Summary and Analysis
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays: Chapters 39-41
Angel returns home to his parents in Emminster. He brings up the possibility of going to Brazil to be a farmer with his family. Naturally, they are taken aback at his suggestion of so sudden a move, far away to another land. Angel's idea is to work for a year in Brazil and to bring Tess later when he is established. His parents ask about her character and physical attributes, which Angel says are the best.
Angel meets his former intended bride, Mercy Chant, on his way home. They discuss his upcoming journey to Brazil where he says to her "I think I am going crazy." Angel puts away the jewelry and money for Tess with a local banker and meets Izz Huett on his way back to his house. He asks Izz if she will join him for the trip to Brazil and she agrees. He realizes his impetuous actions and reconsiders asking Izz to leave with him. Five days later, Angel leaves for Brazil.
Eight months pass, and Tess is in dire straits with little income and irregular work. She gives half of her money to fix the roof on her family's home at Marlott and uses the rest for food and clothing. She is down to her last pennies when she remembers a letter from Marian and prospects for a job as a field woman, grueling work at best. Tess' journey takes her from Marlott to Flintcomb-Ash, not far from her home. On the way, because she hasn't even enough money for lodgings, she sleeps in a forest, where she encounters wounded pheasants shot by hunters who have lost track of the injured creatures. To put them out of their misery, Tess kills the suffering birds.
Angel makes a hasty decision to try farming in Brazil. He pitches the idea to his parents who are surprised at his sudden decision. They also are curious as to the whereabouts of Tess, his new bride. At the nightly reading of the Bible, Angel hears a reading from Proverbs 31:10 on the attributes of a virtuous woman. When he hears these words, Angel cries bitterly. His parents are quite concerned, and Angel tells some of what has happened to Tess, but not all, and when his mother questions Tess' virtue — "is she a woman whose history will bear investigation?" — Angel replies "She is spotless!" and then feels anger toward Tess for putting him in a situation where he must deceive his parents. The irony is clear. Tess is a virtuous woman; the problem rests with Angel — "there hung a deeper shade than the shade which Angel Clare perceived, namely, the shade of his own limitation."
The Clares are sure Angel can cure any defects in Tess, "Any crudeness of manner which may offend your more educated sense at first, will, I am sure, disappear under the influence or your companionship and tuition." However, it is Angel's own lack of flexibility that hinders him, thus making him intractable to Tess' plight. Angel's limitations cast a cloud over his tutelage of Tess. He is stubborn in his belief that a blemish on Tess' reputation ruins her whole being — "In considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, and forgot that the defective can be more than the entire."
Angel's exchanges with Mercy and Izz further demonstrate the alteration in his character, revealing a man in a state of flux and anticipating a major change for him. He chides himself for not seeing what Tess tried to make obvious to him earlier, "O Tess! If you had only told me sooner, I would have forgiven you!" We must wonder if Angel had paid attention when the signs were posted for him. However, Izz is an honest woman, even when she volunteers to accompany him to Brazil, without too many questions. He later withdraws the offer, abashed at his rashness after Izz announces that Tess loved him best at Talbothays — " . . . nobody could love @'ee more than Tess did! . . . She would have laid down her life for @'ee. I could do no more.'" Angel even reconsiders his decision to go to Brazil, but fate and his conscious steer him on his present course.
In Chapter 41, Tess encounters the injured pheasants. While traveling to Flintcomb-Ash, she finds refuge in a wood. Upon waking the following morning, Tess discovers several wounded pheasants who were shot but not captured. She does her best to end the birds' suffering, "[breaking] the necks of as many as she could find" with "tears running down as she killed the birds tenderly." This scene is thematically significant.
First, it reveals more of Tess' character. She exhibits compassion for the bird's injuries and benevolence for their plight. Even in her own suffering, Tess is still aware of the suffering of others. Killing the birds is a kindness. In fact, in comparing her plight to theirs, Tess feels contrite: — "Poor darlings — to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o' such misery as yours!" She is not bodily injured, only injured in her soul; the birds are near death, which she is not. "She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society that had no foundation in Nature." Hardy's point is that the "arbitrary law" — the one that has condemned Tess — has overcome nature. Tess' fate twists upon the capricious rules that man has created, with no apparent regard for natural law.
Second, this scene foreshadows the tale's end. Tess and the birds are the same: Both have been hunted, both wounded, both driven to seek a safe place, and both left, injured, to their own resources. The difference is that Tess ends the birds suffering; no one ends Tess'. In a way, this scene represents what has happened to Tess thus far in the story and foreshadows her death at the end.
Wiertz Museum museum in Brussels containing the macabre works of the Flemish painter Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865).
Van Beers Jan Van Beers (1852-1927), Flemish painter frequently compared to Wiertz.
desultory passing from one thing to another in an aimless way; disconnected; not methodical.
Pagan Moralist Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180 A.D.), Roman emperor and stoic philosopher.
Nazarene Jesus, from John 14:27.
"a good thing could come out of Nazareth" John 1:46.
"the world, the flesh, nor the devil" traditional temptations to sin mentioned in The Book of Common Prayer.
parlous perilous; dangerous; risky.
reconnoitre to make a reconnaissance; alternate spelling of reconnoiter.
"prophet on the top of Peor" Balaam, who refused to curse the Israelites, Numbers 23-24.
supernumerary that exceeds or is beyond the regular or prescribed number; extra.
éclat brilliant or conspicuous success; dazzling display.
fancy-man .a man supported by a woman; esp., a pimp; here, a sweetheart (slang).
exaction an excessive demand; extortion; an exacted fee, tax.