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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
Chaseborough is a market town where the villagers go to shop, particularly on Saturdays. For a long time, Tess does not go to Chaseborough; however, she finds her first trip there so enjoyable that she begins to visit regularly. On one of her visits in September, she discovers that Chaseborough is having a fair. She does her usual marketing and then searches for somebody with whom to walk back home. Her co-workers, however, are engaged in drinking, dancing, and merry making. While she waits for them, Alec comes by and offers to give her a ride. Since she does not really trust him, she refuses his offer.
When her fellow workers finally leave the fair, some of them are drunk and begin to taunt Tess on the way back to Trantridge. When Tess has had enough of them and is ready to walk on alone, Alec rides by on his horse and again offers her a ride. This time Tess feels she must accept his help.
Tess has previously made several trips into Chaseborough to shop without any problems, but she has never been there in the midst of a fair. Her trip in September is not problem free. Her friends are caught up in the drinking and merry making at the fair, and Tess is forced to wait for them for a long time, not wanting to walk home alone for three miles. Alec comes by and offers a ride, but Tess refuses to go with him.
Once the group starts for home, it is obvious that Tess's friends have had too much to drink. An argument breaks out between Tess and two of the women, and Tess is ready to walk on alone when Alex rides past again. This time she accepts his offer of help, for she is uneasy with her drunken friends, the hour is late, and she is tired, hungry, and thirsty. Under normal circumstances, Tess would never have gone away with Alec, as seen earlier in the chapter when she refused his offer of a ride. Fate has begun its intervention in the life of this young, innocent girl.
The chapter highlights Alec's wayward ways of life. He is used to having his own way, which Hardy indicates is a usual tendency of the rich. The women in his past have obliged him, feeling honored to be noticed by a wealthy man. Alec expects Tess to react to him in a similar manner. He is surprised by her coolness towards him and irked by her constant refusals of his advances. Tess's indifference to him just makes Alec want her more.
Alec takes advantage of having Tess all alone. Instead of heading straight to Trantridge, he lets his horse wander off the road and into the woods. As they ride, he tells Tess he wants to be her lover; she says that she does not appreciate his advances. As they have talked, Alec has not paid attention and is truly lost. He leaves Tess by the horse to go and search for a way out of the woods. While he is gone, Tess, who has had an exhausting day, falls asleep. When he returns, he looks at the sleeping beauty, and his passion is aroused. He approaches her with lust. She is shocked by his treacherous moves and starts weeping. He plays on her emotions by narrating the good he has done for her family, which always makes Tess feel beholden to him. Alec then seduces Tess, and she is too tired to resist his advances.
Hardy has carefully structured this chapter to show how fate is in control. Tess has agreed to ride with Alec, for she feels she has no other alternative. Her friends are drunk and fighting with her, she is tired and hungry, and she fears walking the next two miles back to Trantridge alone. She has never trusted Alec and often refused his offers of kindness. Once on the horse with him this fateful night, Tess, who is usually observant and cautious, is too exhausted to notice that Alec has allowed the horse to veer off the road and into the woods. Once they are lost in the darkness and forced to dismount, Tess is helpless to fight off Alec's advances.
Hardy creates the perfect setting for the seduction. The oldest woods of England stand as mute spectators to the crime. The darkness and the silence shield Alec's sinister desires from the innocent and exhausted Tess. Hardy also creates a perfect contrast between the two characters. Tess's white muslin figure and moonlit face is a total contrast to Alec's darkness. Tess's innocence and naiveté is a total contrast to Alec's selfish, evil nature. Tess is at the most vulnerable stage of her life, and unfortunately, as Hardy puts it, her guardian angel is not present to protect her. By the end of the chapter, Tess is a fallen woman, not by her own doing, but at the cruel hands of fate.