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Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy

THE STORY, continued



Whereas the last chapter dealt with feelings, this one concentrates on actions. Angel decides to visit his family at Emminster and sound them out about his desire to marry a simple milkmaid. Unlike Alec he has a deep moral sense and can't consider using Tess like a soulless plaything. He thinks marriage can justify his passion for her. It never occurs to him that she might refuse him.

Doesn't it seem that Angel is being too impulsive? He hardly knows anything about Tess. Wouldn't it be better if he asked her if she wanted to marry him before asking his parents their opinion?

Angel's father and his two brothers, Felix and Cuthbert, are Evangelical or Low Church preachers. Angel is the rebel of his family, refusing to become a preacher because he can't believe its right to follow blindly the letter of the Bible. He is skeptical and considers himself a freethinker, devoid of prejudices and religious fanaticism. While Angel's parents are really good, kind people, concerned with the future of their church, his brothers are snobbish and selfish. At breakfast his family notices how much farm life has changed Angel. He seems healthy and relaxed to us, but his priggish brothers think he has grown crude, even heathen. We see that Angel no longer fits in with the rest of his family. He has our sympathy because he seems so natural and warm compared to these cold, severe Evangelicals. His family's stringent notions of heaven and hell, good and evil, make no sense to him now that he has experienced the "great passionate pulse of existence" at Talbothays Dairy.

NOTE: Hardy compares what he considers good religious people to bad ones through the characterizations of Angel's benign, compassionate parents and his snobbish, selfish brothers. Angel is a mixture of his parents and his brothers. Like his parents he's charitable and kind, willing to make exceptions for people's mistakes if circumstances are extreme. Like his brothers he can get carried away with abstract philosophies, and even be snobbish about people whom he considers less worthy than himself. We'll see later that for all Angel's talk about not caring for social conventions, he's rather conservative, even narrow-minded.

Angel broaches the subject of marrying a milkmaid with his parents. They want him to marry Mercy Chant, an old friend of the family and a clergyman's daughter. Mercy is a nice girl but lacks Tess' depth, warmth, and spontaneity. But Angel's parents are more receptive to his idea than he had expected. They express a desire to meet Tess. They want Angel to be happy, but believe he will be only if he marries a girl with strong moral and religious sentiments.

Mr. Clare accompanies Angel on his way out of town and tells his son about his latest religious successes and failures. In particular he mentions Alec d'Urberville, whom he chastized for philandering. Alec insulted him and went his merry way, much to Mr. Clare's sadness. Both Angel and his father pray for Alec's redemption, little knowing that he is the man who has caused all of Tess' grief. How ironically coincidental that Angel's father tries to touch Alec's heart, and, as we shall see, eventually converts him to Evangelism.

Throughout Tess we shall see coincidences such as this one changing forever the fortunes of the characters. As the novel moves to its climax, nearly every other scene involves a coincidence that affects Tess' life adversely. Some readers have criticized Hardy for using this device so often, saying that it makes the story unrealistic. Other readers believe that Hardy uses it deliberately to show that we live in a world in which there are many factors beyond our control.

Accident and coincidence are also a part of the ballad structure that Hardy uses in Tess to take the story beyond a purely realistic mode. In ballads accidents often occur, causing the protagonist's tragedy. His or her heroism is related to how valorously he or she struggles for integrity and purpose in an indifferent universe. Coincidences in Tess include Tess' meeting "Preacher" Alec in Chapter 44, as well as Tess' working for Farmer Groby, a man who had earlier accused her of being unchaste, for which he was beaten by Angel.

CHAPTERS 26, 27, AND 28

These chapters could be called "the chase." Angel, not entirely unlike the more violent Alec, relentlessly pursues Tess. The idea of a chase is important throughout Tess, where the heroine is often compared to or seen with hunted animals. Like them, she is finally caught, from exhaustion.

If you've ever felt amazingly happy to be back with your friends after going home to visit your family, you'll understand how Angel feels when he returns to the Vale of Froom. He is overjoyed to see the home of his beloved Tess. She is just waking from a nap, yawning and stretching like a cat in the sun, relaxed in her sensuality because she thinks she's alone. When Angel surprises her with a hug, she's startled and grows stiff. It seems as if someone is always chasing Tess, interrupting her peace. Like a hunted beast she has no chance to relax.

Throughout the day Angel pursues Tess. He tries to make her believe that he needs a milkmaid like herself and not a fancy lady to be his wife. He hides his passion so as not to scare her. He wants her to feel that his proposal is well considered and that it is based on practical as well as emotional reasons. Of course, from what we've seen of Angel's devotions, we know he's just covering up his very natural desires. Tess knows this, too, but that just makes it harder for her to resist, because she cares for him and is attracted to him. She keeps saying no, but it's a different "no" than the one she told Alec. She's strongly attracted to Angel, emotionally intellectually, and spiritually. It's so hard for her to refuse him that "the sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess' very heart." Because Angel demands a reason for her rejection, and Tess doesn't want to chance losing his love by telling him the truth, she invents an excuse. She says that a milkmaid would not be a proper wife for a gentleman such as he. Angel assures her that her background presents no problem. He's above such things, he says, and besides, he plans to educate her and make her presentable to his family. He tells her that his parents have nothing against his marrying a milkmaid as long as she's a virtuous woman. Then Angel relates his father's incident with Alec d'Urberville, and Tess is sure that this is a bad omen for her future with Angel. She refuses him once more.

Angel is even more relentless than Alec in pursuing Tess, and it's harder for her to resist because she wants him to catch her. Angel won't take no for an answer. Finally Tess agrees to tell Angel the real reason she won't marry him, if he'll just wait until next Sunday.

