Tess of the d'Urbervilles By Thomas Hardy Summary and Analysis Phase the Third: The Rally: Chapters 21-24

Summary

The entire dairy is paralyzed when the milk does not begin to turn to butter. It is suggested that the butter won't come because "Perhaps somebody in the house is in love." Mr. Crick doesn't believe the superstition but instead tells a rather raucous story about a man who had gotten a young girl pregnant. Tess hears the tale, and while others laugh at the story, she rushes outside because the story of Jack Dollop is too real for her.

Eventually, the butter begins to form in the churn, and all settles down at the farm. The resident milkmaids, Retty Priddle, Izz Huett, and Marian, take turns gawking at Angel by peeking at him from their room as he moves through the farmyard. Tess does not engage in the girls' sport, and Marian suggests that Angel is in love with Tess, that "he likes Tess Durbeyfield best." All the maids are in love with Angel, but even they seem to sense that Tess and Angel are beginning to show signs of love for each other.

It is mid-July, and the weather has turned quite warm, both morning and night, in the Blackmoor Valley. One Sunday, the four maids ready themselves for church. On their way, as a heavy summer downpour had flooded the rivers and creeks, an overflowing creek stops them. Coming from the direction opposite the church is Angel. He volunteers to carry each girl across the swollen current so that their Sunday frocks are not ruined. All of them, including Tess, are shocked and delighted that Angel would spontaneously extend an opportunity for each of them to be held so close to their "ideal man."

As Angel crosses the creek with Tess, he hints at his feelings for her, telling her that "he has undergone three-quarters of the labour entirely for the sake of the fourth-quarter" (meaning that he carried the other three girls across so that he could carry Tess across, too) and that he "did not expect such an event today." When Tess replies that she also had not anticipated the heavy rains and swollen creek, Angel realizes that Tess does not realize his meaning. Feeling that he is taking unfair advantage of an accidental situation, Angel carries her the rest of the way across and deposits her with her friends. When Angel again leaves, Tess' companions tell her that, although Angel likes her best, he is meant to marry another woman, chosen by his family.

During the hot summer at Talbothays, the relationship between Tess and Angel grows as Hardy notes "It was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings." Angel secretly watches Tess as she works and musters the courage to tell her of his love for her.

Analysis

In Crick's telling the story of Jack Dollop, Hardy shows us the dark, real side of humor whereupon many jokes are based. The butt of the joke is usually some person or profession that we might see as humorous. But Tess has lived the tale of Jack Dollop, and she cannot bear being "ridiculed" even though no one at Talbothays knows her story.

When Angel carries Tess across the swollen creek and his preference for her becomes obvious to her companions, the other young ladies are not hurtful or vindictive, as the women at The Slopes were when they realized Alec's preference for Tess. Of the girls at Talbothays, Hardy says "The differences which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by passion, and each was but portion of one organism called sex. There was so much frankness and so little jealousy because there was no hope." In fact, they later tell Tess of the woman Angel's family has selected for him to marry and do so without spite or resentfulness. Instead, they "talked, and ached, and wept till sleep charmed their sorrow away."

Hardy presents Angel's character more fully in this chapter. Angel is a man very much intellectually challenged by his world, a man who studies its contradictions and who uses a most subtle approach when he makes his overtures to Tess. Angel, although he is the son of a minister, has difficulty with the religion, the church, and church doctrine. He is a naturalist who seeks his answers in the world that he can relate to, "preferr[ing] sermons in stones to sermons in churches and chapels on fine summer days." Yet his actions to aid the young ladies when crossing the flooded creek and his remarks alluding to the Jacob/Leah/Rachel story from Genesis, suggest a more complex character steeped in Christian teachings, but who questions some of the practices of the institution itself. (As Angel carries Tess across the creek, he murmurs "Three Leahs to get to one Rachel," an allusion to the story of Jacob and Rachael in Genesis 29, in which Jacob has to work seven years for Rachael but is married to Leah by her father; he then works another seven years for the privilege of marrying Rachel.)

Angel is an intellectual free thinker who approaches his environment with thoughtful deliberation and careful consideration. His approach to other people is not as aloof as we may be inclined to believe; he prefers not to abuse his position or stand with others. This can be clearly seen at the creek, "It reminded Angel that he was somewhat unfairly taking advantage of an accidental position, and he went no further with it." It is also, as mentioned earlier, a way in which Angel's behavior directly contrasts with Alec d'Urberville's behavior.

Glossary

Touchwood dried, decayed wood or dried fungus used as tinder.

almanack (dialect) almanac.

handkercher (dialect) handkerchief.

Ballyragging bullying, intimidating, or browbeating.

pummy ground apples used in making cider.

fagged to have worked hard and become very tired; [Brit. Informal] to have served as a servant.

Thermidorean weather here, warm summer months; Thermidor is a reference to the month from July 19 to August 17 in the French calendar, instituted in 1793 after the Revolution.

enervating depriving of strength, force, vigor, etc.; weakening physically, mentally, or morally.

Ethiopic hot, African-like scorching of the farmland and pasture.

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