This is not a “here’s what I ate for breakfast,” daily life events kind of blog, and I like it that way. I really don’t think anyone cares about a snotty customer I had at work, or the weird conversations I have in bed with my boyfriend. That said, I recently had a pretty major life event that I want to share. Two days ago, I completed a full-back tattoo that I’ve been working on for over a year.
There she is. This is Tess, or to be more specific a depiction of the climactic scene from Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Yes, I’m a big literature geek. I find it very hard to share the reasons that this scene is so important to me – there are many, but they’re only loosely connected.
I suppose the simplest is that this novel was my first realization that literature is challenging. English class always came easy to me, not because it is an easy subject, but because it’s made into a throwaway in public school. If you can read a novel and name the characters and a few major plot points, you pass. A question like “what is the tone of this passage?” is about as deep into a book as most classes delve. However, in twelfth grade I had a blessing of an English teacher who made us really learn from what we read, instead of just learning about it. She was the one who taught me what a thesis statement was – that writing about books didn’t just mean knowing what the book said, it was making an argument about what the book means. It was in her class that I read Tess for the first time, her class that inspired me to major in literature, and that book that made me passionate about Victorian novels.
The longer reason is why this particular scene of the novel moves me. For anyone who isn’t a big reader of Hardy (which is most people), here’s the world’s shortest summary of the plot of Tess:
Tess comes from a poor family, and in her efforts to support herself and her loved ones, she goes through some serious shit. She gets raped, has a child (who dies), endures horrible poverty, falls in love (yay!) but then is abandoned on her wedding night when she confesses to her husband those things from earlier about the rape and the baby. She eventually marries her rapist out of desperation, but when her true love returns to her she murders the new husband and runs away with her love, only to be arrested and executed for her crime. (I’d feel bad about spoilers, but the book is over 100 years old.) The end.
I know, happy story. In case you’re wondering, almost all of Hardy’s novels are about that happy.
So, why is Tess napping in the middle of Stonehenge, I hear you asking impatiently. This scene occurs only moments before Tess is found and arrested by the police. She has gone through incredible torments, but has finally freed herself from the awful man who manipulated her throughout her life, and is with the man she loves. They have spent the last few nights together in flurries of passion, knowing their time is short as she can’t run from justice forever. Now she wants to rest, she’s ready to be captured and even to die because she’s gotten everything she ever really wanted. When she lays down, it’s not because she’s giving up, it’s because she’s content. And because Hardy has to have her go out with a flourish, she and her love find themselves in the middle of Stonehenge as the sun is rising, and Tess lays on a sun-warmed stone to sleep. When she is surrounded upon waking, her last words are, “I am ready.”
That scene has always spoken to me, and so after a little over a year’s worth of investment with one of St Louis’ very best tattoo artists, Amanda Pepper, it’s complete. As I’ve mentioned before, I consider body modification to be an important part of my deliberate body. I believe there is no more powerful way to take control of my body, and to display my mind upon it, than through mods, and especially tattoos. My piercings might give you an impression about me, but my tattoos tell a story. I’ve got a lot more on the drawing board, so to speak, and I expect they will be a life-long project for me as I’ll never run out of stories to tell.