Spring in Montreal, like fall, an in-between season of raw grey days, sometimes snowy but mostly rainy, sends me running for shelter between the covers of a tried and true classic: Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I can’t remember the first time I read it, but I read it at least once a year at times like these, times when novelty simply won’t do, rainy days when I need some comfort food for the soul.
I probably first read Thomas Hardy’s classic morality tale to fulfil some English lit requirement in high school. The experience sent me on a lengthy reading jag that included everything D. H. Lawrence ever wrote, including the three versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the entire collection of works by Henry James. For some reason, I still come back to Tess.
What strikes me each time about Tess is the beauty and precision of Hardy’s language. Also, although published in 1891 at the tail end of the Victorian era, the emotions remain fundamentally human, thus timeless. As I decrypt and enjoy once again the music of its dated syntax, I wonder if I would have the patience for reading the story now had I not read it, and fallen in love with it, so young.
Why is it that the books we read and the music we listened to as young people remain so important to us? A little research turns up the reminiscence bump theory. Apparently, our search for personal identity creates a lush little island of memories to which we return more readily than any other place in our personal timelines.
The reminiscence bump explains our undying love for dopey pop tunes we first danced to at 25, the sappy movies that still thrill us as no new blockbuster ever will, our craving for comfort food that, even if utterly devoid of nutritious value, soothingly settles our nerves. I feel very lucky that my reminiscence bump, my private island of memories, has a decent library. No brain candy on the shelves, just the classics.
I have an ever-growing reading list of new titles that I want to read someday. Today, however, as fluffy wet snowflakes fall on raw patches of grass and mud, melt into gelid puddles of murk, only Tess will do.
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Photo credit: Effie Deans by John Everett Millais via Wikimedia Commons.