Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2132
Angel simply cannot think after Tess’s revelation. Tess pleads to be forgiven as she has forgiven Angel, but to Angel it is as if he is looking at another woman in the shape of Tess. The pair wander the countryside at night, Tess walking behind Clare. Tess even volunteers to kill herself, but Angel will not allow such an absurd action. When they get home, Tess goes into their bedroom and eventually falls asleep. Clare is about to enter the room when he is checked by the sight of the merciless, arrogant portraits of Tess’s D’Urberville ancestors, which bear a resemblance to her.
For several days, the newlyweds lead a formal existence. Angel demands to know if her story is true; Tess sadly says yes. Clare asks if the man in question is still living, and again Tess replies yes. Angel vents angry sarcasm at the thought that he rejected a socially advantageous marriage yet has, nevertheless, been deprived of the rustic innocence he thought Tess represented. Tess points out that “it is in your own mind what you are angry at…it is not in me.”
Angel cannot accept that their marriage is authentic, since D’Urberville and not he is Tess’s “husband in Nature.” Even if he could accept their marriage, their children, he points out, would bear calumny if the true history of their mother were revealed. Perhaps if the man were dead, that would make a difference, Angel tells her. Tess suggests divorce, but Angel does not consider it an option because of his religion. Never arguing for herself, Tess meekly takes Angel’s rejection and coldness as her due. She is willing to do whatever Angel commands. After several days, they discuss parting. Angel recommends the idea, telling Tess, “I think of people more kindly when I am away from them.”
The night before they are to part, Angel sleepwalks, carrying Tess across a narrow footbridge and then laying her down in an empty stone coffin. In his sleep, Angel cries out “Dead! Dead! Dead!” but also admits his love for Tess. The next morning, he shows no recollection, and she decides not to mention the incident. Husband and wife separate: Tess will journey back home to her family at Marlott. Angel places 50 pounds and the wedding jewels in trust to provide Tess spending money. “Until I come to you,” he says, “it is better that you should not try to come to me.”
At home, Tess tells her mother her husband is not with her, but she covers up the true extent of the split. When Tess tearfully says she confessed her past to her husband, Joan ridicules her for not taking her advice. When John Durbeyfield is told his daughter has returned home, he asks, “D’ye think he really have married her?—or is it like the first?” Not being trusted by her own father is a blow to Tess’s pride. Seeing there is no room in the house for her, and feeling that she brings discredit upon her family, Tess leaves, giving 25 pounds to her family to compensate for the suffering she has put them through.
Clare’s troubles cannot be lessened by the consoling philosophy he has learned. He visits his parents, telling them when they are surprised by his wife’s absence, that he is going alone to Brazil for a year to investigate farming opportunities, and his parents will meet his bride later on. Sensing trouble, Mrs. Clare asks Angel if his wife is the sort of woman “whose history bears investigation.” Angel lies, saying Tess is “spotless.” At dinner, his father reads from the Bible King Lemuel’s praise of a good wife: “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” A “slave to custom and conventionality when surprised back into his early teachings,” Angel cannot perceive that Tess deserves such praise as much as any other woman.
Angel must go to Wellbridge Manor, the site of his honeymoon, to pick up a few belongings. On the road he sees Izz Huett. Feeling he has been treated unfairly and been too respectful of convention, Angel asks Izz to accompany him to Brazil. When he asks if Izz loves him more than Tess does, she truthfully answers that no one could love Angel more than Tess: “She would have laid down her life for ‘ee. I could do no more!” A chastened Angel urges Izz to forget the invitation.
Through the spring, summer, and early fall, Tess supports herself doing light farm work, not touching the money Angel gave her. After harvest-time she is in straitened circumstances and must spend some of the money. She clings to the hope that Angel will soon return from Brazil to join her. Unbeknownst to her, Angel lies in Brazil sick from fever. Disdaining indoor work, Tess makes her way toward an upland farm where her friend Marian works. On the way, Tess encounters the Trantridge man who tried to insult her before her marriage, and she runs away from him into a forest. There she sleeps on a bed of dry leaves. She hears strange noises, and at dawn realizes she is surrounded by dying pheasants who have been shot down by hunters. Ashamed that she thought her own misery greater than the sufferings of the wounded birds, Tess mercifully snaps the necks of the doomed pheasants.
The next day Tess reaches the farm at Flintcomb-Ash, a desolate, featureless, cold, barren place. Tess is given a position doing the roughest kind of farm work. Marian is surprised at Tess’s appearance and tells her she believes neither Angel nor Tess could be at fault for whatever happened between them. Set to work digging and storing turnip roots, Marian and Tess get through the days by reminiscing about the time “they lived and loved together at Talbothays Dairy.” Tess does not wear her wedding ring, does not wear the clothes he bought her, does not use his name, and will not tolerate Marian questioning her about Angel. As winter comes on, Izz Huett arrives to join her two friends. Tess falls behind doing the strenuous work of drawing reeds, and is harassed by her boss—who happens to be the Trantridge man who tried to insult her just before her marriage.