NOTE: While Angel plays a lighthearted love game, convinced that Tess is just a young coquette playing hard to get, she is enduring agonizing emotional conflicts. Should she listen to her heart and marry him, keeping from him the fact of her affair with Alec and her subsequent pregnancy and child? Or should she stand by her ideals- leaving Angel and hoping that he finds a more deserving, untainted partner. Her life fluctuates between pain and pleasure, the two extreme principles of emotional life. Yet Hardy knows that humans are pleasure-seeking creatures. We know, as Tess herself knows, that she will yield and marry Angel because he gives her so much joy and hope.


Dairyman Crick tells another of his stories. In this one, Jack Dollop marries a widow for her money, only to find out that his wife lost her inheritance as soon as she remarried. The dairyman asks the milkmaids: Should the widow have told Jack before they got married that she would lose her inheritance?

Tess is adamant that she should either have told him or refused to marry him. The other girls are far more pragmatic in their views, like Jack's unfortunate new wife. Tess considers this story a mirror of her relationship to Angel. She, too, at least physically, has a first husband in Alec. Should she tell Angel or risk his fury, if he finds out after their wedding? Perhaps Tess is too honest for her own good. Maybe she can marry Angel and he'll never find out about her past. She could surely make him happy. On the other hand, can a true marriage exist where there is deception? While Crick's story makes the others laugh, Tess takes it as a lesson and decides once again to refuse Angel.

Angel continues to pursue Tess. He refrains from kisses and caresses, and tries to manipulate her with sweet talk. At heart Tess knows that she can't resist him for long. For Hardy this is a basic truth of human nature- the need to experience joy and avoid pain.

At the end of the day, Tess and Angel drive the milk cans to market, completely absorbed in their closeness. Blackberries and hazel nuts hang heavily on their boughs, as ready to fall as Tess is to yield and marry Angel. The road is completely deserted. Isn't this the way lovers feel- alone together in the world? Rain begins to fall, cooling the hot summer air and quieting our characters' passions. Angel gently holds Tess close to him; both are wrapped in a tarpaulin to protect them from the rain. Think of this gentle love scene in contrast to the one in which Tess and Alec rode together to Trantridge. Alec, too, held Tess close, but unlike Angel he preyed on her fear and manipulated her affection by violence.

NOTE: As Tess and Angel edge toward town, past and present seem to intermix. The two pass an ancient d'Urberville mansion and a modern train, reminding us that lovers are very much the same throughout the ages, no matter how things around them change. The train is a symbol of modern life; its speed and steel construction contrast sharply with Tess' stillness and warm-blooded sensuality: "No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaning cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms."

Tess resembles an exhausted wild animal challenged to a race to the death with a mechanical monster. She doesn't have a chance of winning. Hardy seems to be saying that the heart itself has little place in a mechanized dehumanized age. But the poignant example of Tess' attempts to keep her soul pure in such a world offers us a life-affirming role model.

Tess, though poorly educated, is intuitively wise. She wonders at all the strangers who will drink Talbothays' milk, who neither know her nor have ever seen a cow. How much these few words say about the isolation and dissociation of the individuals in modern life.

Once again Tess tries to tell Angel about her past but stops for fear of losing his love. Isn't the fact that she's so afraid that the truth will cause her to lose him one of the major problems of their relationship? She does tell him about her d'Urberville heritage, hoping that alone will discourage him. After all, Mr. Crick had told her how much Angel despised old, decayed families. Much to her surprise, Angel is delighted that she's a d'Urberville. His romantic side is quite captivated with the idea of Tess as a simple but noble milkmaid. Now Tess has not only a spiritual pedigree of virtue, but also a social one with which he can defend his marriage before all men.

Tess can no longer resist Angel or her own desires. She agrees to marry him.


Sometimes we do things that make us very happy and very sad at the same time. That's how Tess feels about marrying Angel. Should she tell him about Alec? She's certain that it's morally wrong to hide such an important fact from the man whom she has chosen to be her life partner. But what if this knowledge makes him reject her? Why shouldn't she keep the truth to herself and concentrate on making him happy? That's what Tess' mother advises after Tess writes to her about the problem. Joan is a sensible country woman, not at all torn by conflicting feelings and ideas. She tells Tess that men are so prideful and silly about their "respectability" that Tess should keep quiet.

What do you think? On the one hand, Tess' seduction by Alec wasn't her fault and should have little to do with her new life with Angel. On the other hand, deception is bad for any close relationship.

Tess decides to follow her mother's advice and tries to convince herself that her silence may keep Angel ignorant but happy. Tess tries to shift the responsibility for her decision onto her mother, and this childish freedom calms her and allows her to revel in her love. But as adults we have to take responsibility for our acts. As we shall see, Tess' happiness will lose its sheen because she refuses to accept it as of her own making.

Tess' love for Angel is very spiritual. She sees him as a hero, a saint, a seer. Do you think that such worship is good for a relationship? Sometimes one of the biggest problems with being in love is that we don't see clearly the person we're in love with. If you can't see someone, how can you expect to understand him or her? There's one other disturbing aspect to Tess' love for Angel- she acts as though she feels no physical attraction, in violation of her own sensuous nature.

NOTE: Some readers think that Tess' adoration of Angel is her way of escaping her own sexuality. In some ways, she's more suited to the erotic Alec. Other readers feel that Tess is sexually attracted to Angel but hides her attraction- perhaps even from herself- under a spiritual veneer. An important thing to understand is that a Victorian lady was not supposed to experience sexual feelings. It was her job to appeal to more spiritual and moral qualities in her man.

