Summary and Analysis
Phase the Second: Maiden No More: Chapters 12-15
In October, four months after her arrival in Trantridge, Tess leaves the d'Urberville estate to return home. Alec pursues her, offers her a ride home, and she accepts. He admits to his mistake and begs Tess' forgiveness, but to no avail. She leaves Alec in the road near her home, walking the remainder of the way. Along the way, she encounters a sign painter whose signs preach against vice and sin.
Tess' mother is the first to encounter Tess when she enters the family home, and the two talk about Tess' experiences. Here, Tess asks her mother, "Why didn't you tell me there was danger in men-folk?" Joan still believes that her daughter might have a chance to marry Alec d'Urberville and become a real lady, but she is too simple or ignorant to understand Tess' dilemma. Joan's response is to, "make the best of it, I suppose. @'Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!"
Tess has visits from her village friends, but these visits are not enough to erase her impending depression. Even church affords no comfort to her as the churchgoers whisper and gossip about her. After suffering the fall and winter at home, Tess is next seen the following August working as a field laborer harvesting corn. We see for the first time that Tess has a baby and stops to breastfeed him during the lunch break the harvesting crew takes.
Later that night, the infant falls ill. All sense that the child will die sometime in the next few days. Tess, realizing that her baby has not been baptized, gathers her siblings and baptizes the infant herself. During the ceremony, we learn that the child's name is "Sorrow" after the phrase in Genesis 3:16, "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." Sorrow is buried in a nearly forgotten part of the church graveyard, where the "unbaptized infants, notorious drunkards, suicides, and others of the conjecturally damned are laid."
The fall turns to winter and winter turns to spring. In May, Tess, now 20, sets out again, on her second excursion, to find work in a nearby town, at Talbothays Dairy. She wants solitude and time away from home where "she might be happy in some nook which had no memories." Her journey takes her to a beautiful valley called Blackmoor on the river Froom/Frome where a new phase of her life begins.
Religion is a major theme in much of Hardy's writings. He is critical of the shallowness that man uses to perpetuate social norms or justify poor treatment of his fellow man. When Tess encounters the artisan, or sign painter, the conversation that ensues is telling of Hardy's views on man and religion. The artisan paints small signs of biblical verses to remind readers of the presence of organized religion. Hardy says, "Some people might have cried 'Alas, poor Theology!' at the hideous defacement — the last grotesque phase of a creed which had served mankind well in its time." Tess questions the painter further by asking, "[S]uppose your sin was not of your own seeking?" The artisan, who has no real answer — Hardy's suggestion that modern religion doesn't have any real answers — says, "I cannot split hairs on that burning query."
Tess' reception in church offers Hardy another opportunity to voice his criticisms of modern religion. The church is supposed to be a comfort and to forgive Tess' sins, but the churchgoers, who whisper and gossip behind Tess' back, are not forgiving in their judgment of her. In addition, Tess must baptize Sorrow herself because her father will not allow the local parson into the house, afraid that he will find out the family's secrets. Still, it seems to be the hypocrisy of religious fervor and expression that incites Hardy's ire. The scene in which Tess baptizes her dying child is, arguably, the most beautiful and poignant in the novel.
Tess becomes more than a mere woman/child in the key scene of Sorrow's baptism in Chapter 14. Hardy elevates Tess to heroine status as she takes the baptism of Sorrow into her own hands. She becomes "a divine personage with whom they [her siblings] had nothing in common." The scene begins when Tess realizes her infant's death is imminent: "Her darling was about to die, and no salvation." Being a resourceful young lady, Tess has a revelation — she will perform the baptism herself — and gathers her brothers and sisters to begin the ceremony, based upon what she remembers from baptisms she witnessed while attending church, "Tess then stood erect with the infant on her arm beside the basin, the next sister held the Prayer-Book open before her, as the clerk at church held it before the parson; and thus the girl set about baptizing her child."
