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 30–34: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1728

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A man from Trantridge: recalling Tess’s past, he makes a judgmental comment about her

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The carriage driver: a broken-down, 60-year-old with a running wound on his leg

Jonathan Kail: a simple minded farm worker

Along the way to the station, Angel points out Wellbridge Manor, a converted farmhouse that was once a mansion belonging to the D’Urberville family. Angel again pleads with Tess to marry him. She says she must first tell him about her history and begins to tell him about her upbringing and hometown. Just as she is about to tell her past troubles, she says instead that she is not a Durbeyfield, but a D’Urberville. Angel takes this for the revelation she was concealing, and Tess does not correct this misimpression. He sees the news of her ancestry as positive, since society, and especially his mother, will be more accepting of Tess if she has noble blood. Tess finally says “Yes!” to Angel, and immediately sobs. She asks for permission to write her mother. When she says she lives in Marlott, Angel finally realizes where he has seen her. Tess hopes that being overlooked that day will not turn out to be an ill omen.

Joan sends a letter to Tess, advising her not to tell Angel about her past problems. Tess feels that the responsibility has been lifted from her shoulders, and she and Clare enjoy open-air courting. Angel asks Tess to fix their marriage date, but Tess is reluctant, preferring a “perpetual betrothal.” After they are caught embracing, Angel announces to Crick and their friends at the dairy that they will be married soon. The milkmaids are awestruck at Tess’s news. Their admiration activates Tess’s guilt: “You are all better than I!” She vows again to tell Clare her past.

Fewer milkmaids are necessary as winter comes, and Angel uses this fact to force Tess’s hand. They agree to get married by the end of the year. Angel has an opportunity to work at a flour-mill nearby at that time. Angel decides on Wellbridge Manor, near this flour-mill, as a honeymoon site. The wedding is set for December 31. Angel has taken a wedding license, rather than having the banns of marriage announced in church; he has also asked the Cricks to keep the date a secret. These arrangements please Tess, who desires privacy so that no one will tell Angel about D’Urberville, but she fears she will pay for her good fortune. Angel buys Tess wedding clothes.

To enjoy some time together before the wedding, Angel and Tess go into town for Christmas Eve. While waiting for Angel, Tess is observed by a man from the Trantridge area. This man begins to insult Tess; when Angel hears these words, he punches the man. The stranger apologizes, Angel gives him five pounds, and they part with no hard feelings. That night, Clare acts out the fight in his sleep, and Tess vows to inform him, this time in writing, all about herself. She puts a four-page letter under his door. The next day he shows no response; could she have been forgiven already? The morning of her wedding, she realizes he must not have read the letter. She discovers that it was wedged out of sight, under a carpet near his door. The anxious bridesmaid asks to be allowed to make a confession of her faults. Angel brushes her worries aside, saying they should both be perfect to each other on their wedding day.

The crowd at the church is small. Neither Angel’s parents nor brothers nor Tess’s parents attend. To Tess, sublimely in love with Clare, nothing matters except her husband. She “felt glorified by an irradiation not her own,” so overpowering to her was the joy of wedding Angel.

After the ceremony, Tess becomes downcast, oppressed by a sense of seriousness. Angel attempts to jest her out of this mood, making a quip about the Wellbridge Manor being one of Tess’s ¬“ancestral mansions.” They are alone at the manor for their first night as a wedded couple, and enjoy a meal together. A messenger arrives with a package for “Mrs. Angel Clare.” Inside is a full set of jewels—a gift from Angel’s now-deceased godmother, to be given to whomever Angel married. The jewelry accentuates Tess’s natural beauty. Jonathan Kail arrives, rather later than expected, with some of their belongings. He was delayed by unhappy events at Talbothays.

Retty Priddle has tried to drown herself; Marian, never a drinker, got dead drunk; and Izz Huett has fallen into a depression. Tess reflects to herself that those with the most reason to be unhappy pretend otherwise, and she vows to tell Angel everything. “She would pay to the uttermost farthing; she would tell, there and then.” Angel broaches the subject first, saying he would like to confess something to Tess that he should have told her before. Exactly Tess’s situation!