One thing we do know about Tess' love for Angel is that it's absolute. Her love blocks out, at least temporarily, her fears and sorrows. She hopes perhaps that love will make a new person out of her, forgetting that wisdom, self-confidence, and inner growth come not from outside her but from within.

One night, when Angel prods Tess to set a wedding date, she says, "I like living like this," meaning she likes being engaged indefinitely.

Suddenly Mr. and Mrs. Crick walk in and see the two lovers together. Angel and Tess are so embarrassed that they instantly make their betrothal public.

When Tess tells her milkmaid friends, they're sad to lose Angel but happy for Tess. As peasants, they seem willing to accept whatever fate hands them. Besides, they've never had any real hope of winning Angel, so they aren't envious of Tess.


Circumstance often makes our decisions for us. For instance, Tess feels compelled to set a wedding date once Mr. Crick learns of her betrothal and tells her he won't be needing her anymore. Losing her job and home makes Tess frantic because it means that forces outside herself have made her dependent on Angel.

Backed into a corner, Tess agrees on a New Year's Eve wedding date. Angel decides that they'll spend their honeymoon fruitfully- observing the workings of a flour mill. This seemingly practical decision is based on the romantic notion of staying at an old d'Urberville mansion next door. Tess and Angel can enjoy Tess' noble past while working toward a simple farming future.

The lovers go to town to do their Christmas shopping. No longer under the protective shelter of Talbothays, they run into a Trantridge man who recognizes Tess and insults her virtue. Angel hits the man and he apologizes for mistaking Tess for someone else. The man was right, of course, but Tess doesn't admit it. Filled with new forebodings, however, she decides to call off the wedding and slips a long confessional letter under Angel's bedroom door. He treats her no differently the next morning. Does he forgive her? Did he not read the letter? The mystery is solved on her wedding day when she discovers the unread letter caught under the carpet. Fate seems to be keeping her from confessing and propelling her toward marriage.

The marriage ceremony is described solely from Tess' point of view. She's enveloped in a dreamy "luminous mist," and Hardy tells us that she's completely devoted to Angel. Because we don't get a clear picture of Angel's thoughts, he appears rather colorless. Why does Hardy treat his hero so lightly here? Perhaps to emphasize the fact that this is Tess' story alone.

After the ceremony Tess remarks that she thinks she's seen their wedding carriage before. Angel assures her that she's just remembering the old d'Urberville coach legend. It is said that a horrible crime was committed in the family coach and ever since, the d'Urbervilles think they can hear or see an oncoming misfortune. This legend throws Tess into a superstitious fit, as she's sure she's a sinful bigamist now that she has married Angel.

The chapter ends with yet another bad omen. At Talbothays a cock crows in the middle of the afternoon.

NOTE: Seasons and holidays often have symbolic emotional significance in Tess. Tess first sees Angel on May Day. They fall in love under summer's passionate heat and will go their separate ways in icy winter. It could be either a good or bad sign that Tess and Angel marry in cold weather on the last day of the year. It could mean that they will spend their first full day of marriage on the first day of a new and hopeful year. On the other hand, marrying at the end of the year could mean symbolically that they won't have the strength to survive in a fresh new year.


Tess and Angel spend their honeymoon at the old d'Urberville mansion. The experience is unnerving for Tess, as she's surrounded by portraits of her dead relatives. Angel notices that his bride bears some resemblance to various Lady d'Urbervilles whose pictures hang on the walls. The noblewomen's faces are marked by "merciless treachery" and "arrogance to the point of ferocity." Hardy is preparing us for Angel's horrified reaction to Tess' confession at the end of this chapter.

A package filled with jewels arrives unexpectedly. It was sent to Tess by Angel's parents and had belonged to his deceased godmother. Just as in a fairy tale, the impoverished girl clasps the diamonds around her neck and becomes a lady. The young couple's merriment over the jewels is interrupted by a farmhand from Talbothays who has come to deliver their luggage. He's late because there has been a series of catastrophes at the dairy since Angel and Tess left on their honeymoon. Retty has tried to drown herself and the usually sober Marian has been drinking heavily. It's obvious that the girls are suffering dreadfully after losing Angel. They foreshadow the extremes that Tess will be driven to when her husband abandons her. Tess interprets these mishaps as ominous omens about her marriage.

NOTE: Notice the hearth and fire in this chapter. At first it's glowing and inviting, as in a happy home. By the time the farmhand has delivered his news and left, the embers are beginning to die. The fire symbolizes the passion between Angel and Tess, which is dying because too many strange things are happening around them and because they have been dishonest with each other. The fire will take on an even more sinister appearance in the next chapter, after Tess confesses.

As they had agreed before their marriage, Angel confesses his past sins to his new wife. He admits to a weekend fling and begs Tess' forgiveness. Tess is relieved to hear about Angel's brief affair because it makes her think that he will forgive her for what happened with Alec. She even begins to see herself and Angel as mystical twins, so alike in thought and deed that they must be meant for one another. Tess then tells her husband the story of her short liaison with Alec- a far more innocent relationship than Angel's, because she did not intend it to happen. We don't see Angel's outward reaction; we only see how he regards her jewels- winking like ghoulish toads.



Instead of saying that Angel is outraged and appalled, Hardy describes the room as if it had taken on the new feelings of its inhabitants. The room in which they've shared bread, laughed, and told their stories now looks pagan, and all the objects in it are described as irresponsible, lazy, and lecherous. This is precisely how Angel feels about his bride.

Angel can't forgive Tess because, he says, she is not the person he thought he had married. Tess is not the chaste, inexperienced farm girl he assumed she was. She is not an ideal but a real human being. Tess acts as though she deserves his disgust, and becomes increasingly subservient.