One day, Marian lets slip the story of Angel’s invitation to Izz. This news makes Tess vow to address Clare; she starts but does not finish a letter to him. She does not believe she deserves any favor or pity from Angel or his family. In late December, though, she decides to visit Emminster to appeal to Angel’s parents. She puts on her boots and walks 15 miles to the Clares’ home. Ringing the doorbell, she gets no answer, and then, remembering they would be at church, she hides herself away to await their return. She places her boots to the side for safekeeping. While waiting, she overhears Angel’s two brothers in conversation with Mercy Chant, criticizing Angel’s unwise marriage. Mercy Chant spies Tess’s boots and decides to take them to give to a poor person. Feeling scorned by the Clare family, Tess turns and walks back to Flintcomb-Ash. She does not realize that her husband’s parents would have been far more sympathetic than his brothers.
Walking home, Tess spots a crowd listening to an itinerant preacher. The voice is familiar; startlingly, it sounds like that of her seducer, Alec. Rounding the corner, Tess studies the man, who truly is, she must soon believe, none other than Alec D’Urberville.
Readers of the novel are, during this Phase, faced with the challenge of revising their opinion of Angel Clare, who turns from a potential savior of Tess into another one of her victimizers. Previously, his distinguished, caring, freethinking, and loving nature seemed to make him the ideal husband for Tess; now his limitations reveal themselves to a horrifying extent. It may be possible to feel something of Angel’s misery at his discovery of Tess’s affair, but it is impossible to avoid the word hypocritical in describing his application of the Victorian sexual double standard to their pasts. Tess has forgiven Angel his sin, but Angel absolutely cannot forgive Tess the same sin.
Hardy tells us that within Angel Clare’s seemingly freethinking nature, there is “a hard logical deposit, like a vein of metal in soft loam, which turns the edge of everything that attempted to transverse it.” No appeal, either to emotion or logic, will change Angel’s mind once it is made up. His condemnation of Tess is marked by determination and not mere emotion. He willfully subdues the subtler emotion (love or protectiveness) to the grosser (jealousy and envy or hatred).
Tess’s love for Angel, in great contrast, takes the form of an almost completely unquestioning loyalty. Her meekness allows Angel to determine their future: “her mood of long-suffering made his way easy for him.” We can only assume Tess sees ultimate wisdom in Angel’s coldness. We are reminded of her thoughts before her wedding. “Her one desire, so long resisted, to make herself his, to call him her lord, her own—then, if necessary, to die—had at last lifted her up…”
The final result of Tess’s abandonment by Clare is her journey to Flintcomb-Ash. The portrait of the natural environment of this farm is a high point in Hardy’s writing. The whole field was in color a desolate drab; it was a complexion without features, as if a face, from chin to brow, should be only an expanse of skin. The sky wore, in another color, the same likeness; a white vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone. Across this field Tess and Marian crawl as if they were two flies. The descriptions of a drenching cold rain and of the onset of winter are finely detailed portraits which show Hardy’s skill at communicating the reality of a brute physical nature. Again, Hardy shows an interaction between setting and mood.
Hardy broadens the book’s struggle into a philosophical statement related to the Flintcomb-Ash environment, the cruelest and most desolate location in the story. Hardy notes that here, as everywhere, “two forces were at work…, the inherent will to enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment.” Even in this most oppressive, inhuman environment, the world can be seen as composed of two opposing tendencies, and Hardy wishes us to note that the human will toward happiness is more powerful than the circumstances the world musters to defeat joy.
Hardy uses his persistent identification of Tess with Nature to delineate one of his principal themes, the opposition between Nature and society. Hardy assumes that society both creates and enforces guilt while Nature posits only the will to live and knows no moral distinctions. Once again, Tess is described as judging herself too harshly, by the limiting values of society rather than by the more vital impulses of Nature. “She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which has no foundation in Nature.” Nothing Tess does contradicts Nature, but she continues to judge herself according to the artificial, arbitrary restrictions of civilization.
In a fashion typical of Victorian novels, Hardy crowds his canvas with a large variety of incidents. All events are more or less realistic, but some tend to the outlandish, and some are related more convincingly than others. Victorian audiences tended to be more accepting of coincidence and surprise than are contemporary readers. Many readers now find the sleepwalking scene in particular difficult to believe. However, there is no denying its dramatic boldness, and one can argue that Clare’s expression of his unconscious thoughts is an effective way of showing his divided mind—which can accept his love for Tess only when its logical capacities are subdued. The scene in which Angel extends, than retracts, his offer to Izz Huett is brilliantly constructed to evoke a strong pathos for the lovestruck but truthful Izz, who turns down a chance for happiness because she cannot lie about the purity of Tess’s love for Angel. Other pathetic scenes adding to the near-melodramatic atmosphere of unrelieved misfortune include those of Tess articulating her lost hope for Angel’s return and the sad, coincidence-laden misunderstanding when she visits the Clares’ home in Emminster.
Phase the Fifth ends with a shock for which we have not been prepared, the discovery of Alec D’Urberville as a reformed man of the cloth. What this ironic change bodes for Tess is unfolded only in the next Phase of her life.
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