Summary and Analysis Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays: Chapters 35-38



Angel cannot forgive Tess for her past: "O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another." Tess is dumbfounded by Angel's reaction and seeks to have him understand her plight. He cannot see her past as she sees it. Tess suggests that they will no longer be able to live together and that she could end his suffering through divorce or her own suicide. Angel rejects both propositions. He adds injury to insult saying, "Decrepit families imply decrepit wills, decrepit conduct." Tess is nearly speechless. Instead of remaining with his wife on their honeymoon night, Angel sleeps on the couch downstairs.

The next morning, Angel is the first to speak, suggesting a reconciliation, but it is a false hope. The couple, sure of marital bliss, now must decide what is to happen next. Tess tries to make her point clear, to bring Angel around to her viewpoint. She accepts her punishment, "she took everything as her deserts." She asks Angel, "You are not going to live with me — long, are you, Angel?" He responds, "I cannot." Finally, Angel suggests that Tess go home to her family in Marlott. She agrees.

During the night, Angel, in a deep sleep-walking state, comes to Tess' room and carries her out into the night. He mumbles that his wife is "Dead, dead, dead!" Tess does not dare disturb this sleep episode. Angel seems to be recalling the incident in which he carried the milkmaids at Talbothays (in Chapter 23), taking Tess over a river and into a small ruined chapel, where he lays her in an empty stone coffin. He lies down beside her, continuing to sleep. Tess rouses him carefully and leads him back to the couch in their house.

The next morning, Tess does not tell Angel of the evening's events as he begins to pack their belongings for their trip to Talbothays and, from there, to Marlott, Tess' home. At Talbothays, the couple do not disclose their discord.

Angel gives Tess a good sum of money before he leaves her and tells her to write to him via his parents if she needs anything. Then he leaves Tess near the entrance to her hometown. Tess enters the town through a back route, going unnoticed into her family's home. When Tess tells her mother of her plight, the two cry over the events. Joan suggests that Tess hide in the house when her father returns so that Joan can prepare John for the shock of a marriage begun and ended in three days. John is indeed astonished, and Tess resolves to remain only a few days at home. During the short period that she is home, Tess receives a letter from Angel telling her he is in the north of England searching for a farm. Tess gives her mother half her money from Angel and leaves home.


Angel is surprised by Tess' revelation. Although Tess had tried several times to recount her sad history, Angel ignored her pleas. Yet, upon hearing her story, he cannot forgive her. The reasons for Angel's intractability are not clear. The best reason that he gives is that one day their children will find out and Tess will have to tell them about the rape and birth of another baby. Perhaps the most telling line from Angel is "O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another." In truth, however, it is not Tess who has changed, but Angel's perception of her. He cannot reconcile in his own mind how a woman who experienced what she has experienced can be the same woman he fell in love with. Hardy tells us that "[w]ithin the remote depths of his constitution, so gentle and affectionate, there lay hidden a hard logical deposit . . . which turned the edge of everything that attempted to traverse it . . . and with regarding to the other sex, when he ceased to believe he ceased to follow" and that he "looked upon [Tess] as a species of imposter; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one."

During the disclosure of their pasts on their wedding night, it seems clear that each history is equal in scope and severity. Why the disparate punishments? Hardy seems to answer that, even though the crimes are equal, the punishments are often not equal. Angel can escape with little punishment while Tess must be made to suffer a long period of intense suffering. Here, Hardy shows the difference in society's moral code for men and women. Although Angel's past transgressions can be forgiven, Tess', because she is a woman, cannot. And so Tess must bear not only the punishment, but the nagging concern that her sentence is too harsh.


Good-hussif (dialect) good housewife.

dimity a thin, corded or patterned cotton cloth.

Apostolic Charity Charity as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

propinquity nearness in time or place.

M. Sully-Prudhomme French poet and essayist (1839 — 1907).

fiat an order issued by legal authority, usually beginning with fiat (let it be done); decree.

Vulpine slyness of or like a fox or foxes; clever, cunning.

proclivity a natural or habitual tendency or inclination, esp. toward something discreditable.

somnambulistic getting up and moving about in a trance-like state while asleep.

beatific making blissful or blessed.

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