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 Sixth: The Convert, Chapters 45–52: Summary

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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

Tess is having a hard time believing that the man in front of her is actually Alec because his bold and masculine appearance doesn't match that of a pious preacher. When Alec sees Tess, he is so surprised that he momentarily can't preach. After finishing his sermon, Alec catches up with Tess, but she wants nothing to do with him. Alec claims he wants to save her soul because he has wronged her in the past. Tess doesn't believe Alec's conversion is genuine and thinks he is using religion as an excuse to escape the consequences of his past actions. Additionally, she doesn't believe in his religious ideas because her husband has influenced her to be skeptical about religion.

As Alec and Tess pass by a rock named "Cross-in-Hand," Alec requests that Tess make a promise not to seduce him anymore, which she agrees to do hesitantly. Later, Tess discovers that the stone is not a sacred object as Alec had claimed, but rather a reminder of a killing and is considered a bad omen.

A couple of days later, Alec locates Tess while she is working in the fields at Flintcomb-Ash. He intends to ask about her well-being and situation. Alec proposes to marry Tess by offering her a marriage license, but she declines, informing him that she is already in love and married to someone else. Alec realizes that Tess has been abandoned by her husband and becomes distressed that she refuses his offer of protection.

In February, Alec visits Tess and requests her to pray for him. Tess questions how she could pray for him when she is not allowed to believe that a higher force would change its plans for her. Although she claims to have a religious belief, she does not accept anything supernatural. Tess repeats arguments against religion and rationalism that she has learned from Angel Clare, which shatter Alec's recently developed religious beliefs.

Tess is working at Flintcomb-Ash on a March morning, feeding wheat into a mechanical thresher when Alec arrives to speak to her. He has changed out of his parson's outfit and tells Tess she is responsible for his moral decline. He suggests she should be willing to leave her husband and be with him instead. In a moment of impulsiveness, Tess slaps Alec in the face, drawing blood. She challenges him to punish her and continues to see herself as a victim. Alec responds by shaking her and reminding her that he was once her master and could be again.

After completing a tiring day's work, Alec appears and accompanies Tess on her way back home. Addressing Tess's primary concern directly, he tells her he has sufficient funds to prevent her family from facing financial difficulties. Tess is initially uncertain and takes a moment before rejecting his proposal altogether.

Upon arriving at her cottage, Tess composes an extensive and fervent message to her spouse, imploring him to treat her with kindness. Despite her strong attachment to Angel, she finds herself in dire need of being saved from an adversary.

Meanwhile, while in Brazil, Angel reassesses the moral framework he had used to judge his wife. He has realized that a person's character is not solely determined by their accomplishments but also by their intentions and desires. As a result, he understands that he shouldn't hold Tess responsible for something she did against her will. One of Angel's fellow travelers, who is English, advises him that leaving Tess was a mistake and that he should have judged her based on her potential as a wife rather than her past actions. When this companion dies of fever, Angel takes his advice to heart and transitions from criticizing Tess to supporting her.

Tess's sister, 'Liza-Lu, comes to visit her a week before her term at Flintcomb-Ash is over, bringing grave news about their family. Joan is severely unwell, and John, who is still in poor health, refuses to work. Tess returns home to care for her mother, who eventually recovers and cultivates their garden to ensure the family has enough food to eat.

During an evening when Tess and fellow villagers are burning brushes in a field, she is taken aback by the unexpected presence of Alec D'Urberville by her side. Alec, who has been trying to seduce Tess, compares himself and Satan, alluding to the fires around them. However, Tess refuses to accept the comparison. Alec tries to persuade Tess to accept his assistance, but she declines, despite knowing that her family could benefit from his help.

 As Tess walks home after an encounter, she receives shocking news that her father has passed away due to heart disease. The impact of his death extends beyond personal grief, as the Durbeyfield family's lease on their cottage was tied to John's life. Therefore, they must vacate the house because the tenant-farmer plans to employ fieldworkers there. While the family could potentially stay as weekly tenants, their lack of responsibility, Tess' unconventional relationships, and the undesirable social status of families in their artisanal class make it unlikely that they will be allowed to stay. In addition, it is questionable whether their ancestors treated others rudely during their time of prominence.

Joan decides that her family will look for accommodation in Kingsbere, the town where the cathedral containing the D'Urberville family vaults is located. On Old Lady-Day, which is a day when many rural workers are either compelled or choose to find new jobs and homes, the Durbeyfields pack their things and depart from Marlott. Upon arriving in Kingsbere, they find out that their letter requesting rooms has come too late, and they have nowhere to stay. However, Joan spontaneously decides to unpack a bed underneath the church wall, directly beneath a stained-glass window that bears the name of the D'Urbervilles.

Alec approaches Tess while riding and shares with her the legend of the D'Urberville coach, which suggests that those with D'Urberville ancestry can hear the sound of a non-existent coach. The legend stems from an abduction and murder case that involved a D'Urberville. Alec proposes that Tess and her family live at Trantridge, where Joan can work as a fowl tender. Although Tess finds it challenging to reject Alec's offer, she manages to do so. In search of comfort, Tess visits the Kingsbere cathedral and finds herself surprised to see D'Urberville resting on one of the tombs. He boasts that he can do more for her than any of the real D'Urbervilles in the vaults. As she gazes at the vault entrance, Tess wonders why she is on the wrong side of the door.

Marian and Izz feel the need to take steps to fix their friends' marriage. They compose a simple and straightforward letter to Angel, who is in Emminster, urging him to take care of his wife as she is facing opposition from an unknown adversary.

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Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays, Chapters 35–44: Summary

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Phase the Seventh: Fulfillment, Chapters 53–59: Summary