Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Summary and Analysis
Retty Priddle: a young milkmaid, fair and auburn-haired, in love with Angel Clare
Izz Huett: a pale, dark-haired milkmaid, in love with Angel Clare
Marian: the oldest of the three milkmaids in love with Angel Clare
Under the influence of the warm summer sun and a natural world teeming with the sights and juices of regeneration and fertilization, the attraction between Tess Durbeyfield and Angel Clare continues to grow. Possibly by chance, the two are the first up each day at the dairy, and they view each other in the “aqueous” light of dawn. Tess appears nearly a goddess of feminine beauty, a “divinity.” Clare’s appreciation for her increases; inspired by her awesome and rare beauty, Angel teasingly, affectionately calls her by the names of ancient Greek goddesses, such as Artemis and Demeter. Not understanding these references, Tess asks to be called by her true name. Tess is depressed when she realizes she is much less educated than Angel.
One day a minor crisis hits the dairy. The churn will not produce any butter. Dairyman Crick recalls a previous time when the butter would not come; this happened because a man named Jack Dollop was inside the churn, hiding from an angry mother who claimed he had stolen the honor of her daughter. The story provides a good laugh to all but Tess, who sees in it a reflection of her own shameful past. Tess runs outside, where the sky looks to her like an inflamed wound.
Tess’s fellow milkmaids, Izz Huett, Retty Priddle, and Marian, meanwhile, all admit to an infatuation with Angel Clare. They know their love for him is hopeless, both because he is out of their class, and because they are sure that Tess is his favorite. While Tess knows she is more attractive as a woman and potential wife than her friends, she has vowed to herself never to marry.
Another crisis mobilizes the farmfolk: the butter just made at the dairy is bitter. Dairyman Crick figures it must be due to some garlic in a field where the cows have been grazing. Angel manages to work alongside Tess, and they get a chance to talk. Tess, fighting against her own attraction to Clare, commends the feminine charms of her fellow milkmaids in preference to her own; but her heart is not fully in this evasion, because she feels herself more and more drawn to this dutiful young man. Tess is moved to respect Angel because he acts so conscientiously toward the milkmaids infatuated with him. To Tess, such respectful behavior is unique among the men she has known.
A few Sundays later, Tess, Izz, Retty, and Marian walk to Mellstock for church. Angel, who prefers sermons in stones to those in church, is out in the fields. The milkmaids, dressed in their Sunday best, are checked by a flooded lane. Angel sees the women, and volunteers to carry each of them across. For the panting, lovestruck women, to be so close to their beloved Clare is an agonizing pleasure. The last to be carried across is Tess: “Three Leahs to get one Rachel!” says Angel, referring to the Bible story in which Jacob must endure seven years of marriage to Leah before being allowed to marry his true love Rachel. The incident forces Tess to admit that there was “no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare.”
One day, Angel and Tess work near each other in an isolated part of the dairy. Tess’s aesthetic power, her concord with the natural world’s beauty, and her tremendous, singular lips move Angel, perhaps against his rational judgment, to leap up and embrace his beloved. Tess instinctively but briefly yields to the embrace of her lover before she pushes him away because her cow may be upset by this unusual sight. Clare avows his love for Tess. The horizons of these two lives will be forever altered.
Phase the Third contains the most extended pictorial descriptions in the novel, as well as some of the most beautiful, poetic, evocative prose Hardy ever wrote. Throughout these chapters, Hardy correlates the minds and...
(The entire section is 1,403 words.)