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.


I thought Tess might be just the thing so I watched the first of the four and ack! It was FAR too much drama for me! I like my BBC period dramas with a little less....drama. :) Like Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford.

I love Tess of the D'Urbervilles! Both the book and the 1979 version with Natassia Kinski. It is such a beautiful movie. It inspired me to have all my bridesmaids dressed in white. I used to whistle the tune that she whistled to the birds. Now I'm going to have to watch it with my girls! I've never seen the other versions but I'll have to check those out - thanks for reminding me about this.

I almost named my daughter Tess because of that book. She ended up being Bronwyn, though.

I read Tess as a teen girl and was so moved by the book that when I became a mother I named my first-born child Tessa after her...not the same name, but close and based on her name.
I cannot even remember anything except the scenery described in the book and Tess's strength.
My daughter has walked through hardships in her life (19y) and has shown the same strength. I cant wait to watch the movie..i didnt even know there was one.
thank you!

I read all of Thomas Hardy's novels, one after another, the first time I had a problem with my back and was prescribed bedrest for several weeks. That was...crikey, close to 30 years ago. Anyway, Hardy became one of my favorite authors during that period and his writing still dazzles me. What a keen observer of human nature, and a master of descriptive prose. I haven't seen the films you mention, but I'm making a note!

Oh! I didn't know about the new version. I ADORE Justine though--just rererere-watched W&D this week--espisode 4 tonight--amazed she hasn't been in more. It's a E Gaskell week here as I just watched North & South as well. Maybe Cranford will be next...

Until 3 weeks before she was born, my daughter was named Tess. I adore this book. I ended up naming her Lila (long story, no regrets!) but I still love this book! I have NEVER seen any of these movies but I will now be watching the 2008 version. Thank you so much!!

ps Jude the Obscure is equally as good, though harder to love. I have yet to see the Kate Winslet version of that. Another must do!

Loved the Natassia K version way back when. I will have to have a Tess marathon - great to knit something mindless during so I don't miss any scenery.
You will have flowers before us! Happy Spring Alicia! and Andy!

I have always loved Thomas Hardy. I really liked the version with Natashia Kinski. I didn't know about these others! I have read all of Hardy's novels when I was way back in high school in the 70's. I actually got to visit Thomas Hardy's place in England on our wedding trip to Scotland. So...thank you for mentioning these movies...I'll have to check them up. By the way...I love your dog and her bed...too sweet!

okay, I am laughing at myself because I was starting at this mantel photo for SO LONG loving every inch of it, not reading, but staring, and then yipped when I saw the cloche! perfect!

I want to copy every inch of this mantel, lady. And amen to fake flowers, you did this beautifully. I have tried using dried flowers and it makes the 3 kittens insane.

and Tess! oh god. I love that movie and book. so horrible and amazing. I need to see this new version you speak of.

I loved Tess of the D'Urbervilles! I am a BBC/Masterpiece Classic FANATIC. Have you watched the series "Lark Rise to Candleford"? It's on Netflix. It is delightful. Very similar to Cranford and four whole seasons! Lots of hours of watching :)

I loved the BBC version too - I cried and cried. It is just so unfair.

I am glad I happened upon this blog and rented the BBC version of Tess of D'Ubervilles. It was so completely satisfying visually, storyline and emotions. I too cried at the hardships she had to endure. Tragic!

I've been enjoying your posts and hearing how the house is coming along. The room looks really great. I like how you've added 2 birds to the room, it's very "Portlandia" of you.

Love the mantel! You know, my husband (Allen) and I met b/c of Tess of D. We met on Match.com, and I only noticed him b/c his screen name was Angel Clare. His profile made him sound like a jerk, and I always thought AC was a jerk (I go back and forth in my reading of him), so I emailed Allen to tell him that he sounded like a jerk, and his character was a jerk. It was love at first argument! Almost 10 years later, we still argue about Tess and Angel Clare frequently.

kaktusfink says: July 06, 2011 at 01:40 PM

Really, I don't want to be annoying, but can a novel about rape, injustice and class distinction really be inspiring to put fake flowers on a mantelpiece? I know you don't mean it that way but it still shocked me a little bit to read this.
(You could at least put a mud-crusted swede next to the flowers...)

I recently saw the BBC version of "Tess" and have to agree with you about her performance and the production as a whole. I like it better than the other ones as well.

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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.