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 Third: The Rally, Chapters 20–24: Summary

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Last Updated May 23, 2023.

Beneath the comforting embrace of the hot summer sun and amidst the vibrant, thriving surroundings of nature's renewal and procreation, the allure between Tess Durbeyfield and Angel Clare intensifies. Seemingly by coincidence, they are the earliest risers at the dairy each day, observing one another in the watery glow of the breaking dawn.

Tess presents herself as the epitome of feminine allure, resembling a divine figure. Clare's admiration for her grows as he playfully and lovingly refers to her as legendary Greek goddesses like Artemis and Demeter. However, Tess, unfamiliar with these names, requests to be addressed by her real name. Her spirits dampen when she becomes aware of the significant gap in education between herself and Angel.

One day, the dairy faces a minor issue when the churn refuses to produce butter. Dairyman Crick remembers a similar incident in the past, involving a man named Jack Dollop hiding inside the churn to escape an irate mother accusing him of dishonoring her daughter. While the story amuses everyone, Tess finds it a painful reminder of her own troubled history. Distressed, she rushes outside and perceives the sky as a sore, inflamed wound.

Tess's co-workers, Izz Huett, Retty Priddle, and Marian, all confess to being smitten by Angel Clare. They acknowledge the impossibility of their affection for him, not only due to the difference in social status but also because they believe Tess is his preferred choice. Despite being aware of her superior appeal as a partner and spouse compared to her friends, Tess has made a personal commitment never to wed.

Another predicament galvanizes the farming community: the freshly produced butter at the dairy tastes bitter. Dairyman Crick believes it is likely caused by garlic in a pasture where the cows grazed. Angel finds an opportunity to work alongside Tess and engage in conversation. Although Tess struggles with her growing attraction towards Clare, she highlights the appealing qualities of her fellow milkmaids rather than her own. Nonetheless, she cannot entirely hide her feelings, as she becomes increasingly captivated by the responsible young man. Tess admires Angel for his considerate actions towards the smitten milkmaids, a trait she finds exceptional compared to other men she has encountered.

On a particular Sunday, Tess, Izz, Retty, and Marian venture to Mellstock to attend church, while Angel, who favors finding wisdom in nature over attending services, remains in the fields. The well-dressed milkmaids find their path blocked by a flooded lane. Upon seeing them, Angel offers to carry each woman across the water. The infatuated milkmaids find themselves tormented and delighted by their proximity to Angel. Tess, the last to be carried, hears Angel liken their situation to the biblical tale of Jacob, who had to marry Leah for seven years before finally marrying his true love, Rachel. This event compels Tess to acknowledge her undeniable love for Angel Clare.

One day, Angel and Tess work closely together in a remote area of the dairy farm. Tess's captivating allure, harmony with the beauty of nature, and her striking, unique lips stir deep emotions within Angel, leading him to impulsively embrace his love, potentially against his better judgment. Tess momentarily succumbs to the affectionate gesture of her admirer but quickly pushes him away, concerned that her cow might be disturbed by this uncommon scene. Clare professes his love for Tess, and from this moment on, the trajectories of their lives will be irrevocably changed.

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