Despite its seemingly needless tragedy, its persistently downbeat tone, and its relentlessly persecuted heroine, Thomas Hardy's 1891 novel, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," is without doubt one of the greatest novels I have ever read. And I have read a few. Tess is the only truly well-developed character in the novel, which, coupled with the fact that Hardy renders the landscape of Wessex as to make it a character itself, gives one the sense of a real struggle between humanity and nature. This, for me, is one of the great themes of the novel - the tension between nature and the artifices with which we fill our relations with other people. The beauty of Hardy's pastoral setting is never idyllic - Hardy keeps us always aware that human society, with its false moral standards and technological advancements, is ever encroaching upon the already vanished past.