When John Durberyfield discovers a family connection to the ancient Norman family, the d'Urbervilles, the fate of daughter Tess is transformed.
Yes, I've studied classic literature, and it isn't the genre I am typically interested in. However, "Tess of the d'urbervilles" is the novel that has inspired me to give this genre another try. I found it to be incredibly moving; dismissing the idea that it was poorly written. I've found English literature too stifled by its own airs and graces, but this is not the case with Thomas Hardy. He paints a picture of great hope in a way that allows us to empathise (unlike some of his contemporaries) with the characters of a different era.
I recommend anyone who wants to start reading classic English literature to begin with "Tess of the d'urbervilles". You will find it an easily accessible read. It is beautiful, hopeful and tragic.
The book is in fact slowly paced - so much so in the first couple of chapters that I was rebuffed the first time I started reading it. However, a little patience will grant you entry into the gorgeous spell Hardy invokes. Yes, it is a "victorian" novel, but the sublimity of the writing and of the plot's tragedy emancipates it from the staidness of the genre.
The upshot is that you shouldn't turn to this book if you want a fast paced thriller or "clever" writing. Read it if you want to cultivate your awareness of exceptional beauty; this book is for the cultured connoisseur, not needy readers.