Ilustration of Tess on hilly pink terrain with trees and clouds in the background

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

by Thomas Hardy

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Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 1–4: Summary

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Last Updated May 19, 2023.

John Durbeyfield, an impoverished rural peddler, encounters Parson Tringham on his way back to his Marlott residence. Despite his reservations, the Parson reveals to John that he is a descendant of the distinguished D'Urberville family, who arrived in England alongside William the Conqueror and once held vast lands and influence in the region. Upon hearing this, Durbeyfield's sense of self-worth skyrockets, and he chooses to celebrate at Rolliver's Inn with a few beverages.

In the second chapter, the setting transitions to Marlott, a town located in the fruitful Blackmoor vale, which remains largely undiscovered by outsiders. Tess, the lovely 16-year-old daughter of John, takes part in a local May Day dance. During the event, she witnesses her inebriated father bragging about their lineage and responds tersely to her friends who mock him. Tess also notices an intriguing young man from outside the area, but he departs to reunite with his siblings before they can dance together.

Following his alcohol consumption and deteriorating health, Tess's father cannot transport the beehives to Casterbridge market using the family cart. Consequently, Tess steps in to help and is accompanied by her younger brother, Abraham, to keep her alert. As they discuss the stars, Tess attributes their family's poverty to residing on a decaying or "blighted" planet. Unfortunately, both siblings fall asleep, leading to a collision between their horse, Prince, and a mail cart. The incident results in Prince's death, leaving Tess stained with his blood. She feels accountable for the loss, which further jeopardizes the family's means of sustenance.

Joan Durbeyfield, the mother of Tess, learns about a wealthy woman named D'Urberville residing nearby in the town of Trantridge. Joan believes that Tess might secure employment with the D'Urbervilles due to their alleged familial ties, benefiting the family's financial situation.

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Phase the First: The Maiden, Chapters 5–11: Summary