Tess and Angel do not sleep together on their wedding night. They seem more like strangers than husband and wife.


Have you ever had such a terrible fight with a friend that even your beautiful surroundings seemed to turn ugly? By morning, everything in the honeymoon house looks unnervingly cold and alien to them. The fire is completely out and can't be stirred to life with Angel's poker. The characters themselves are described as "ashes of their former fires." Hardy seems to be suggesting that passion is fueled by illusion rather than by truth. Perhaps this is true in Angel's case, but we shall see that Tess' passion is real and enduring.

Tess tells Angel that she thought of killing herself under the mistletoe he hung over their bed. Watch how this mistletoe, symbol of both romance and pagan lust, dries up over the weeks that follow their marriage. Eventually, in Chapter 40, Angel will crush it under his feet.

Beneath Angel's kindness and sensitivity is a man both immovable and coldly analytical. Angel acts monstrously because he feels that Tess has betrayed him, though she really hasn't. As she tells Angel, he is not really angry at her, but at himself.

Tess doesn't use any ploys to win back Angel's affection, though Hardy tells us that Angel would have been happy if she did. Tess respects Angel enough to let him decide for himself. Angel decides that while Alec lives, he (Angel) and Tess cannot remain married.

Although Angel makes the decision, he does nothing to carry it out. Tess finally says that they will leave the place and separate. Tess is not a passive woman- she acts when she must or when no one else will. All Angel says is, "I think of people more kindly when I am away from them."


In the middle of the night a sleepwalking Angel wakes Tess and carries her outside perilously. He whispers to her: "Dead! Dead," referring apparently to the death of their love. (Is he foreshadowing her death, too?) In his sleep Angel is kind to Tess; it's obvious he really loves her and that it's only his hardened, old-fashioned principles that keep him from her.

Angel places her in an open coffin at a ruined abbey and falls asleep alongside her. Although Tess is beginning to long for her own death, she still feels responsible for Angel's well-being. She rouses him, and they make their way back to their cottage. In the morning Angel doesn't remember anything that happened, and Tess doesn't feel it's fair to tell him.

They visit Talbothays briefly, keeping their problems to themselves. Then Angel leaves Tess at a crossroads, neither knowing if he'll ever see the other again.


Its easy to imagine Tess' feelings of humiliation when she returns home, husbandless. Her mother is disgusted with her eldest daughter's inability to keep a man. But Joan soon takes it in stride as just another act of fate. At Marlott, Tess feels like both a child and an adult. She's had adult experiences but has been drawn back into old habits and feelings of failure. She can't bear to tell her parents the truth about her separation; she says that Angel went ahead to start a farm. She gives her family half the money Angel gave her and leaves home again.


The narrative now turns to Angel's homecoming. His parents want to know where Tess is. Like Tess, Angel lies to his parents, saying that they've separated until he can get them settled. He also tells them that he doesn't want them to see her until he has given her more education. Suddenly we see that Angel is a snob and that his parents are far less traditional than their son. If Tess is good and virtuous, that's enough for them.

The parents read a passage from the Bible on the virtuous wife. Angel identifies "virtuous" with virgin, but the quote says nothing about premarital chastity, it says that the virtuous woman is loving, enduring, and selfless. Isn't this a perfect description of Tess?

Angel resolves to go far away from his home and his culture, perhaps to see if foreign customs can change his rigid outlook. Having seen a notice for homesteading in Brazil, he impulsively decides to go there.


In this chapter Angel compares Tess with two other women who would have married him: Mercy Chant, his parents' first choice; and Izz Huett, one of the dairymaids at Talbothays.

We see Angel briefly with Mercy. She's so loaded down with Bibles and homilies that she seems almost superhuman. Angel knows that regardless of her spotless virtue, such a woman lacks the warmth and humanity that he wants in a wife. He journeys back to his honeymoon retreat at Wellbridge and crushes the mistletoe in the fire grate. Despite this act of romantic denial and despair, he can't help remembering his love for Tess.

Izz Huett "coincidentally" drops in while Angel is at the cottage to wish the newlyweds good day. Angel tells her what has happened and impulsively asks her to go to Brazil with him as his mistress. Izz, less conventional than Tess, accepts the offer. She also says that no one, including herself, could love Angel as much as Tess. This brings Angel to his senses, and he retracts his offer to Izz.

NOTE: Angel seems increasingly selfish and capricious as we see him through Hardy's eyes, rather than through Tess' love-struck ones. Like Alec, Angel tends to follow a double standard, which allows men to do things that are wrong for women. Although he doesn't go through with his seduction of Izz, we can see that Angel, like Alec, has the potential to take advantage of people.


Too prideful and ashamed to depend either on her parents or on Angel's, Tess, like her husband, strikes out alone. Marian, a Talbothays milkmaid, had told Tess of work in a desolate part of Wessex on Flintcomb-Ash farm. Tess resolves to find work that is less difficult, but sets off in that direction. She's like a "wild animal," foraging for food and shelter and avoiding people. She isolates herself because people have abused her. To be near them frightens her.

Sleeping in the woods one night, Tess hears strange gasping noises. In the morning she sees that an around her are dying pheasants that have been mortally wounded by hunters. The pheasants are suffering so desperately that Tess forgets her own woes and decides to help these creatures who are even more helpless than herself. To swiftly end their misery she breaks their necks. In so many ways, Tess, like the pheasants, has been hunted for others' sport. Like the birds she has done nothing to hurt anyone and yet she's an outcast, a woman both shunned and hunted by her society.