Angel launches into his confession. He is not a wicked person, he says, but he once acted immorally by indulging in “eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger” in London. Tess forgives Angel. Feeling joyously certain she will be forgiven for the same fault, Tess, in a steady voice, begins the painful narrative of her acquaintance with Alec D’Urberville.

Angel’s previously expressed ideals about the decline of old families are belied by his joy at the news of Tess’s lineage. Her ancestry will make her more acceptable to his family because “society is slightly snobbish.” (Clearly, for society we can insert Angel.) Angel will now be able to present Tess “triumphantly” as a lady. Hardy notes sarcastically that, “Perhaps Tess’s lineage had more value for himself than for anybody in the world besides.”

Tess’s reaction when Angel keeps their wedding a relative secret articulates a tragic perspective on life. “I don’t feel easy,” Tess says to herself. “All this good fortune may be scourged out of me afterwards by a lot of ill. That’s how Heaven mostly does.” Tess articulates the concept of retributive justice: humans will be punished for their pleasure. Tess’s thought echoes the Greek idea of the god Nemesis (or enemy), who strikes at anyone with the presumption to enjoy too much pride or satisfaction in life.

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Tess prefers what Hardy terms a perpetual betrothal rather than a wedding date fixed in time. Even at her life’s greatest period of happiness, she fears the consequences of marrying Angel, and is beset by doubt, fear, moodiness, care, and shame. She wishes that her life could always be just as it is now, “that it would always be summer and autumn, and you always courting me, always thinking as much of me as you have always done through the past summer-time!” The metaphor linking her life to the season underscores Tess’s connection to nature.

The power of Tess’s conscience is subdued by a passivity and willlessness that are equally characteristic of this contradictory heroine. When her mother advises her not to tell Clare about Alec, Tess feels a burden of responsibility has been lifted from her. When she discovers Clare has not read her confessional letter, she knows there is time enough to tell him before the wedding, but chooses not to do so.

Angel’s capacity to love is closely analyzed by Hardy. In order to make later events credible, and in order to emphasize Tess’s victimization by even such as Clare who love her, Hardy continues to provide explanations for Clare’s behavior which we can use to judge him. He could love desperately, but with a love more inclined to the imaginative and the ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion, which could jealously guard the loved one against his very self. Angel, it is suggested, tends to love not the woman in front of him but an idealized or spiritualized vision of her; and he may be using his love to protect himself against certain aspects of his personality. Note the contrast between Angel’s limited, partial love for Tess and Tess’s complete adoration of Angel: “There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare. To her sublime trustfulness he was all that goodness could be.” She so idolizes Angel that she prays to him and not to God. Such devotion is surely misplaced, Hardy notes. In her reaction from indignation against the male sex, Tess swerved to excess of honor for Clare.

At the wedding, Angel’s partial knowledge of the extent of her love for him is revealed. “Clare knew that she loved him—every curve of her form showed that—but he did not know at that time the full depth of her devotion, its single-mindedness, its meekness; what long suffering it guaranteed, what honesty, what endurance, what good faith.” These aspects of love, traditionally thought to be feminine, are precisely what Tess will show in superabundance in the course of future events.

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Latest answer posted October 5, 2020, 6:36 pm (UTC)

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Hardy communicates the unhappy outcome of the marriage by ill omens. The grotesque touch of the carriage-driver with a running wound introduces a jarring note, which is amplified by a reference to the darkly mysterious (but here unexplained) legend of the D’Urberville coach. The crowing of a cock in the afternoon is interpreted as a bad sign for the future.

Hardy again creates a chain of events which entraps poor Tess. When she hears of the dairymaids’ unhappy reactions to her marriage, she vows decisively to tell Clare about herself, again using strong language of self-condemnation: “It was wicked of her to take all without paying. She would pay to the uttermost farthing; she would tell, there and then.”

The final picture Hardy leaves us with is charged with foreboding. The image relies upon the patterning of red and white that seems to follow Tess throughout her life. “Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow [of the fire], which fell on his face and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair about her brow, and firing on the delicate skin underneath…She bent forward, at which each diamond on her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s…” The description is pure pathetic fallacy. What this situation looks like, it feels like.

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