Angel's parents await his arrival from Brazil anxiously. He returns looking older and thinner from his journey to Brazil. He reads Tess' letters, immediately writing to her mother, Joan, to see if she is well and living at home. Joan's curt, short letter tells him she is not at home and Joan does not know Tess' whereabouts. Further, Angel finds that Tess had not visited his parents nor had she asked for any money in his absence. Angel makes plans to leave at once to find Tess when he reads the letter from Marian and Izz.
Angel first goes to Flintcomb-Ash and Marlott to locate Tess. Instead, he finds John's grave and pays the sexton, or churchyard caretaker, for the balance owed on John's tombstone. He finds that the family is in Kingsbere and sets out for the Durbeyfield house. There, he finds Joan and asks her about Tess only to find she is now living in the fashionable seaside resort of Sandbourne.
Angel treks to Sandbourne, arriving late at night, too late to find any information. The next morning, Angel finds Tess at an inn called The Herons, from information provided by a mailman. He goes to the inn and asks for Tess, where she is now known as Teresa d'Urberville. Tess has been living with Alec, and the pair has traveled to the resort for relaxation. Angel sees Tess, only to be told that she cannot go with him, that Alec has won her. Repeatedly, Tess tells Angel, "It is too late." She sends Angel away, urging him not to return, as she now belongs to Alec. Angel leaves the inn, wandering the streets aimlessly.
Tess returns to her room to confront Alec. The innkeeper, Mrs. Brooks, watches the d'Urbervilles through a keyhole and from her office below their room. Tess realizes Alec's deception, blaming him for lying to her about Angel's future return so that he could once more have her. In her fury, Tess stabs Alec through the heart with a carving knife. She leaves the inn immediately to find Angel. In the interim, news of the murder moves quickly through the resort.
Joan's letter to Angel gives a hint that all is not well with Tess. The letter is short and terse, informing Angel that Joan has no idea where Tess has gone. He hurries to Flintcomb-Ash, Marlott, and Kingsbere to look for Tess. Joan recognizes Angel and is somewhat reticent to tell him all that she knows about Tess. Perhaps with the family's recent troubles in Marlott, she is keenly aware that the neighbors may judge her as harshly as did the people of Marlott. Angel asks, "Do you think Tess would wish me to try and find her?" Joan replies, "I don't think she would." Angel feels that Tess would want to see him again, even under these circumstances. Joan's remark that she cannot understand her daughter is especially telling, "That's very likely, sir; for I have never really known her." One cannot but help to see Tess as a mystery, too. Hardy's point is that even though we know people all of our lives, we oftentimes really do not "know" a person, no matter how hard we try. It is also a mother's exasperated response about how a daughter can grow up before her eyes and still be foreign to her.
The scene at The Herons in Sandbourne between Tess and Angel is plausible because she is now living with Alec and has forsaken her husband. The outcome of the conversation between Tess and Angel is expected. However, the events in Chapter 56 are extraordinary and not expected. Tess kills her "master" with a carving knife to get away from him and to rid herself of the person who turned her life upside down. She rages when she discovers Alec's deception and manipulation of her.
When the deed is done, like a Greek tragedy, the action is off-stage. The only hint of Alec's murder is his blood staining the ceiling of the room below his — "The oblong white ceiling, with this scarlet blot in the midst, had the appearance of a gigantic ace of hearts." Tess' choice of stabbing Alec in the heart is noteworthy because the heart is the seat of emotion, and stabbing him in the heart kills the emotional side of their relationship; thus Tess has no "emotional strings" attached to Alec any longer. She is truly free from his influence, but at a tremendous price.
Crivelli's dead Christus probably the Pietà by the fifteenth-century Italian painter, Carlo Crivelli (c. 1430-1495), in the National Gallery in London.
"which alters when it alteration finds" from Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.
Faustina wife of Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, she was reputed to be unfaithful.
Cornelia wife of Scipio Africanus the Younger (second cen. B.C.), who devoted herself to raising her twelve children and refused offers of marriage after she was widowed (Enc. Britannica, 7:167).
Lucretia or Lucrece, wife of Collantius, known for her virtue, who killed herself after being raped by Lucius Tarquinius.
Phryne Athenian courtesan who was the model and lover of Praxiteles, the sculptor.
"one deserving to be stoned" from John 8:3-11, instead of encouraging stoning, Jesus forgives a woman brought to him as an adulteress by the Scribes and Pharisees.
"wife of Uriah" Bathsheba, whom King David committed adultery with and then married after sending Uriah to his death on battle, from 2 Samuel 11.
"tale told by an idiot" from Macbeth 5.5.26-27.
"How are the mighty fallen" from 2 Samuel 1:19.
"prophet's gourd" from Jonah 4:5-10, a gourd springs up overnight to give shade to Jonah.
Ixionian wheel in Greek mythology, Ixion's eternal punishment was to be bound to a revolving wheel of fire.