At some point in your life it's not uncommon to feel so abandoned by friends or family that life seems to be an endless, exhausting journey. This is how Tess feels as she continues on her weary way. So many men accost her that she's afraid for her safety. Like the pheasants in the previous chapter, her beauty makes her a highly desired prey. She tries to make herself ugly by hacking off her eyebrows and tying her face with a kerchief, as though she had a dreadful toothache. She has decided that because Angel hates her she will hate all other men. How like human nature to recoil from an unhappy love affair by refusing to love anyone else.

Flintcomb-Ash farm is precisely what its name describes: a wasteland of hard, sharp flint and dead ash. Nature is not fertile as it was at Talbothays, but harsh and unwelcoming. How different this place is from both her hometown and Talbothays! How different, too, is the experienced Tess from her former self. She feels deserted, empty, and lifeless.

She and Marian work in the swede (turnip) fields where they dream of the good times at Talbothays. In spite of all, they are still young and in need of hope and fun. Izz Huett joins them, and Marian tells Tess about Angel's propositioning Izz. Tess is shocked.

Tess' experiences at Flintcomb-Ash resemble a waking nightmare. Her boss, Farmer Groby, is the man Angel hit for insulting her. Car Darch, the girl who picked a fight with her and caused her to take that fateful ride through The Chase with Alec, also works on this farm. Other harmful people are yet to appear on the stony landscape; we can almost feel them coming.


The news about Angel and Izz drives Tess to visit his parents to see if they'll help win him back for her. On her way she finds a very ominous-looking piece of bloodstained butcher's wrapping paper. Like Tess the paper is "too flimsy to rest, too heavy to fly away." Tess' emotional state is equally fragile and torn.

When Tess hides her heavy boots in the bushes, Angel's brothers and Mercy Chant discover them there and condemn their owner as a wicked, wasteful person. They take the boots to give to a poor, deserving soul. Tess feels that she deserves this condemnation and runs away.

Hardy tells us how mistaken she is to leave, because Angel's parents would have welcomed any creature in extreme need. Unlike Mercy Chant and Angel's brothers, the elder Clares are truly kind people who see beyond social conventions. They are Hardy's example of good religious people. Despite their fanatical adherence to the letter of the Bible, they show true generosity of spirit.

Halfway home, in acute shock and exhaustion, Tess stops to rest. Suddenly she hears a preacher ranting and raving. The voice sounds horribly familiar, and she soon discovers that it belongs to Alec d'Urberville, dressed in a somber clerical outfit. How ironic it seems that Tess' seducer is now a preacher railing against sin. Fate seems to be closing in on Tess, just as the hunters closed in on the pheasants.



Don't you think Tess should run for her life when she sees Alec? She wants to but like a terrified animal she freezes in her tracks. Hardy describes Alec's conversion as merely a new way of expressing his violence. He has channeled his aggression into religious fanaticism. However, it doesn't seem that he has learned much about compassion or humility.

Alec is shocked to see Tess after all this time. She runs away but he soon catches up with her and describes his conversion by Angel's father. Tess doesn't trust him however. When he offers to save her, she turns on him, asking whether he has actually saved himself. As Alec and Tess part, he demands that she swear by an old stone cross in the road never to tempt him again. She does so, just to get rid of him.

As Tess hurries back to Flintcomb-Ash, she meets a shepherd and asks him if that odd, cross-like pillar really is an ancient crucifix. The shepherd, horrified at her misinformation, tells her that it's not a Holy Cross but "a thing of ill-omen," erected to commemorate the hanging place of an evil man who sold his soul to the devil. The act of swearing on an evil stone foreshadows Tess' death by hanging.


Once again Tess is in danger. Alec pursues her relentlessly, even at her job. He appears as a repentant sinner, vowing to do right and marry her. But there's at least as much desire as duty in his proposal. Hardy lets us know that a violent, lusting man still lurks behind Alec's clerical garb.

Tess wouldn't marry Alec, even if she weren't Angel's wife, because she doesn't love him. Tess believes that it is more important to remain faithful to her feelings than to conform to a social code. Is this why her life is so difficult? When she tells Alec that she's already married, he wants to know what kind of man would abandon her. Alec has a point.

Is there evidence that Alec has grown kinder? He seems genuinely concerned about Tess' well-being and objects to Farmer Groby's working her so mercilessly. But Tess defends her boss to Alec. "He won't hurt me," she says. "He's not in love with me." Tess has suffered most at the hands of her most ardent admirers. Ironically, those who care most for us often do us the greatest harm.

While the other farmhands attend the local fair to line up next year's jobs, Tess stays home, "having some vaguely-shaped hope that something would happen to render another outdoor engagement unnecessary." This laxity in the normally industrious Tess seems strange. Perhaps, though she won't admit it to herself, she's already yielding to Alec's offer of protection. Regardless of how strongly she defends Angel to everyone, she herself doubts that he will ever return.

Alec reappears to woo her. He begs her to pray for him, for her beauty has stirred his passion uncontrollably. Tess refuses, saying that God won't listen to someone as insignificant as herself.

NOTE: Why is Tess so bitter? She may be pessimistic by nature. In Chapter 4, before anything bad happens to her, she compared the Earth to a blighted star. But life, too, seems to have conspired against her. Her cries for help have been met with nothing but pain, loss, and disappointment. Life has been physically, emotionally, and spiritually painful for her. Circumstances, her overly sensitive temperament, and other people's cruelty have conspired against her, making her the tragic figure we see, battling impossible odds and extraordinary temptations.

Tess informs Alec that she, like Angel, doesn't believe in formal religious creeds. Alec retorts that she's just mimicking everything her husband says and can't think for herself. Alec does have a point here, but does he really want Tess to be her own person? What he really objects to is that Angel is her master rather than himself.

