Frocks, Locks and the School of Hard Knocks: the Irresistible Magnetism of Maudlin Maidens to Every Teenage Girl, Ever.

When you return to a novel later in life something interesting happens. You retrace your steps through familiar landscapes and re-acquaint yourself with characters like old friends. More poignantly, you come face to face with your younger self.

Memories of where you were, what you were doing,  who you hung out with – even what you were wearing, flood back in vivid detail, even long forgotten but intense emotional states can be re-awakened. It can be a complete joy or it can be utterly disconcerting.

When I dug out my copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of The D’Urbervilles’, I didn’t know what to expect, as I hadn’t looked at it for nearly three decades! I’ve read and re-read many of Thomas Hardy’s other novels since, but never returned to Tess, until now.

Why not? Maybe because I associate it with my schooldays – a time in my life which I never like to dwell on for too long. However, re-reading it has given me a strong sense of my 15 year old self – at times it’s felt like I’ve been two people inhabiting the same body, comparing how different the world looks through the eyes of both my younger self and the me, that over time, I have become.

Now, I feel totally frustrated with how passive  and long-suffering Tess is, regardless of the relentless bombardment of miseries she has to  face. Yet I remember clearly how my younger self relished wallowing in her tragedy, with the same awe that I, along with many teenage girls, showed towards beautiful, tragic, and equally powerless Pre-Raphaelite maidens. I loved all that sorrowful, stoic heartache  – not to mention all the hair and the long velvet frocks!

It saddens me that my teenage aspirational heroines were so passive and impotent. Life, or rather, tragedy happened to them, and all they could do was to bear it silently but decoratively, and preferably in a boat.

J.W. Waterhouse 'The Lady of Shalott'

J.W. Waterhouse ‘The Lady of Shalott’ – those cuffs will be a devil to clean after trailing in that mucky lake water.

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