I am currently sitting in a gorgeous B&B in the very county where Thomas Hardy was born, a few miles from a hill Tess herself climbed. Sydling, in case you were wondering. Dorset. It's beautiful, and this book is really location-specific - Hardy spends an inordinate amount of time describing the countryside in minute detail, and you look out the window and yep, that's what it's like.
The advice I give to people who aren't feeling Tess, which never helps because if you ain't feelin' it it ain't gettin' felt, is to not take it too seriously. It's a Melodrama (capital M!). Everything in it is totally over the top. I thought it was a blast. Think of it as Hardy gleefully jumping the shark. The pheasant scene is what does it for me - you'll know it when you get there, it won't be long - it's beautiful and vividly drawn, but at the same time ludicrously overblown. That's the novel. Hardy is pulling the stops out.
No spoilers, I promise: The ending is the same deal. Some folks criticize it for being sortof "TA-FRIGGIN'-DAH!" But that's why I love it. Why not?
In my opinion, anyone who hates that ending secretly wishes they'd thought of it themselves. Someone had to write that. Hardy did.