Tess of the d'Urbervilles By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Phase the Fourth: The Consequence: Chapters 31-34

Summary

Tess writes to her mother and receives a response by the end of the week. Joan Durbeyfield tells Tess not to tell of her past. Joan also mentions that a barrel of alcoholic cider will be sent for a wedding present. Tess decides not to tell Angel of her history.

Everyone at the dairy seems to know that Tess will someday marry Angel. Even when the maids feel some jealousy toward Tess at the possibility of marriage, they cannot bear her any ill will. Tess tells the young maids, "You are all better than I." Tess cannot bear to keep silent on the matter of her past, and she vows to tell Angel all of her history, despite her mother's advice not to. Tess sets the date of their wedding as December 31.

The time for Tess' services at the dairy are at an end. Angel is also finished with the apprenticeship at the dairy and seeks a new aspect of farming for study. He settles on the flourmill at Wellbridge to learn about milling flour. He then proposes a tour of other farms during the first of the year, stopping to visit his parents in March or April. Tess' bridal gown arrives, a simple dress, and the wedding arrangements are completed.

Angel and Tess travel to the nearby town, Vale of Blackmoor, on Christmas Eve to do some last minute shopping. There Tess sees two Trantridge men who know of her past and speak of it loud enough for all to hear. Angel confronts the men, who admit their possible mistake of confusing Tess with another woman. The incident disconcerts Tess, who asks Angel if the wedding can be postponed. He asks her to forget the incident.

Tess writes a four-page note to Angel that explains her history and slips it under his door. However, the note becomes lodged under the carpet, and he never reads it; Tess later finds the note and destroys it. The pair remain as guests at Talbothays until the day of their wedding. No one from the Durbeyfield or Clare families attends the ceremony; instead, the Cricks and all the workers at Talbothays attend the services.

After they leave the wedding ceremony, Tess tries to confess her past sins, but Angel will not hear of it. When Tess says that the carriage they are riding in seems familiar to her, Angel recalls the legend of the d'Urberville Coach: During the sixteenth or seventeenth century, a d'Urberville supposedly committed a "dreadful crime" in the family coach and that, since that time, only the d'Urberville family members can hear the coach, whose appearance foretells a tragic or bad event. Upon leaving Talbothays, an old white rooster crows in mid-afternoon — in the world of the farm an omen for bad fortune.

The house the newlyweds take in Wellbridge is an old d'Urberville home, complete with old d'Urberville portraits on panels in the walls. The luggage from Talbothays is late, but Tess receives a package from the Clare family of heirloom jewels, which Tess immediately puts on. The luggage arrives via Jonathan Kail, a Talbothays dairyman, who tells the new couple that Retty had tried to commit suicide, Marian gets "dead drunk," and Izz is moping around the house depressed. Tess feels guilty that she had some hand in the incidents that happened to her friends. Then Tess and Angel confess their sins, first Angel, then Tess.

Analysis

Hardy uses several omens to warn the readers that something is about to happen to the characters. Consider, for example, Tess' serendipitous meeting with Angel in Chapter 1, which foreshadowed their later meeting. That both Tess and Angel recall that meeting in this chapter brings a poignancy to their current situation. The reader knows, as Tess does, what happened between her first meeting with Angel and her second. Angel does not share this knowledge and simply regrets having not danced with Tess or staying in Marlott, saying "If I had only known!" — a sentiment, no doubt, that Tess surely feels and with greater reason. Hardy increases the sense of foreboding with Tess' failed attempts at revealing her secret. She volunteers time and again to tell Angel of her past only to be rebuffed each time.

Beyond this, Hardy piles up the signs, each one sharpening the readers' sense of doom for the pair: The settling on the last day of the year, December 31, to be married; the misdirected note (a common literary contrivance that Hardy makes full use of in Chapter 33), the kisses that Angel bestows on each of the dairymaids. Further heightening the sense of foreboding are the omens that Hardy specifically points out as being portents: the d'Urberville Coach legend and the rooster crowing at noon. In combination, all the omens from these chapters prefigure events to come in the next phase of the novel. Although hopeful readers may want to see the events at Talbothays Dairy following Tess and Angel's departure as the events that the omens prefigured (the attempted suicide, the drunkenness, and the depression of Tess' friends), Hardy's choice of title for the next part — Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays — undermines what little glimmer of hope he may have tried to offer.

Again, in these chapters, Hardy's view of fate and the role it plays in our lives come to the forefront of the story. Essentially, his point seems to be that things just happen, for good or bad (usually bad, in Tess' case), and that these things have significant impact on the courses our lives take. Consider, for example, Tess' happening to meet Alec d'Urberville upon her initial journey to The Slopes. She could have met anyone, but chance decreed that she meet and draw the attention of a man who was not only not worthy of her but capable of — willing to — destroy her for his own pleasure. The reader can imagine how differently Tess' life would have been had she met Angel before Alec, but it was the culmination of small, inconsequential things — a missed dance, a chance meeting, for example — that send Tess' life in the direction toward ruin. Combine this with the fact that Tess is a decent person, that she is undeserving of such a life and such a fate. She did not willingly attract Alec; she does not deliberately deceive Angel; and yet she must suffer the consequences as though she had. In short, Tess is a decent person for whom things just don't work out — a seemingly innocuous statement that leads to tragedy, especially when we consider that everything could have happened some other way, and that if only one thing had happened differently, perhaps Tess' life would have been altered for the better.

Glossary

hogshead a large barrel or cask holding from 63 to 140 gallons (238 to 530 liters)

"less Byronic than Shelleyan" less passionate than spiritual in inclination.

Champaigns plains; level open country.

"those who are true…" list of virtues comes from Paul; Philippians 4:8.

springe [Now Rare] a snare consisting of a noose attached to something under tension, as a bent tree branch.

capricious subject to caprices; tending to change abruptly and without apparent reason; erratic; flighty.

baily in England, a steward or manager of a farm or estate.

penitential expressing penitence for having sinned or done other wrong and willing to atone.

banns the proclamation, generally made in church on three successive Sundays, of an intended marriage.

license written permission from a bishop in place of a banns.

"her mother's ballad of the mystic robe" from "The Boy and the Mantle," in which a robe betrays Queen Guenever, the wife of King Arthur.

ostler (dialect) hosteler.

Felloes rims of a spoked wheel, or segments of the rim.

Partie carree party of four, from French.

cumbrous cumbersome.

Friar Lawrence from Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene 6, Line 9).

Skein a quantity of thread or yarn wound in a coil; something like this, as a coil of hair.

summut (dialect) somewhat.

Withy-bed stand of willows.

night-rail a loose dressing-jacket or dressing gown.

trencher-woman a woman who eats much and heartily

Aldebaran or Sirius two of the brightest stars in the sky.

Integer Vitae phrase from Roman poet Horace is in an ode translated in the lines quoted as "upright life."

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