Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1575
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 praises her mental versatility; in fact, Tess has already begun to pick up some of Angel’s intellectual and conversational habits.
Drawn together by the chore of crumbling the curd, Angel seizes the chance of kissing Tess’s arm and is rewarded by a devoted smile from his beloved. Angel proposes again. In reply, Tess says she will tell him all about herself and her experiences on Sunday. Her conscience tells her these experiences will make any marriage, especially one to a respectable man, a misery. But she knows the force of her love for Angel is making acquiescence inevitable. “I shall let myself marry him—I cannot help it!” she cries out.
On Sunday, Dairyman Crick recounts another episode in the life of ne’er-do-well Jack Dollop. Dollop married a widow because she had an annual income of 50 pounds, only to find the income ceased upon her remarriage. The dairy-workers laugh at the story and argue about whether the widow should have told the truth about her situation prior to the marriage. A consensus opinion is from Beck Knibbs: “If he’d said two words to me about not telling him beforehand…I’d ha’ knocked him down wi’ the rolling pin.” To the workers, the story is a comedy; to Tess, it is a tragedy.
Angel again asks Tess to marry him; she refuses, for his sake, but she knows her moral scruples cannot continue to hold forth against her passionate love for Clare. One evening after the skimming, Dairyman Crick needs someone to ride some milk to the train station; Clare volunteers and asks Tess to go along.
Hardy reveals crucial information about Angel Clare by contrasting him to the rest of his family. Clare’s brothers are creatures of intellectual conventionality; they are secure in their careers, as Angel is not, but they are severely limited, willfully ignoring life outside their social and intellectual circles. That Angel seeks a different path than his “hallmarked” brothers indicates his freethinking skepticism is a sincere and genuine trait, of which Hardy approves.
We see that Angel does not want his choice of a wife to disappoint his parents. This admirable impulse, however, leads him to emphasize qualities in Tess that are not the ones that drew her to him. Thus, he exaggerates Tess’s churchgoing and her common piety, which are things that at Talbothays do not count to Angel for very much. Within the orbit of his parents, Angel comes to see Tess as a sort of project; if she is taught religion and given cultivation by Angel, she will be acceptable to his parents. Tess, in fact, is an able student. She once did well in school and wanted to become a teacher. “Her natural quickness, and her admiration for him, having led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge, to a surprising extent.” Despite her abilities, however, we experience a slight unease: why does Angel feel a need to embellish Tess’s personality?
Tess’s life continues to be plagued by ironic coincidence, or, to put it another way, bad timing. Whenever events take an optimistic turn, a chance occurrence suddenly checks her attainment of happiness. Clare thinks he is changing the conversation to a more neutral topic in bringing up Alec D’Urberville, but, unbeknownst to him, he has just named the person whose existence is Tess’s reason for refusing Clare. When Tess goes outside after the story about Jack Dollop, Angel follows her, takes her by the waist, and asks her again to marry him. So shocked is he by Tess’s emphatic “no,” uttered in momentary overreaction to this laughable story, that he lets her go and does not attempt the kiss. “It all turned on that release,” notes the narrator. If Angel had seized that moment to kiss her, she would have said yes, and their story, Hardy seems to imply, may have had a happy ending.
Inside Tess there is a battle between an urge to tell Clare the truth about herself and a desire to seize the chance at happiness he represents to her. She wishes to “snatch ripe pleasure before the iron teeth of pain could have time to shut upon her.” Her ¬conscience, powerful as always, reminds her of two thoughts: that she must make a complete confession of her past to Clare, lest he find out after the marriage and accuse her of deceit, and that her union with D’Urberville has in a religious sense…a certain moral validity. Tess knows her emotional and physical passion for Clare is stronger than these reservations. “Every see-saw of her breath, every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears, was a voice that joined with nature in revolt against her scrupulousness.” Tess knows she will submit to her feelings for Clare, whom she sees almost as a god. Her acquiescence is not without an element of pride and possessiveness: “I can’t bear to let anybody have him but me!”
Clare plays the part of the persistent lover in fine fashion, and his love for Tess is pure and genuine; “his manner,” writes Hardy, “was so much that of one who would love and cherish and defend her under any conditions, changes, or revelations, that her gloom lessened as she basked in it.”
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