school and have re-read it a few times since. It is a maddening and ambitious and tragic and symbolic novel on so many levels; I won't get into a textual analysis or even summarization here because that is way beyond my skill-level today (or any day, I'm sure) but, without giving any spoilers or details, be warned that this is a heavy movie. As difficult as it is, almost every spring I have the urge to revisit this story, especially in movie form. Several weeks ago, on a blustery Friday afternoon, I rented all three of the above versions (from our stellar local indie video store), stopped and got a latte, and settled in for a viewing. I started with the most recent 2008 BBC version featuring Gemma Arterton. I had seen it before, when it first came out a couple of years ago and was on cable, but for some reason, watching it this time, I was moved like I have rarely been moved by a movie. I finished it the next day, then put in the 1998 version. I watched about forty-five minutes of it (I had seen it before, as well) and popped it back out; I put in the 1979 version. Again, I watched only until about halfway through her time at the dairy and took it out, too. Then I put the 2008 version back in and watched the whole thing again.

From the 2008 BBC version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

It's true that it was really cold, really rainy, and I had nothing else to do. But honestly, I don't think the earlier versions hold a candle to this one. I was just so mesmerized by Gemma Arterton, who, in my opinion, turned in one of the most moving performances I've ever seen in my life, that I just couldn't stop watching. I have to admit that I sobbed both times, and possibly even more the second time.

From the 2008 BBC version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Part of what choked me up, aside from the breathtaking and soulful Miss Arterton (as well as the other performances, which I think are brilliant) and the brutal, sad plot, is the stunning beauty — and implied fragility — of the scenery. If you watch the extras on the DVD, they talk about the filming locations (according to the BBC web site [unfortunately, none of the trailers there work for me], the movie was filmed in several places around western England in the spring of 2008). They discuss how the director made a conscious decision to include these big, long shots where you frequently see just one character walking alone across miles of open countryside, and there is something very vulnerable and profound about those images in particular to me. So many of the other scenes of the woods in springtime (especially the scene where she and Angel are talking under the tree) also really stuck in my mind and are still floating around there.

This past Friday I put together a Tess-inspired spring mantel for our living room.


The flowers are all fake (even we here in Oregon don't have such blossoms yet), except for the pot of clover all the way to the left that Andy bought at the nursery when we went. But the arrangement and the colors made me feel peaceful. I thought of ikebana and of gentle things.


I added a little sprig of blooming pink daphne to that little blue creamer, and found a tiny, real bird's nest (at an antique booth) to put under the cloche that Amy gave me for my birthday.


Hi Alicia, WELL.. you have ended up being my "Movie Guide"! I got "Bright Star" after reading your blog, and now I've moved the 2008 Tess into my Netflix queue. We watched "The Duchess" yesterday and I just get so haunted by the sadnesses women have had to endure over the centuries. Poor G! Love the mantel.. my tableaux space is my dining table, my poor mantel is in the rarely used or enjoyed living room. Need to do some decorating. My granddaughters are coming to visit on Wed!

Hugs from the gorge.. Teresa

Could you please knit me one ;)

I also studied this book at high school and watched the Natassia Kinski version. Such a stunning novel, so easily imagined as a film. I studied film adaptations for my MA so I should definitely watch these later versions. Thanks for sharing.

I read the book many years ago and loved it. Although I haven't reread it, it is a book that i revisit in my head. I haven't seen either movie version. I'm going to look for the 2008 movie.

Here's to "thinking of gentle things" - an old fashioned notion these days (?) but so needful.

Love the fresh palette. I have the 2008 Tess on my Zip list [Cdn Netflix :)] - now I'm extra excited to see it!

Love this post and the comments too! I can't believe no one has mentioned Return of the Native -- my favorite Hardy novel...

It's been a long, long time since I read that book, and I don't think I've seen any of the movie versions. Will have to consider one, or maybe re-read the book. I was looking closely at your fireplace, and you have flowers on the brick-how pretty! Did you do that or is it original to the house?

