Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1761
Dairyman Crick: the kindly and welcoming manager of Talbothays Dairy
Angel Clare: a 26-year-old looking for a direction in life
Reverend Clare: an earnest, traditional minister scandalized by his son’s freethinking nature
On a “thyme-scented” May morning, Tess leaves her home for the second time. She is sorry to depart, but she knows her younger siblings will fare better without the presence of their immoral sister.
She travels to the Valley of the Great Dairies, towards Talbothays Dairy. She mentally compares this valley to her native Vale of Blackmoor and notes the immense scale and natural beauty of her destination: “The world was drawn to a larger pattern here…the new air was clear, bracing, ethereal.” The main river in the valley of her new home is “as clear as the pure River of Life shown to the Evangelist.” Tess begins to feel hope for the future, and is inspired by the “universal…tendency to find sweet pleasure somewhere.” She is going to live through her humiliation at the hands of D’Urberville.
Tess meets the master-dairyman of Talbothays, Richard Crick, more commonly known as Dairyman Crick. He greets her warmly, and Tess immediately sets to work milking a cow. Getting to work makes her feel she is laying a new foundation for her future.
The dairyworkers listen to a humorous story from Dairyman Crick. From behind a cow, a male voice utters a rather high-toned reaction. When Tess sees the speaker, she remembers with a start that this was the same man who walked away from the Marlott club-dance without dancing with her. Tess fears to be recognized by this man, but he does not remember her. When she asks her fellow milkmaids who he is, they tell her the man is Angel Clare, a parson’s son here to become a gentleman farmer. He is, they say, an intellectual “too much taken up wi’ his own thoughts to notice girls.”
Angel Clare found his way to Talbothays via a roundabout and unlikely route. His father, the Reverend Clare, is a well-known Evangelical minister who assumes his son Angel will go to Cambridge University prior to a career in the Church of England. Angel, however, has been struck by doubts about his father’s religion. Angel scandalizes his father by ordering a book about religious reform. In the ensuing argument, Angel reveals that he does not believe in one of the primary Articles of Religion of the Church of England and that he has doubts about much of this religion, thus disqualifying him from religious service. To the father, it has always been a family tradition that Cambridge is a “stepping-stone to Orders alone.” Angel and his father agree Angel will not go to Cambridge, but will attempt a different path in life.
Angel drifts through several desultory years, marked by development of unorthodox opinions and a brief affair with an older woman in London, until he decides he will become a gentleman farmer. To prepare himself for this career, he is undertaking a series of residencies at different farms to learn all aspects of agriculture. Presently, he finds himself at Talbothays. The effects of this natural, friendly environment on him are beneficial. Surrounded by people of an unfamiliar class, he becomes impressed by the realization of their humanity and individuality; he sees them as people of real worth, instead of looking down on them as mere farm workers. He loses his melancholy and makes a new acquaintance with the world around him.
Angel does not notice Tess until a few days after her arrival. When she asserts that “I do know that our souls can be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive,” Angel’s ears perk up and he remarks to himself, “What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” He is sure he has seen this woman before, perhaps on a countryside walk, but can’t remember where. The coincidence lodges Tess in his mind, in preference to the dairy’s other pretty milkmaids.
After several days, Tess notices that the cows are being arranged so that she can milk the ones who most like her. The author of this favor is Angel Clare. On a June evening, Tess drifts through the outskirts of a garden and hears the notes of a harp played by Clare. They talk, and Tess admits to fears about “life in general.” When Angel asks her why she feels this way, Tess describes a dread of the future, a deep conviction that the world is fierce, cruel, and unconsoling. Angel is surprised that this young, wholesome milkmaid is expressing the feelings of her age, “the ache of modernism.”
Inevitably, Tess and Angel see more of each other, and each gradually becomes more interested in the other. Tess feels her lack of learning relative to Clare. Angel volunteers to teach Tess about history, but she says she does not want to know that she is just like thousands of people who came before her and thousands who will come after. Tess wonders if her D’Urberville lineage will make Clare, as a student of history, more impressed by her. From Dairyman Crick, though, she learns that Angel believes that old families probably ran through all their usefulness in past days and are now good for nothing.
