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.


Hello from Gloucestershire! I loved Tess too and cried lots watching it for the sheer scale of emotions she went through.

GET OUTTA TOWN. You will never guess what book I have been reading (one short chapter/night) all this long, dreary winter. I have to say, I'm not terribly in love with it; Hardy's social critique is a little heavy-handed for me (but he's preaching to the choir here, so that may be part of it), and I get a bit miffed sometimes when he breezily describes women as feeling beings, not logical/intelligent creatures (hackles ... UP!! from the overtired doctoral student), but it does clip along, and I will confess that while my husband has been away and I've been exhausted and collapsing at the end of the quarter with no one to care for me here, I hit the section on Angel and Tess' separation and just BAWLED. So, I will admit to finding it very affecting. ANyways, I'm hoping to finish today - I should've known there would be a gorgeous contemporary BBC film to watch when I am ready to go back and revisit it! Thanks!

It's a rare day that I watch a movie, but your description of Tess of the D'Urbervilles is so compelling--I'm going to try to convince the hubs it's a must-see.

I'm also inspired by the mantle. I've never thought of character-inspired decorating before, but I love the idea!

Your mantle is stunning! What lovely colors and arrangement. And those flowers are beautiful- they don't look fake in the least!

Alicia: As always, just perfect!

I actually spent my late teens trying to be Tess. I made smock dresses and bloomers out of old sheets, and used to walk around barefoot for miles. I haven't seen the latest adaptation but, can feel another read of all my Hardy novels coming on now you have highlighted it.

I loved the 1998 version with Justine Waddell. I will have to rent the 2008 DVD now. Thanks for the recommendation and the peak at your spring mantel. ;-)

Oh my goodness... Tess of the D'Urbervilles has always been just too much for me. I watched part of the 2008 film, but even the beauty of the landscape and the excellent cinematography just couldn't compel me to watch the whole thing. I just get so depressed! Thomas Hardy is just not my author.

Have you seen the BBC North & South (another Elizabeth Gaskell film adaptation)? It's FANTASTIC! Richard Armitage just smolders as John Thornton.

If you're on a Hardy-movie kick, I recommend "Far from the Madding Crowd" (1967), directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch.

There is a version of Jude the Obscure with Kate Winslet but it horrified me. All the stuff with the kids.... too brutally graphic and disturbing. I still have flashbacks!

Can't wait to see these newer versions of Tess, though. I didn't even know they excited.

I have never seen it and you always pick the good ones... will add to my list! Your mantle is pretty!

pretty! i really liked far from the madding crowd, i liked the bbc version of tess but i couldn't get into the book, have you read middlemarch by George Elliot? I love that novel! fliss xxx

ps thought you might like to know i brought your christmas felt ornament kits last year but havent made them all yet, tonight i had to raid the brown felt as joshy wouldnt go to sleep unless his luigi teddy had a new moustache! he he! xxx

Totally crazy timing, I tell you. I say your favorite "Tess" yesterday on PBS in the middle of the day. Boys were out playing with Daddy...while I sat mesmerized. I didn't even get to watch the whole thing, but you're so very right: captivating acting, scenery & for someone totally in the dark about the story-I was moved almost to tears. Seldom does a film stay with me for quite some time...but this one has. Hoorah for Gemma & when Angel was bringing the tray to her in their little love nest? The tender moment right after that? Sob!

Love the mantel, Alicia...also you've inspired me re fake flowers...I'm so craving flowers...lovely.

I just finished Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree last week and liked that very much. There's also a good BBC version on Netflix...it's a bit like the Cranford series in terms of story.

I've said it before, but again thanks for your blog, which heals my frazzled soul, especially on days when I feel teary.

I saw some knitted sushi the other day and thought of Andy. It didn't hold a candle to that smiling little fried egg.

Ann in Maine

You must read Jude the Obscure and watch the movie simply titled Jude. Christopher Eccleston stars in the movie. I randomly stumbled upon the movie on tv, watched it first and was so moved by it that I had to read the book. The story could not possibly be more tragic but really worth reading.

I remember loving the old one with Natasha Kinski. I forever held that image of how Tess looked etc. Then I saw the BBC 2008 one and was simply amazed! She was so, so good in it, and it was pure eye candy.
I've read a lot of Thomas Hardy and they novels are so heavy and sad with so many what ifs. The worst one was Jude the Obscure! That one breaks my heart :(

cute mantle though!!

Oh you just endeared me even more - that beautiful mantle, Tess and Justine Waddell! I love Tess but can never decide if I want to read it again...so beautiful and so tragic.

I have never read the book nor seen any versions of the movie -- what is wrong with me?! But I LOVE the mantle. You have such an eye for balance (something I lack -- my mother and daughter both have it, clearly it skipped a generation). Lucky you to get to look at it whenever you want! I think I would just set a comfy chair right in front of it and never get up!

I have seen only the Kinski version, but it's time to branch out. My IB extended essay was on Tess (and Bathsheba Everdene as well), so Hardy heroines have a special place on my bookshelf.

I blog hopped here. I watch the edition you prefer last year and besides loving the story, I was very interested in all the knitting. Made me want to knit shawls for wrapping around my body on cold and blustery days ... I didn't ... but I may some day ...

I've read Tess at least 6 times- it is the only Hardy I LOVE- I've got to try the other movie versions- I've only seen the first one

I've never red Tess, but intend to download it to my Nook-posthaste!

Your mantle is so pretty and fresh!

I have to thank you for this post because Tess was next on my never-ending book list. I've been mostly reading classics lately, and I love to watch the corresponding movie (if one exists) when I finish each book. So now I CAN'T WAIT to see the 2008 movie version (thanks for narrowing it down!). Also, I owe you another big thank you for mentioning the book One Day by David Nicholls in one of your posts some time ago; I read it and LOVED it. It was one of the best books I'd read in a while, and it was a total tearjerker at the end, which I wasn't expecting. (That one's being made into a movie too, I think.) So, thank you, Alicia!!

PS. Love the mantle!

One more thing: have you seen the PBS mini-series version of Emma with Romola Garai? It is fantastic, and it seems like something you would really like :)

I love your mantle. It is very beautiful. I saw some white vases similar to the ones in your photos at a thrift store the other day and almost got them! So pretty!

Have a great week.

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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.