Tess of the d'Urbervilles By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Phase the Sixth: The Convert: Chapters 50-52

Summary

Tess travels the Wessex countryside and arrives at Marlott at 3 a.m. She finds a neighbor sitting with her parents, both of whom are ill. Tess also finds that the allotment for the family garden has not been planted. She and Liza Lu begin work at once on the garden while the parents recuperate. Tess even works by moonlight to complete the spring gardening task. Alec finds Tess in the garden and approaches her to tell her he has left a gift for her at the house. Liza Lu returns to tell Tess that their mother has recovered but their father, John Durbeyfield, has died.

With John dead, the family is evicted; another larger family has procured the home. Tess and her family, however, feel as though the eviction has been precipitated because of Tess' past and the scorn of the villagers. The family hires a cart and horse to take them to nearby Kingsbere. Alec appears again to lend his support, but Tess refuses his help. Tess pens a passionate letter to Angel, as she feels she cannot resist the temptation of Alec and his willingness to aid her family.

The next day, as the family makes its way to Kingsbere, Tess meets Marian and Izz, who have now begun work for another farmer. She relates what has happened to her father. Upon arrival in Kingsbere, the family learns that their intended house has been rented to someone else. All of their goods are unloaded in the churchyard while a new house is procured. As the family beds down under the stars for the night, Tess goes into the church and finds Alec lying on a tomb. He frightens Tess when she sees his body on top of a crypt. Meanwhile, Marian and Izz write a letter to Angel urging him to come at once.

Analysis

The death of John Durbeyfield leaves the family destitute and homeless. Instead of being forced out of their home in search of new work, the Durbeyfield's are forced out because another family needs the house, can pay rent, and do not have the Durbeyfield's past problems: "It was, indeed, quite true that the household had not been shining examples either of temperance, soberness or chastity. The father, and even the mother, had got drunk at times, the younger children seldom had gone to church, and the eldest daughter had made queer unions." This passage is Hardy's commentary on the forced expulsions of hundreds of families in England. During his lifetime, these expulsions caused urban areas to explode in population and caused rural areas to be abandoned. Hardy laments, with a detached view, that since industrialization had come to England, the need for agricultural workers had declined, thereby creating a vacuum in smaller villages and towns. Since the Durbeyfields have no real purpose in the village, they are expendable because they "had been tacitly looked on as one which would have to go when their lease ended, if only in the interest of morality." The village is then cleansed of an offending family.

At Kingsbere, the scenario is nearly repeated when the Durbeyfields are forced to unload their belongings in the street because their intended rental home has been leased to another family. Making the best of a bad situation, Joan sets up their bed as a tent on the grounds of the church where many d'Urberville ancestors had been buried. Alec's appearance and his proposal to help the forsaken family forces Tess to become his mistress. The extreme circumstances of the Durbeyfields poverty, the much-delayed return of Angel, and Alec's persistent entreaties compel Tess to seek a solution that will appease all sides. Alec's money and offers of help then cannot be refused.

Tess' pleas to Angel seem to go unheard, even when she writes the two letters in Chapters 48 and 51. By now, Alec has convinced Tess that Angel is not coming back for her, abandoning her with hardly a word. In her first letter, we sense that Tess is wrestling with the temptation that Alec presents, "I am so exposed to temptation, Angel," and that she could fall into a worse situation than the one that presently exists — "[b]ut if I break down by falling into some fearful snare, my last state will be worse than my first." Her second letter is not a plea but an argument that she has been wronged, "O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel!" In a fit of fury, she vows to forget Angel and how he has treated her. Marian and Izz send a letter that warns Angel that another man has set his sights on Tess, "For she is sore put by an Enemy in the shape of a Friend." All three letters give Angel a clear picture as to Tess' dire situation, and he acts quickly to locate his wife.

Glossary

Equinoctial occurring at or about the time of an equinox.

"pricked or ducked" references to ordeals used to identify witches, either by pricking them to see if they were insensitive or bled less than normal, or by ducking them to see if they sank (a sign of innocence) or floated (a sign of guilt).

Whickered (dialect) snickered, giggled, tittered.

Stupefaction stunned amazement or utter bewilderment.

"pillar of a cloud" from Exodus 13:21.

"that scene of Milton's" scene from Paradise Lost, and the passage quoted (Book IX:626-631) is spoken by Eve to Satan in the form of a serpent.

Liviers lifeholders, that is, tenants whose lease ran the length of a specified number of lifetimes; by contrast, a freeholder's heirs could retain his lease in perpetuity.

Pattens elevated, wooden soled shoes, often used for walking in mud and sometimes outfitted with an iron ring that can clink.

Superincumbent lying or resting on something else.

Stale (dialect) to urinate.

Deparked removed from their status as a park, that is, an area preserved for hunting by the aristocracy through royal decree.

Traceried having ornamental work of interlacing or branching lines, as in a Gothic window, some kinds of embroidery, etc.

"Ostium sepulchri . . . " Door of the tomb of the ancient family of d'Urberville (Latin).

"land of Canaan" the Promised Land.

Tole (dialect) to entice.

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