So beautiful! I love the idea of putting flowers in ceramic jugs. Looking for some special ones for my own kitchen windowsil. Niki x

Elizabeth Judd says: March 22, 2011 at 08:08 AM

Love your mantelpiece. Did your fireplace have roses on it originally? Or did you somehow add them yourself? And if so, how?

Absolutely love it!

I watched the 1998 version just last weekend! It's scary how that happens sometimes. Tess of the D'Ubervilles always frustrates me. I want Angel to be more of a MAN instead of a weak little boy. I love Wives and Daughters and bought in on DVD on your recommendation...many years ago!

It looks like I'll be hijacking my husband's netflix queue again - I haven't seen that one, but I have read the book. I always love getting to see a little bit of home.

YOU are such a cup o' delight! I look forward every morning to reading your writing and seeing your creativity through your artful crafts and home interior photos. Thank you for shining your light for all of us to be warmed and inspired by.

I absolutely love the colors in your livingroom (and throughout your house, as well) -- Is there any chance that you might share the wall/trim/fireplace colors and brands? I'd like to do something similar in my own livingroom (keeping in mind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!).

With gratitude and best wishes ~

I've been meaning to get to Tess forever but due to how grim and disturbing I've heard it is, I've just been holding it off. I think now is the time to read it however. You mentioned that it's full of beauty and that makes all the difference. Beauty makes terrible things more terrible and yet more possible to ingest without just flopping down into the pit of despair, I think. And beauty is what most books seem to lack nowadays. So yes, I'm off to get the book and watch the latest BBC version! Thanks. I'm sure it'll all produce tons of food for though which I always love.
Have you ever read or seen the BBC version of "Under the Greenwood Tree"? The least sad of all his book and so sweet!

OH your mantel is beautiful!! Love it!

I totally agree. I love Tess!

I read Tess in college in my "English Novel" class. Unfortunately, my professor did not have the same, dreamy romantic take on the novel such as your own. I believe I may have to revisit it and see how I will interpret it; the difference from my 20 year old self, to my current 42 year old self. And, the movie is going into my must see column. Thank goodness for the BBC. My kids recognize those kinds of movies now, and when they see me watching and contentedly sighing, the say, "Pizza for dinner?"

Deborah Houy says: March 22, 2011 at 01:56 PM

Umm, I think the correct spelling is mantel (not mantle). A mantle is a cloak; a mantel is a shelf. The easy way to remember mantel is that you can keep your TELephone on your manTEL.

Thank you for the post! I can't wait to read the book and rent the movie - it looks beautiful! Love the mantel :)

The spring mantel is so fresh, clean, and lovely looking. We don't have a mantel, but now I am thinking that perhaps we need a seasonal shelf put up somewhere.

I remember vividly when the 2008 Tess was on tv. We were staying at my mom's house, and she went to bed early. So I had all the lights off in the living room and the volume turned way down, and I was sitting Indian style on the floor in front of the tv knitting a shawl for my friend in the dark trying to sob quietly so as to not wake up the house. Like a little kid sneaking around the watch the late show...but I was 30 and watching PBS.

who gives a hoot how the word is spelled? honestly....
your spring touch is so, so lovely!!! reminds me a bit of the decor in Bright Star. i would love to know what the garland is...
thanks as always for the film/book recommendation. life has been a bit bleak for me of late, and i think that watching something incredibly bleak will put things into better perspective for me ;) xxxx

Gorgeous. The scnery looks very much like my childhood homeland of Dorset, it is indeed incredibly beautiful and never more so than in Springtime.
I'm going back there for Easter next month and I CANNOT WAIT!!!!! good job I know that i'm going back or else I would be sobbing with homesickness after reading your post.
Sending love and springiness your way xxxxx

Meant to say that thomas hardy was born not far from where I grew up, the Dorset countryside is firmly implanted in his novels xx

Yikes, should I admit that I have neither read the book nor seen the movie? HOWEVER, that will soon change. I have too much on my reading list at the moment, but am (now) very excited to see the 2008 version of the movie.

Beautiful mantel, by the way. Want to come over and do one for me? :)

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.