Summary and Analysis
Phase the Sixth: The Convert: Chapters 45-49
Tess is disturbed greatly by Alec d'Urberville's appearance once again, now as an evangelic minister. He has taken on the appearance of a common person, not like his appearance earlier as man of wealth. Alec stops his sermon when he sees Tess. He tells Tess of his conversion and his mother's recent death. He apologizes for his past once he learns what happened to Tess after she left Trantridge, and he makes Tess swear never to tempt him again.
Alec finds Tess working in the field at Flintcomb-Ash the next morning and asks her to marry him. She refuses. He tells her that she is a deserted wife and that her husband will not return. Alec leaves her and returns the same afternoon to ask her to leave with him again. She does not, and he blames her for his regression to his former self.
In a later visit, Alec repeats his pleas for Tess' hand and she slaps his with a heavy work glove. He returns that same afternoon and offers to take Tess away from the hard labor on the farm. He also offers to help her family, which is Tess' one weak spot.
Tess leaves Alec to begin an impassioned letter to Angel to urge him to come to her at once. The letter reaches the Clares in Emminster who forward it to Angel. Angel has had his share of misfortune as well, becoming ill in the wild of Brazil and having buried a fellow farmer who had died from disease. He feels remorse for his treatment of Tess, now having a change of heart from his previous position.
When Tess nears the end of her time at Flintcomb-Ash, her sister, Liza Lu arrives to tell her that both of her parents are ill and that Tess must come home. Tess immediately leaves for Marlott that evening.
Alec begins his conversion from a fervent minister to his old self when he sees Tess. He blames her for his "backsliding" and proposes that she leave the farm at Flintcomb to marry him. She rebuffs him several times but is worn down by his persistence. Her weak point is his mentioning that he could provide for her family if she would be his live-in love. Alec says "I have enough and more than enough to put you out of anxiety, both for yourself and your parents and sisters." Tess objects vehemently saying, "'If you want to help them — God knows they need it — do it without telling me." Tess' doubts as to Alec's sincerity about being a minister are confirmed when he renounces his calling to pursue Tess once again. Thus, Hardy demonstrates the shallowness of recent converts when compared to the simple beliefs of a simple country girl.
In a turn of curious events, when Alec first sees Tess, they both walk and converse until they come to a roadside marker called "Cross-in Hand." Alec assumes that the marker denotes a former boundary or meeting place. Tess later learns that the marker is not a "Holy Cross," but a symbol of man who had sold his soul to Satan — "It was put up in wuld times by relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times."
That Hardy would include such a marker and tale indicates that he wants readers to gain some understanding from it. And so a careful reader must wonder at its significance. Thus the cross becomes not a religious symbol, but a perverse reminder of a man (Alec) and the promise he exacted from Tess not to tempt him anymore — "put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me — by your charms or ways." But, in fact, he cannot resist her.
mien a way of carrying and conducting oneself; manner.
dandyism the condition of being or qualities of a dandy, a man who pays too much attention to his clothes and appearance.
bizarrerie something strange, weird, singular, odd (French).
lineaments the features of the body, usually of the face, esp. with regard to their outlines.
Cyprian image the goddess of love in an ancient world, Venus and Aphrodite, was associated with Cyprus, but the legend mentioned has not been convincingly identified.
"the wrath to come" an echo of Matthew 3:7.
Petite mort shudder or chill; a premonition of death; a "little death" (French).
"The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife . . . " in 1 Corinthians, 7:13-14, Paul advises wives not to leave husbands who lack belief.
"Sermon on the Mount" from Matthew 5-7.
"from the Dictionnaire Philosophique to Huxley's Essays" The Dictionnaire is a collection of essays published in the eighteenth century by Voltaire, who was antagonistic to Christianity; Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), a respected scientist and supporter of Darwinian theory, published many essays, including Essays on Some Controverted Questions (1892).
"I worshipped on the mountains . . . " from 2 Kings 17-23.
"servants of corruption" from 2 Peter 2:19-20.
"witch of Babylon" from Revelation 17, there are references to the Whore of Babylon.
Primum mobile the outermost sphere of the world in Ptolemaic cosmography, which caused the movement of the heavens (Latin).
pellucid transparent or translucent; clear; easy to understand.
Tophet a place mentioned in the Bible where children were burned; it became identified in Judaism with an underworld where wickedness was punished after death; a synonym for hell that came into Middle English from Hebrew.
"Plutonic master" Pluto, or Hades, god of the underworld, had the power to condemn people to hell.
autochthonous characteristic of any of the earliest known inhabitants of a place.
Stodded waggon (dialect) a wagon that is stuck.
"the seven thunders" from Revelation 10:3-4.
Hagrode (dialect) ridden by witches, troubled by nightmares.
Weltlust desire for worldly things and pleasures (German).
Hymenaeus and Alexander in this sentence Alec is echoing Paul in 1 Timothy 1:18-20, where he mentions these figures as examples of those who have lost faith.
perdition the loss of the soul; damnation; hell.
expostulate to reason with a person earnestly, objecting to that person's actions or intentions; remonstrate (with).
Bachelor-apostle St. Paul; Alec is echoing Luke 9:62.
"And she shall follow after her lover . . . " from Hosea 2:7.
nammet-time (dialect) time for a snack at mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
Faeces feces, excrement.
cadaverous of or like a cadaver; esp., pale, ghastly, or gaunt and haggard.
"grapes of Ephraim" from Judges 8:1-3.