Hardy describes Tess as a "child's child" who barely had the title of "mother." Yet in the ritual, Tess becomes more than either mother, woman, or child. She becomes, in effect, a divine person, "her high enthusiasm having a transfiguring effect upon the face which had been her undoing, showing it as a thing of immaculate beauty, with a touch of dignity which was almost regal."
Tess performs the baptism: "The ecstasy of faith almost apotheosized her; it set upon her face a glowing irradiation, and brought a red spot into the middle of each cheek; while the miniature candle-flame inverted in her eye pupils shone like a diamond." The effect of this change strikes awe in Tess' siblings whom she has summoned to witness the baptism. "The children gazed up at her with more and more reverence, and no longer had a will for questioning. She did not look like Sissy to them now, but as a being large, towering and awful." In this passage, Hardy does two things: First he avers the worth of the sincere application of faith. Second, he elevates Tess to a higher status, and in so doing, emphasizes her goodness and reveals her inner strength and independence. She may be a woman plagued by fate and unhappy circumstance, but she is a heroic character.
Hardy uses this scene to comment on the application of sincere expressions of faith (Tess') and the application of faith as it is transmuted through the principles of social convention. Remember, social convention enabled Alec to rape Tess without consequence to himself. Social convention also shades what is and isn't permissible expressions of faith. Tess, for example, asks the parson to admit that Tess' baptism of the infant is the same as if the parson himself had conducted the ceremony. In answering, "[t]he man and the ecclesiastic fought within him, and the victory fell to the man," and thus he tells Tess that it was. Relieved, Tess then asks for confirmation that Sorrow can then receive a proper Christian burial. At this point, the parson hesitates.
Tess presses her point, further challenging him on church doctrine that the unbaptized are not accorded a proper Christian burial, and he objects based on church doctrine, "I would willingly do so if only we two are concerned. But I must not — for certain reasons." Hardy is showing us the heavy handedness of the church, not found in any biblical text, on the burial of the dead. Tess finally tells him, "Then I don't like you . . . and I'll never come to your church again." The parson has no answer and gives in to Tess' demands.
Marble term a post that marks the boundary, often in the shape of a pillar topped with a head and torso.
teave (dialect) work or struggle.
"Clogged like a dripping pan" reference to a pan, used for roasting, in which the drippings of fat have been allowed to congeal.
"dust to ashes" from Job 42:6.
Hontish (dialect) haughty.
Robert South English divine and minister (1634-1716).
"old double chant 'Langdon'" a chant in the Anglican Church double the normal length, in this case named after the English composer, Robert Langdon (1730-1803).
Heliolatries religions in which the sun is worshipped.
"a stranger in a strange land" in Exodus 2:22, Moses in Egypt refers to himself as a stranger in a strange land.
quadrille a square dance of French origin, consisting of several figures, performed by four couples.
"Tuscan saint" a reference to the images typical of Florentine art during the Renaissance.
Aholah and Aholibah two sisters who were prostitutes: Ezekiel predicts that not only they but their children will be punished (Ezekiel 23).
Stopt-diapason note suggests Tess' voice, which, like an organ with stops, or tuned sets of pipes, is characterized by a full range of harmonious sound.
"sin, the world and the devil" a reference to "the world, the flesh, and the devil," traditional temptations to sin mentioned in The Book of Common Prayer (Anglican Church).
Gnomic texts gnomic means wise and pithy; full of aphorisms; here, a reference to texts that express general truths in a wise manner.
"Jeremy Taylor's thought" reference to The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying (1651) by Jeremy Taylor, a seventeenth-century Anglican divine.
Babylon ancient city noted for wealth, luxury, and wickedness.
stile a vertical piece in a panel or frame, as of a door or window.
texes (dialect) texts.
Conjecturally being inferred, theorized, or predicted from incomplete or uncertain evidence.
Deal box a fir or pine board of any of several sizes; fir or pinewood.