Summary and Analysis
Phase the Seventh: Fulfilment: Chapters 57-59
Angel hears from his parents via telegram that his brother Cuthbert is engaged to Mercy Chant. He leaves his hotel to go to the train station for a return trip home.
At the station, Tess finds him and confesses to murdering Alec. Immediately, Angel formulates a plan to walk to the north of England, avoiding the more traveled roads, until they can reach a port city after the events surrounding the murder are forgotten. The two walk for miles, finally happy to be in each other's company. Along the way, they discover a vacant house, with only a caretaker occasionally stopping by. The great house, called Bramshurst Court, is empty of a renter, so the couple takes up residence. They spend five days in the house until the local caretaker sees them sleeping in the large bedrooms.
Once discovered, Angel and Tess move directly north until they reach the ancient monoliths of Stonehenge. Tess feels that her freedom is limited and her end is near, so she has Angel promise to marry Liza Lu after her death. Now that it is night and the two are tired, Tess sleeps on one of the "altars" of stone. Near daybreak, the two are surrounded by police who take Tess into custody. For her part, Tess is glad that the end has come, and she goes with the police willingly.
In the final chapter, Angel and Liza Lu journey together to Wintoncester to see that Tess' sentence, death by hanging, is carried out. They do not actually witness the deed, but know the enterprise is done when a black flag is hoisted over the town's tower. The two then return the way they came, "As soon as they arose, joined hands again, and went on."
Hardy has brought the story full circle. Four years have passed since the day in May, in the beginning of the novel, when Tess and Angel met. At the story's end it is May again.
Angel is in the process of leaving Sandbourne when he receives news that his brother, Cuthbert, has become engaged to Mercy Chant. As he is leaving town awaiting the next train, Tess appears with the tale that she had killed Alec. Angel is unsure about her story, but now that she is finally his, he takes no chances of her being discovered. One of their stops takes them to a vacant house, called Bramshurst Court. Their week together is uneventful in that Tess and Angel finally become a married couple. She seems to know that her time with Angel is limited, because she will soon be wanted for Alec's murder; "My life can only be a question of a few weeks," she says. Her last wishes are for Angel to marry her sister, Liza Lu for "'She had all the best of me without the bad of me." In Chapter 59, when Angel and Liza Lu join hands after Tess' execution, we understand that Angel will fulfill this request.
The chase from Sandbourne ends at the historic site of Stonehenge, a collection of giant stones arranged in a circular form, dating from 2,800 to 1,500 B.C. The purposes for the monuments were to serve as an astrological calendar and a ceremonial place for religious or tribal worship. Because the original purposes of the ancient monuments have been shrouded in mystery, especially in Hardy's time, experts could only speculate as to the purpose of the megaliths. Tess and Angel stop in Stonehenge after they have traveled a long way and need rest. The stones are still warm from the sun, radiating heat all during the cool night. Tess realizes that her mother's family is from the area, "One of my mother's people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home." Angel recognizes that Tess is "lying on an altar" — like a sacrifice to the ancient pagans who used to practice there. In a modern sense, Tess is sacrificed to the laws and morals of the nineteenth century.
Hardy ends Tess' tale with the words "'Justice' was done, and the President of the Immortals, in the Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess." A bit of background is needed to understand this phrase. First, Aeschylus was an ancient Greek playwright who lived from 525-546 b.c. Aeschylus wrote plays that centered on individual will and the influence of divine power over mortals. In his play called Prometheus Bound, Prometheus is chained to a rock, and an eagle comes to devour his liver every day; each night, Prometheus' liver grows back. Hercules destroys the eagle and sets Prometheus free.
Tess is like Prometheus in that she seems to have been a "toy" of the gods of morality and religion in Victorian England, and she had to be sacrificed for the good of mankind. All of Tess' life is the result of either an accident, fate, or the intervention of the gods. In fact, some critics feel that the circumstances leading to Tess' tragic life and death are too contrived, are unrealistic, and unbelievable. Whether realistic or not, Fate has intervened in Tess' world and shaped the course of her life.
"her Antinous . . . " a favorite of the Roman Emperor Hadrian; like Apollo, the Greek god of sun and of music, Antinous was a figure of male beauty.
Atalanta's race Atalanta was a Grecian huntress who refused to marry any suitor who could not outrun her; the penalty for those who lost was death.
deprecated expressed disapproval of; depreciated; belittled.
antiquity the quality of being ancient or old.
"Temple of the Winds" also known as the "tower of the winds," a temple in Athens used for telling time.
Trilithon a monument consisting of two upright megaliths with a third stone serving as the lintel.
taciturnity the condition of being silent or uncommunicative.
integument a natural outer covering of the body or of a plant, including skin, shell, hide, husk, or rind.
"Giotto's 'Two Apostles'" Hardy probably had in mind the fresco in the National Gallery in London that is now attributed to Spinello Aretino (active 1371-1410).
wicket a small door or gate, esp. one set in or near a larger door or gate.
Aeschylean phrase "President of the Immortals" translates a phrase from Prometheus Bound (1.169), by Aeschylus; Hardy finishes the novel by suggesting that the highest power in the universe uses human beings for "sport."