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 5–11: Summary

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Last Updated May 20, 2023.

Tess faces pressure from her mother to visit Mrs. D'Urberville, a wealthy woman residing near Marlott. The Durbeyfields think she is related to a lower branch of the D'Urberville family and anticipate receiving financial help during their difficult times. Consequently, Tess embarks on an initial trip to meet Mrs. D'Urberville.

Tess feels disturbed by the sight of the D'Urberville manor, known as The Slopes, which stands out in its surroundings. The house has been constructed purely for enjoyment, with no consideration given to its agricultural utility. The entire estate appears to symbolize wealth, reminiscent of freshly minted currency. Primarily, the manor serves as a display of affluence for its nouveau riche proprietors.

Tess is disheartened to find that Alec D'Urberville, the family's son, does not live up to her expectations of her "D'Urberville" kin, whom she had imagined as noble, venerable, and reflecting their distinguished history. Although Alec shares that his ailing mother cannot meet Tess, he offers the possibility of providing assistance to her.

Tess believes that her request for help might seem absurd, yet she succeeds in conveying her family's monetary struggles, which she confesses are due to her accidentally causing the death of their horse. Alec, captivated by Tess's allure and her "rich appearance," keeps her on the property for several hours, treating her to freshly-harvested strawberries and decorating her with rose blossoms.

Tess journeys home to share news about her visit, only to discover that a letter proposing a job caring for the estate's birds has already reached her. The handwriting on the letter seems to be masculine. Despite her reservations, Tess chooses to accept the position in the interest of her family.

A couple of days afterward, Alec D'Urberville comes to collect Tess and her possessions. Joan and her kids accompany them to the outskirts of the town, where Joan experiences a brief moment of uncertainty regarding the course she has chosen for her daughter.

Alec upsets Tess by speeding down a slope, causing her to wrap her arms around him to avoid falling from the carriage. When she reprimands him, Alec briefly displays his irritation. He then requests a single kiss on her "holmberry lips." Reluctantly and coldly, Tess offers her cheek, and Alec plants a dominating kiss on it. To prevent further intimacy, Tess allows her hat to fly off and refuses to get back into the carriage after retrieving it. Angrily, she walks the remaining distance to The Slopes while Alec drives the carriage beside her.

While employed at The Slopes, Tess discovers, to her astonishment, that Mrs. D'Urberville is visually impaired. She remains unaware that Mrs. D'Urberville does not know their alleged familial connection. Tess strives to adapt and excel at her job, which involves caring for the poultry. Mrs. D'Urberville gives Tess the peculiar task of whistling to her cherished bullfinches to amuse them. Alec, who is drawn to Tess but waiting for the right moment, instructs her in the art of whistling.

Following multiple weeks of labor, Tess is convinced to attend a dance on a Saturday evening in the neighboring town of Trantridge. Despite being physically drained from working since dawn, she goes. As her friends agree to depart the dance, an unfortunate mishap causes laughter to be directed at Car Darch, a woman who once held D'Urberville's affections. This leads to Car and her sister, Nancy, confronting Tess. At this point, Alec D'Urberville arrives and presents Tess with an opportunity to avoid the conflict by joining him in his carriage. Grateful for the chance to evade harm, Tess accepts the offer.

Alec journeys in loops under the cloak of night, wandering without purpose across the Chase, seeking to prolong his time with Tess. He requests to be regarded as a romantic pursuer by Tess, but she skillfully dodges this request. Alec tells her that her siblings have received new playthings, and her father now has a fresh cob.

Tess feels humiliated by her need to thank D'Urberville. Eventually, he concedes that he is lost and halts his horse. He hands Tess his overcoat while he figures out his location. Upon his return, he finds Tess asleep. Realizing this, Alec physically takes advantage of her. Tess is left without a guardian. Her torment commences, and a profound divide now separates her previous life from her future.

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

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Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters 12–15: Summary