Alec tells Tess that although he thought he now served God, he still worships her. Isn't this similar to how Tess feels about Angel? Alec finally collects himself and leaves, yet his heart is enslaved by Tess, a woman who doesn't love him.


This chapter pits Tess against the machines and men (like Alec) of the industrial age. Tess represents the old agrarian order fighting desperately against the relentless new world of money and machines.

The farm girls go to the fields for the final threshing of the wheat-rick (stack) at Flintcomb-Ash. The thresher is red, symbolizing its brutal destructiveness. Hardy calls it a "tyrant" that the girls must slavishly serve.

NOTE: The nameless man who drives the thresher is indifferent to the land and to these hardworking people. He's a frightening symbol of how the countryside is becoming controlled by faceless, alien individuals who work solely for money. Such interlopers threaten customs and traditions.

Farmer Groby has a grudge against Tess, probably because Angel once hit him for insulting her. As an unspoken punishment, he chooses Tess to work directly on the thresher, "close to the man that fed it." Thus, we see Tess as fodder for this ever-hungry mechanism.

Into this living nightmare comes Alec, dressed in his dandyish courting clothes. Alec tells Tess that she haunts him as if she is a demon that possesses his soul.

NOTE: Think of all the times that Tess is compared to a ghost. Like an apparition she seems not quite to belong on Earth- her ideals are too lofty, her beauty too transcendent. Also, because of the anguish she has endured, she feels that her soul is divorced from her body. However, there is also a life-affirming quality to Tess' ghostliness- remember how she rose from the coffin that Angel placed her in?

Alec blames Tess for making him lose his faith, but he also admires Tess for leaving him and trying to make a life for herself.

NOTE: Alec decides that if God doesn't exist, he doesn't have to answer to anyone concerning his morals. Do you think morals and faith in God have to go hand-in-hand? Tess doesn't. Though she may turn her back on established religion, she has high moral standards.

Alec hasn't changed much, has he? He's still selfish and insensitive. Yet Alec does offer tangible help to Tess. His offer of marriage forces Tess to confront the fact that her beloved Angel, despite his preaching of morality, has abandoned her.

In many ways Tess embodies the best of both Angel and Alec. She combines Alec's passionate nature and Angel's enlightening spirituality. She lacks Angel's cruel adherence to dogma and Alec's frightening violence. However, Angel and Alec have the ability to be free, while Tess is restrained by being poor, unchaste, and female.

Tess can't bear to hear Alec berate Angel. Without thinking she slaps him with her heavy glove, drawing blood. Isn't this the very reaction you'd expect from a rugged old d'Urberville knight? Alec, unlike Angel, draws out Tess' fierce survival instinct. The blood foreshadows his eventual murder.

Tess knows that slapping Alec is pointless; physically, socially, and economically he is powerful. She goads him to punish her, as if to end his pursual of her. She says of herself: "Once victim, always victim- that's the law!" Tess is a victim in the sense that she lacks social and economic power, yet she does remain in control of her own moral destiny.

Alec is both excited and angered by Tess' behavior. He leaves her with the sinister promise that one day he will be her master again. Tess, shaken, returns to the monstrous thresher, preferring the mechanical beast to the human one.


Alec soon returns, supposedly to participate in the rat hunting that takes place once all the wheat- ricks have been threshed. Like the defenseless rats in the wide-open field, Tess has nowhere to run to escape him.

Alec tells Tess that he won't hurt her; he just wants to help her and her family. When he mentions providing for her brothers and sisters, Tess' nurturing instincts are touched, and she almost yields to him.

Tess feels abandoned by Angel, tormented by Alec's propositions, and thoroughly exhausted by the farm work. She writes to Angel, begging him to return and let her be with him, even as his servant. She says she is "exposed to temptation," (meaning Alec) and wants Angel back before something terrible happens.

Angel's parents receive the letter and send it to their son in Brazil. Angel, too, has been tormented and realizes, through the words of a passing stranger, that he should not judge Tess by her past. Because Tess is intrinsically good, the stranger argues, Angel shouldn't abandon her.

Angel begins to question his conventional morality, which has nothing to do either with nature or with spiritual goodness. Angel decides that "the beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed."

Thus, far away from Tess and from his native social customs, Angel finds his way back to her. Unfortunately Tess doesn't know this; she is convinced that Angel is gone forever.

Tess' younger sister, 'Liza-Lu, arrives at Flintcomb-Ash and tells Tess that their mother is dying and that their father is very sick. Tess has no choice but to go home and help her family. Once before, her family's financial problems forced her into Alec d'Urberville's hand. Will they do so again?


Under cover of night Tess returns home. She nurses her mother and cares for her younger brothers and sisters, forgetting her own emotional agony in the face of their extreme and immediate need. To her they are similar to the dying pheasants.

John Durbeyfield, desperate to support his family, decides to apply to "local antiqueerians" to maintain him. He reasons that because they spend huge sums of money maintaining the d'Urberville ruins, a living relic would be an even more valuable investment for them. Of course that's not how they feel. People like the romance of the extinct d'Urberville aristocracy, but they don't want to dirty their hands with the real thing.

Because the Durbeyfields have eaten all their seed potatoes, they have nothing to plant for the coming year. Tess sets out to plant a garden. Hard work and concern for the future are her tools of survival, and as such they come before her dreams.

Hardy describes the peasants working their gardens late into the night, after the day's labor is finished. A hellish scene, it parallels the harshness of Tess' life and her tormented state of mind. She feels as if she is in hell, without hope of salvation. Is it any wonder that the primary planting tools are pitchforks, symbols of the devil? A mysterious, blinding fog envelops the fields. Tess sees a stranger tilling the earth near her. It is Alec in worker's disguise He has become almost demonically obsessed with Tess, following her everywhere, demanding that she share his fate. He even calls himself the Old Other One, another name for the devil, and she is his Eve whom he has come to tempt, like the Biblical snake.

