Summary and Analysis
Phase the First: The Maiden:
Joan Durbeyfield hatches the plan to send Tess off to wealthy relations to "claim kin." Tess wants no part of the plan, and John Durbeyfield also expresses his doubts about the plan. Feeling a sense of guilt about the death of the family horse, Prince, Tess agrees to visit the Stoke-d'Urbervilles.
Tess takes a van, or common carrier of the time, to visit. She notices that the home called The Slopes is not old and established as she had expected. Instead, the house is a recently built. Tess meets Alec d'Urberville, the young son of Mrs. d'Urberville. Alec is immediately taken by the young, beautiful maid, and he agrees to find a place for her at The Slopes.
A few days later, a new horse is sent to the Durbeyfields along with an invitation for Tess to assume a post as caretaker for a flock of Mrs. d'Urbervilles chickens. Tess' departure is a great sorrow for her family, but she agrees to go to Trantridge to help boost her family's fortunes. Upon her return to The Slopes, Alec takes Tess on a wild carriage ride in order to scare her and prove himself master over her. She does not give into his demands and walks the greater portion of the distance to her new home.
Joan Durbeyfield is the instigator of the plan to send her eldest daughter to another family. Joan takes advantage of Tess, because she is Tess' mother, and of her husband, John, because he is easily manipulated, a drunk and a fool. Joan, like a hopeless romantic, intends for Tess to be married into the d'Urberville clan. She shows her blissful ignorance when she hatches the plan to send Tess away: "[W]e must take the ups wi' the downs, Tess, and never could your high blood have been found out at a more called-for moment." Tess, however, wants no part of Joan Durbeyfield's plan saying, "I'd rather try to get work." However, she is convinced by Joan and by her guilt for the death of the family horse, Prince. After being talked into the proposition, Tess remarks, "Well, as I killed the horse, mother. I suppose I ought to do something." Thus Tess' fate is sealed.
What Tess and her family do not know is that the Stoke-d'Urbervilles are not relatives at all. Simon Stoke had made a small fortune as a merchant in North England and assumed the name d'Urberville and attached it to his own as a way to demonstrate his close relationship to the people of South England and to give the impression of an old, established aristocratic family. Eventually, the name Stoke was dropped, leaving only the name d'Urberville. Tess and her family never learn this fact, partially because they are rather uneducated and partially because they rely on what others tell them of their family history and do not research this history for themselves.
In Chapter 6, when Tess is nearing the end of a successful trip to the d'Urbervilles, Hardy notes, "Thus the thing began." It should be noted that Hardy gives subtle hints that a "play" has commenced. This technique dates back to the ancient Greek period when plays (or dramas) were written about the sport that the Greek gods took with mortal men. Sometimes it was said that the Greek gods enjoyed using mankind as toys or for sport. Hardy knows this and uses this device as a springboard for his own work, making Tess an unwitting — and unwilling — participant.
When Tess is called upon to return to The Slopes, she does so out of a sense of duty: "I hope it is a chance for earning money. It is no other kind of chance." Joan floats the possibility that Tess could take advantage of the situation and become a married, proper lady. Later Tess remarks, "Very well; I suppose you know best. Do what you like with me mother." Joan has set up her daughter much like the Greek gods of old set up the human players in their little "dramas." Later, when Tess leaves home to work at The Slopes, Joan insists that Tess spruce herself for the occasion. Joan has Tess put on her finest dress, ribbons in her hair and stockings. Here Hardy comments that Tess' mother is "developing [a] figure an amplitude which belied her age, and might cause her to be estimated as a woman when she was not much more than a child." Joan has indeed created an image of Tess as a woman-child. For Tess, this is a dangerous situation.
John Durbeyfield is oblivious to the situation into which his daughter has been sent. His redeeming quality is that he is reluctant to send Tess away; nevertheless, he later gives in. He objects several times to the proposal but warms to the idea once his wife applies her charms. He even agrees, in a rambling mumbled monologue that he will "sell him (Alec d'Urberville) the title — yes sell it — and at no onreasonable figure." John begins at £1,000 for the title and ends up at £20 for a title, the most money John had seen in a while. Because of his simplemindedness, his grand history can be bought for a very small sum of money and his daughter given away for a song. When Tess is about to leave, John asks Joan "What's her trump card? Her d'Urberville blood, you mean?" Joan answers rather sarcastically, "No, stupid; her face — as @'twas mine."
This comparison is telling: Joan Durbeyfield's "trump card" had been her face — that is, her beauty — but it did not stand her in good stead. Instead of winning (as a trump card implies) a respectable, responsible husband or having a life that beautiful people may seem to be heir to, she is instead married to a drunk who, despite his good intentions, cannot provide for his family, and she lives a life of hardship and uncertainty. Nevertheless, in her naivete (or some might argue her mercenary machinations), she believes that Tess' beauty will win them all a measure of security and happiness — if Tess marries, as her mother wants her to, into a family of wealth and position, a marriage that can only happen, Joan thinks, by Tess' association with the d'Urbervilles. This link between the mother's fortunes and Tess' foreshadows later events. Unfortunately, for Tess, the outcome will be even more dire.
We clearly recognize the dangerous position Tess is in when she encounters someone like Alec d'Urberville, a man who will take full advantage of his position as the son of a wealthy family and his position of authority in the d'Urberville household to put Tess into a compromising position. Her beauty attracts him, but in her innocence and naivete, she cannot see the danger clearly or combat Alec successfully.
Tess does her best to fight Alec's unwelcome advances, but he thinks she is headstrong and a force to be reckoned with. Even though Tess spurns his advances, Alec is determined to have her or have his way with her on his own terms, "Let me put one little kiss on those holmberry lips, Tess, or even on that warmed cheek, and I'll stop — on my honour, I will!" Tess' desires are to be ignored. Alec is "god-like" in how he wields his power over the servants in his home. To Alec, Tess is another conquest to be mastered, like an unbroken horse.
Hardy uses third person narrative throughout the novel. This narrative point of view allows the writer to inject his thoughts into the narrative or to provide editorial comment on the evolution of the plot, scene, or character. Third person narrative is a common technique used by authors when they want to communicate personally with the reader. In this section, for example, Hardy uses it as he discusses Tess' mother, Joan, and her simplemindedness: "Being mentally older than her mother [Tess] did not regard Mrs. Durbeyfield's matrimonial hopes for her in a serious aspect for a moment. The light-minded woman had been discovering good matches for her daughter almost from the year of her birth." This wry comment does two things. First it speaks to the universal (and stereotypical) hope of mothers — that their daughters make good matches (that is, find suitable husbands). Second, it highlights the irony of Joan's plans for Tess: Her desire for Tess to make a good match leads to Tess' ruin.
penury lack of money, property, or necessities; extreme poverty; destitution.
quagmire a difficult or inextricable position; here, referring to the difficulties caused by the loss of Prince, the Durbeyfield horse.
deferential very respectful.
van common carrier, usually a cart pulled by horses, which travels from town to town.
Malthusian of Malthus and his theory that the world population tends to increase faster than the food supply with inevitable disastrous results unless natural restrictions, such as war, famine, and disease, reduce the population or the increase is checked by moral restraint.
Druidical mistletoe to the Druids, mistletoe was sacred.
pollarded for bows had their boughs severed to make bows.
Chapels-of-Ease chapels for parishioners who lived far from the church.
crumby an attractive girl.
mistarshers (dialect) mustache.
dand (dialect) a bit more.
dolorifuge (archaic usage) painful, full or sorrow.
Holmberry a holly bush.