Tess’s newfound optimism is supported by the onset of spring and the new life it returns to the world. She leaves on a thyme-scented May morning, emblematic of the spring’s regenerative powers. Tess herself is part of this Nature: she felt akin to the landscape. As a part of Nature, Tess partakes of its redemptive powers, its rhythms of growth and transfiguration. “The irresistible, universal, automatic tendency to find sweet pleasure somewhere, which pervades all life, from the meanest to the highest, had at last mastered Tess. Being even now only a young woman of twenty, one who mentally and sentimentally had not finished growing, it was impossible that any event should have left upon her an impression that was not in time capable of transmutation.” Growth, change, the will to joy are ever-present forces in Nature and in Tess.
The first half of Chapter 18 focuses exclusively on the background of Angel Clare. For an atypical few pages, Tess drops out of sight. The contrast between Hardy’s introduction of Angel and that of Alec, about whose past we are told very little, makes clear that Angel is the second-most important character in the book. We are meant to consider seriously his personality, his struggles, and his potential as a person.
Affected by the contemporary spirit of rationalism, Angel is unable to believe in the literal truth of Jesus’ Resurrection and Last Judgment as stated in Article Four of the Articles of Religion: “Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things…of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven…until he return to judge all Men at the last day.” (To be ordained in the Church of England, one must profess belief in all the Articles. Entering Cambridge also required one to swear by the Articles; most who graduated the school went on to be ordained.) Angel criticizes the Church for propounding an “untenable redemptive theolatry,” a phrase implying skepticism about the entire scheme in which God sent His Son to Earth to rescue humans from their sinful natures. His father believes in the glory of God; Angel believes in the glory of man. Reverend Clare stresses the
duty man owes to God; Angel stresses the duty man owes to his fellow man.
Hardy uses the contrast between Reverend Clare and Angel to represent the Victorian debate over religion versus morality. Hardy here endorses Angel’s opinion, which was the progressive, liberal side of that contemporary social debate.
Angel feels that his father’s religion contains things worth preserving and others worth abandoning, and it must therefore be flawed. Reverend Clare feels sending Angel to Cambridge would be a waste if his son did not pursue a religious career. They agree Angel will not attend university. Angel spends some years drifting in search of a suitable vocation. He acquires newfangled opinions. Hardy casually refers to an affair Angel had in London, one he was lucky to get out of without being forced into marriage.
The relationship of Tess and Angel builds very slowly; it takes Angel some time to notice that Tess is there at all. Hardy drops in a comment about Angel’s imperceptiveness: “he was ever in the habit of neglecting the particulars of an outward scene for the general impression.” Angel’s perception, then, sometimes does not do justice to what he is seeing.
Angel first notices Tess when she talks about being able to separate her soul from her body at will. This theological trick arouses Angel’s interest, since it echoes on an experiential level a naturalistic alternative to the hidebound religious practice Angel has set aside in his search for higher truth. Angel’s first complete thought about her is, “What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” He interprets her only in terms of the good looks and rustic innocence she outwardly presents. He presumes that since she seems like an innocent country girl she must be a virgin. He believes that the closeness to Nature common to the landworking classes completely defines Tess’s personality. These inaccurate presumptions are of lasting importance to Angel’s reaction to future events.
Angel discovers that Tess holds some of the same basic convictions of the seriousness and difficulty of life and the doubtful consolations of religion that he does. Their conversation about Tess’s “indoor fears,” unspecific, existential anxieties about “life in general,” makes Angel intrigued by this woman, who articulates thoughts resembling the advanced ideas of the age. Tess feels, through her experience, the “ache of modernism,” the dilemma of having nothing to believe in, the feeling of having been thrown into a threatening, unsure world. Angel has, in intellectual fashion, reached the conclusion that the world affords no reliable sources of ultimate value. In time-honored fashion, Tess and Angel start to fall in love because they have similar ideas and philosophies about the world: “something in common” as we might now put it. Although he is intrigued and attracted by Tess, Angel cannot fully perceive that anything truly serious could have happened to a woman he regards as a charmingly unsophisticated country girl.
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