Tess runs home, unable to go on working, and discovers that her mother has recovered but that her father has suddenly died. Not only must the family deal with deep and natural grief, they must also deal with the harsh rules of survival. Tess' father was his family's last "lifeholder." Because the money-hungry landowners won't renew the lease, Tess and her family are cast out of their home.


The novel now moves at a rapid, crisis-filled pace, as everything turns against the Durbeyfields.

NOTE: Hardy tells us that the Durbeyfields, in their status as "lifeholders," and rural tradesmen were socially a notch above common laborers. Tess was written at a time when most "lifeholders" were being squeezed out. Hardy thought this was a tragedy because he saw this class of people as the backbone of the community. Rooted to their property, they were able to develop secure traditions and stable institutions for the agrarian community. Now everyone was being flung into a rootless life of migrant farm work, where they would serve only machines.

Alec returns to tempt Tess, knowing that her family is in desperate circumstances, and again Tess refuses his help. Tess grows angry at Angel for deserting her and writes him a scathing letter. Truly demoralized, Tess finds herself wondering if Alec isn't her natural husband because he was the first man she slept with and he is now offering to love and protect her.

NOTE: Notice that when Alec first appears in this scene, Tess says she doesn't see him, but fancies she hears a carriage and horses. Remember that she fancied she saw a coach on her wedding day, at which time Angel told her she was falling prey to an old d'Urberville legend in which a horrible crime had been committed in the family carriage. Alec elaborates on the legend and tells her that long ago one of the d'Urbervilles committed murder in the coach. Only members of the d'Urberville family can hear this imaginary carriage, which serves as an evil omen. This omen is Tess' murder of Alec.

The Durbeyfields pack their belongings in a wagon and travel to Kingsbere, where all the d'Urbervilles are buried. Joan says it may bring them luck to be near their illustrious past, but the journey to Kingsbere is more like a voyage to their own burial ground. They meet countless families on the move that day, including Izz and Marian on their way to another job. Unlike the unwanted Durbeyfields, these hearty girls travel in luxury. Izz and Marian notice Tess' dire situation and, because they are good friends, they send Angel a letter warning him that he may lose her to another man, as she is in desperate straits.


At Kingsbere there is no room for the Durbeyfields at the inn.

NOTE: Tess is beginning to overcome her sense of herself as a victim and to become a willing sacrifice, like a martyred saint. This gives her a control over her fate that the hunted animal never has.

Having nowhere to sleep, the Durbeyfields set up camp outside their family vault. A beautiful and costly stained glass window bought with d'Urberville gold is the headboard for their rickety communal bed. Tess explores with awe the church and the family tombs. She thinks she sees a stone effigy move. Suddenly the "effigy" rises and terrifies her. She thinks she has seen a ghost, but it's Alec d'Urberville, taunting her. He reminds her that "the Old Order changeth," and that an inauthentic d'Urberville like himself can do more to save her than all the authentic ones lying in their graves.

Alec seems to be losing his grip on reality as his obsession with Tess grows. After Alec leaves, Tess looks wearily at the locked vaults and wonders despairingly, "Why am I on the wrong side?" Anyone who has endured all that Tess has might feel like dying, too.



Angel, the prodigal son, returns home from South America looking almost like a ghost himself. He has been sick and has seen much of death and despair. His hardships have not only aged his body but matured his soul. He will have to wait to see if his change is more meaningful than Alec's religious conversion. He decides to find Tess and make amends. After receiving her angry note, however, he's not sure she wants him back.

Angel retraces Tess' life since he last left her by visiting Flintcomb-Ash and Marlott. In this way he shows a desire to know who she is and what she has endured. No longer is he a self-centered idealist caught in a dream of the ideal world. He finds Tess' mother, who now lives in a remote country place, and demands to know Tess' whereabouts. Joan is very elusive, but Angel is determined. Finally she gives him Tess' address at Sandbourne, a fashionable seaside resort.


Angel can't understand why Tess would be at such an elegant resort. Is she working as a maid for a rich family? Sandbourne is a new, lively resort town set in the mist of an old wasteland and bordered by the sea. How typical it is for humans to build a resort in the mist of so much desolation- how wonderful and frightening at the same time. And how unlikely a place to find someone as earthy as Tess.

Angel finds Tess living at The Herons, a fashionable hotel. She is using her ancient family name, d'Urberville because she is living with Alec. When she descends the staircase to meet Angel, she's beautifully arrayed in a cashmere dressing gown. Despite her new life as Alec's mistress, she looks radiant. To Hardy, she is still pure because she has remained spiritually loyal to Angel.

Angel, on the other hand, looks pale and sickly. He tells Tess he has come to get her, but she seems repelled by him and keeps him at a distance.

Angel desperately admits his grave errors toward Tess and begs her forgiveness. He wants her to come back to him.

Tess' eyes shine unnaturally, as if she has lost her mind. Finally she tells Angel what has happened- how she waited for him and how she lost hope that he would ever return. After her father's death, she became responsible for the family. What else could she do but fall back on Alec?

Tess tells Angel to go away. She refuses to touch him, as if she were contaminated. The situation is unbearable for both of them. Circumstances have forced Tess to go against her will in order to protect herself and her family. She may be living with Alec, but her spirit is wholly with Angel.

