Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Summary and Analysis
Reverend Felix Clare: Angel’s brother, a curate
Reverend Cuthbert Clare: Angel’s brother, a classical scholar and fellow and dean of his college at Cambridge
Mrs. Clare: the second wife of Reverend Clare, a good-hearted, sympathetic, but slightly snobbish, woman
Beck Knibbs: a wife who believes in withholding information from husbands and smacking them if they don’t like it
Mercy Chant: a devout and well-brought-up young girl whom Angel’s parents have selected as his future wife
Hours after their embrace, Tess feels “stilled, almost alarmed.” Angel guiltily believes that his “feeling had won the better of judgment.” As a man of conscience, Angel realizes that Tess’s future fortunes in life are his responsibility, something he must treat as seriously as he does his own life. Feeling he should not take advantage of the situation by being in such close proximity to Tess, he makes an impromptu visit to his family at Emminster Vicarage. The visit makes the milkmaids ask when Angel will be leaving permanently; they agonize over the news that he has about four months left at Talbothays before moving on to another farm.
At Emminster, Angel is warmly greeted by his father and mother, as well as his older brothers. Felix is a curate in a nearby town, and Cuthbert is a classical scholar at Cambridge. His family notes a change in Clare: he is more countrified, carrying himself less like a scholar or drawing-room gentleman. His time away from home has led Angel to contemplate the limitations of his brothers. They are willing followers of intellectual trends who have isolated themselves within their occupational circles. “Felix seemed to him all Church; Cuthbert all College.” His father is the most rigidly earnest of all his family, but seems to Angel to have a warmer heart than either of his brothers. In fact, his father has set aside money for Angel to buy farmland.
After a meal, Angel broaches the subject he has come to discuss, the possibility of marriage to Tess. His parents wish for Angel a “truly Christian woman,” and urge Mercy Chant, an exceptionally devout woman who is the daughter of a friend, upon Clare. Angel says he is instead thinking of a woman who would be a helpmate in his agricultural career. Although his mother, carrying middle-class prejudices against the lower rungs of society, is disappointed that Angel’s intended is not a “lady,” both parents are glad when Angel discusses Tess’s religious orthodoxy and her frequent churchgoing. They tell Angel not to act hurriedly but that they will consent to meet his choice.
On the way out of town, Reverend Clare walks with Angel and tells his son about a young reprobate by the name of D’Urberville that he tried unsuccessfully to reform. Angel worries that preaching so directly to the unregenerate places his father in physical risk.
Returning to Talbothays in the early afternoon, Angel’s mood is affected as if he has thrown off splints and bandages. All but Tess are away or taking naps; Tess herself is just arising. He embraces her again, saying he has come back early on her account, while “Tess’s excitable heart beat against his by way of reply.” Working together skimming the milk, Angel proposes to Tess, perhaps “without quite meaning himself to do it so soon.” Tess says she cannot marry Angel, although she loves him and is engaged to no one else. Asked why she nevertheless refuses, Tess invents the excuse that she is not high-born enough to suit his parents. To move the conversation to a less stressful topic, Clare tells his father’s story about trying to reform Alec D’Urberville. When Angel asks again about marriage, Tess, with that name ringing in her ears, cries out, “It can’t be!”
Feeling that Tess, like other women, is saying no only to say yes later, Angel continues to woo Tess. When Tess says she declines because she is not “worthy,” Angel assumes she is talking about not being a refined lady. He...
(The entire section is 1,575 words.)