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 Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters 25–29: Summary

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Last Updated May 23, 2023.

After their embrace, Tess experiences a sense of stillness and almost fear, while Angel feels guilty for allowing his emotions to override his judgment. As a man guided by his conscience, Angel recognizes that he is responsible for Tess's future, and he takes this responsibility seriously, treating it with the same level of importance as his own life. He believes that he should not take advantage of the situation by being too close to Tess, so he decides to pay an unplanned visit to his family at Emminster Vicarage. This visit prompts the milkmaids to wonder when Angel will be leaving permanently, and they are saddened by the news that he will only remain at Talbothays for four more months before moving on to another farm.

Upon arriving at Emminster, Angel is met with a warm welcome from his parents and elder siblings. His brother Felix works as a curate in a nearby town, while Cuthbert is a classical scholar at Cambridge. Angel's family notices that he has adopted a more rural demeanor and no longer carries himself like an academic or a refined gentleman. Angel's time away from home has led him to reflect on the limitations of his brothers, who seem confined within their respective intellectual and professional circles. In his eyes, Felix is entirely devoted to the Church, and Cuthbert is wholly absorbed in academia. Angel finds his father to be the most devoted and sincere among his family members, possessing a warmer heart than his brothers. In fact, his father has even set aside funds for Angel to purchase farmland.

Following a meal, Angel brings up the topic he intends to discuss: the prospect of marrying Tess. His parents desire a "genuine Christian woman" for him and suggest Mercy Chant, an extremely pious woman who is their friend's daughter. However, Angel mentions that he is considering a woman who would support him in his agricultural pursuits. Although his mother is disappointed that Angel's potential wife is not a "lady" due to her middle-class biases against the lower echelons of society, both parents are pleased to hear about Tess's religious commitment and regular church attendance. They advise Angel not to rush into anything but agree to meet his chosen partner.

As Reverend Clare departs the town alongside Angel, he shares a story with his son about his failed attempt to reform a young troublemaker named D'Urberville. Angel expresses concern for his father's safety, fearing that addressing such unreformed individuals directly might put him in physical danger.

In the early afternoon, Angel returns to Talbothays with a rejuvenated spirit, as if he has cast aside crutches and bandages. Everyone except Tess is either away or napping, and Tess is just getting up. He hugs her once more, stating that he returned early for her, and Tess's racing heart answers him as it beats against his. As they work together skimming milk, Angel unexpectedly proposes to Tess, possibly without intending to do so that quickly. Although Tess loves him and is not engaged to anyone else, Tess claims she cannot marry Angel. When asked why she still declines, Tess fabricates that she is not of high enough social status to please his parents. To shift the conversation to a less tense subject, Clare shares his father's tale about attempting to reform Alec D'Urberville. However, when Angel inquires again about marriage, Tess, with the sound of that name echoing in her mind, exclaims, "It can't be!"

Sensing that Tess, similar to other women, is initially rejecting his advances only to accept them later, Angel persists in pursuing her. Tess claims her refusal is due to her unworthiness, which Angel interprets as her lack of refinement as a lady. He compliments her adaptability in thought and conversation; indeed, Tess has already started adopting some of Angel's intellectual mannerisms and ways of speaking.

United by the task of breaking down the curd, Angel takes the opportunity to plant a kiss on Tess's arm, earning an affectionate smile from the one he adores. Angel once again asks for her hand in marriage. In response, Tess promises to share her life story and past experiences with him on Sunday. Her conscience warns her that her past will make any marriage, particularly to an honorable man, a wretched affair. However, the power of her love for Angel renders her submission unavoidable. "I will allow myself to marry him—I have no choice!" she exclaims.

On Sunday, Dairyman Crick shares another tale from the misadventures of the notorious Jack Dollop. Dollop wed a widow for her annual 50-pound income, only to discover it stopped upon her remarriage. The dairy workers enjoy the story and debate whether the widow should have disclosed her financial situation before tying the knot. Beck Knibbs' popular opinion is: "Had he complained to me about her not informing him earlier... I would have struck him with a rolling pin." While the workers see the story as a humorous anecdote, Tess perceives it as a sad affair.

Once more, Angel proposes marriage to Tess, but she declines for his good, despite her awareness that her ethical reservations are weakening in the face of her intense love for him. On an evening following the cream-skimming process, Dairyman Crick requires a person to transport milk to the railway station. Clare offers to help and invites Tess to accompany him.

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