CHAPTERS 56, 57, AND 58

Chapter 56 is narrated from the perspective of Mrs. Brooks, the landlady at The Herons. If this were a movie, the camera would be far away from the action. This distancing approach makes Tess' hysteria and her murder of Alec seem like a dream, and reflects Tess' distracted state of mind. It also distances us from the story, in turning individuals into figures in a ballad. By forcing us to step back from the action, Hardy keeps his story from descending to the level of a soap opera.

Hardy describes Tess as a tortured soul who blames herself and Alec both for her own misery and for Angel's. Can we blame Alec for getting angry? Would anyone want to care for someone who was forever mourning her lost love and blaming her benefactor for everything that has gone wrong in her life?

Hardy doesn't show us Tess picking up the carving knife and stabbing Alec in their bed. It's far less melodramatic and far more chilling to use our imaginations as spots of blood spread across the ceiling below, turn heart-shaped, and "drip, drip, drip."

Tess catches up to Angel as he is leaving town and, like a repentant child, tells him she has killed Alec. Now that she has destroyed the person who represents everything that kept them apart- passion, her past, modern life, middle class morality, and her socially unacceptable "fallen state," she's certain that Angel will forgive her. In her state of mind, to kill Alec is not to murder a man but to destroy everything that has kept her from the happy, full life she could have had with Angel.

NOTE: Many of you will want to argue that once Tess commits murder, she's no longer the "pure" woman that Hardy says she is. Others of you will join the author in defending her purity on the grounds that her heart remains good even though terrible circumstances have driven her to commit a horrible crime. There are many ways to try to justify Tess' crime, but Hardy doesn't defend it specifically. Like all the accidents, coincidences, and crises that overshadow Tess' life, it seems to happen because, in fatalistic folklore terms, it was meant to be.

What you have to decide first is whether Alec ruined Tess' and Angel's chances for happiness, or whether Angel himself ruined them by falsely professing to hate traditional morality. Angel forgives Tess now. How sad it seems that when she asked his forgiveness on their wedding night, before she was driven to murder, he refused her. Self-sacrifice and honesty didn't win Angel's soul for her; violence did.

Tenderness has finally mastered Angel Clare and he kisses Tess passionately, something he has never done before. He also promises to protect her.

Like two runaway children, Angel and Tess stumble into the woods, thinking of nothing but the present moment. Tess seems completely fearless now. She doesn't seem worried about being apprehended.

Angel and Tess spend several blissful days in a deserted mansion, consummating their love. When Angel, convinced they've been discovered in their isolated paradise, urges that they move on, Tess is reluctant.

Tess is content to stay put, even if it means getting caught. She has Angel at last- you would think she would want to share a long, happy life with him. But Tess is tired of running and fighting, and she is certain that one day Angel will despise her for her mistakes. She would rather die than be hated by the one man she has lived for. Is it unnatural to want to end a relationship at its moment of greatest joy rather than to watch helplessly as the relationship falls slowly apart?

Angel and Tess stumble along, two fugitives under cover of night. They pass through the ancient, majestic city of Melchester, but its beauty is lost on them. They shun society for having made their love impossible. Groping through the lonely, black night, they find themselves in a "Temple of Winds." This is Stonehenge, with its primitive, stark boulders set up in worship of the Sun. Tess finds a stone altar where an ancient people sacrificed to the Sun God in order to keep the cycles of nature revolving. When Tess flings herself upon the altar, Angel is reminded of how he often called her a heathen. Resting on this stone slab, Tess is now at peace with nature and with herself. She even seems to accept her impending death as a necessary sacrifice.

NOTE: Many readers find Tess' sacrifice necessary as a way of making society reconsider its mores and learn to judge people by their inner worth rather than by conformity to absolute social standards. Because Tess stands outside the social order and because this order has no organic connection to nature, Tess is cruelly abused and misunderstood.

As she lies on the sacrificial tomb, Tess asks Angel to care for and marry her younger sister, 'Liza-Lu, so he'll always be a part of her, even when she is dead. Angel is appalled at this request, not only because of the assumption that his wife will die, but because of the social impropriety of a middle-class Victorian man marrying his sister-in-law. Will Angel never escape his middle-class Victorian background?

While Tess sleeps, the police come to arrest her. As Angel requests, they wait until she awakes on her own. She says she is happy and seems prepared to die. You can see Tess as a victim, lying on this sacrificial altar, but you can also see her as a willing martyr, dying so that others may live and learn from her struggle.


As in the murder sequence, Hardy distances us from the events concerning Tess' hanging. He does so both to avoid melodrama and to show us that human lives are pathetically insignificant in terms of the vast and incomprehensible universe. Hardy wants us to realize that no matter how terrible the moment seems, the pulsing life force continues.

'Liza-Lu and Angel watch the execution from a distant hilltop. From this vantage point they can see the whole, awe-inspiring city- a true manifestation of human art and civilization. The one blot on this noble landscape is the prison where Tess is being hanged. As the prison flag falls, signifying that Tess is dead, Hardy says: "'Justice' was done and the President of the immortals, in the Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess."

Many readers quote this passage to confirm their belief in Hardy's pessimistic view of justice in this world- justice by God and justice by man. Other readers think the passage is a modern restatement of the Greek idea that man is merely the plaything of supernatural forces. (Hardy himself said that "The President of the Immortals" did not refer to the Biblical God; yet the book seems to take a very dim view of divine justice.)

You may come away from the novel feeling that justice has not been served by Tess' hanging. You may also feel, however, that the novel ends on a positive note because Tess welcomes death as an escape from an agonizing life. Isn't the final view of 'Liza-Lu and Angel walking off hand-in-hand an affirmation of life?



ECC [Tess of the D'Urbervilles Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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