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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy

Chapters XLIX–LII

Phase the Sixth: The Convert, Chapters XLV–XLVIII

Phase the Seventh: The Fulfillment, Chapters LIII–LIX

Summary: Chapter XLIX

Tess’s letter goes to Angel’s parents, who forward it to Angel in Brazil. Mrs. Clare reproaches her husband for keeping Angel from attending Cambridge, whereas Reverend Clare feels justified in his decision but regrets the misery his son has endured. For his part, Angel is ready to abandon his idea of farming in Brazil. The suffering he has endured there has softened his feelings toward Tess, and when a more experienced man tells him he was wrong to leave her, Angel feels a powerful regret. When the man dies a few days later, his words assume even more power in Angel’s mind. Back at the farm, Tess encounters her sister, Liza-Lu, who comes with sorrowful news: Tess’s mother is dying, and her father is also very ill and can do no work. Tess tells Izz and Marian what has happened and leaves for home the next morning.

Summary: Chapter L

Upon her arrival, Tess does what she can to make her mother comfortable and then begins working in the garden and on the family’s land. One night, she looks over and sees Alec working next to her. He again offers to help Tess and her family. She is sorely tempted but declines again. Enraged, Alec leaves.

On the way home, Tess’s sister tells her that their father has died, which means that Tess’s family will lose their house. John Durbeyfield was the last person guaranteed a place in the terms of the lease, and the tenant farmer who owns the house wants to use it for his own workers.

Summary: Chapter LI

Tess prepares to move her family to a set of rooms in Kingsbere. Alec arrives and tells Tess the legend of the ghostly d’Urberville Coach—the message of which is that the sound of an invisible coach is a bad omen. Alec tries to persuade Tess to move her family to his family’s garden home, allow him to send her brothers and sisters to school, and have Tess’s mother tend the fowls. Tess is again sorely tempted, but she once more declines Alec’s offer, and he rides away. As he leaves, Tess admits to herself that Angel has treated her badly, and she writes him a letter saying she will do all she can to forget him, since she will never be able to forgive him. Joan asks what Alec said to her, but Tess refuses to divulge the story, saying she will tell her mother when they are in their rooms at Kingsbere.

Summary: Chapter LII

“The little finger of the sham d’Urberville can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath. . . . Now command me. What shall I do?”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

The next day, Tess and her family begin their journey. On the way, they meet Marian and Izz, who are moving on to new work at a new farm. When they reach Kingsbere, they learn that Joan’s letter was late, and the rooms have already been rented. They cannot find more lodging and end up sleeping in the churchyard, in a plot called d’Urberville Aisle. Tess finds Alec lying on a tomb, and he tells her he can do more for her than all her noble ancestors. Tess tells him to leave, and angrily he does, promising that Tess will learn to be civil. Tess leans down toward the funeral vault and asks why she is still alive. Marian and Izz do their part for their friend by writing a note to Angel asking him to go back to Tess.

Analysis

Phase the Sixth tells the story of Tess’s struggle to remain free from Alec despite her family’s increasingly desperate plight, which Alec has the power to alleviate if Tess agrees to love him. Though Alec overtly plays the part of a villain in this section, the real conflict is within Tess, as two of her deepest virtues, her integrity and her loyalty to her family, prompt her in opposite directions. Her integrity demands that she stay away from Alec, whom she does not love, but her duty to her family tempts her to go with him to save her mother and her siblings. Integrity wins out throughout the section, but we get the sense that it is only a matter of time before Tess is forced to submit. As a result, the story in this section and part of the next is propelled along by a kind of race: Angel needs to forgive Tess and return to her before she surrenders to Alec.

In fact, Angel is in the process of changing as a result of his bad experiences in Brazil. He begins to alter his attitude toward Tess, slowly realizing that his way of thinking has been faulty. He undergoes an emotional and moral conversion that is much more real than Alec’s religious conversion a few chapters back. Angel is finally shedding his immaturity and growing to love Tess as a responsible adult. But the distance between Angel and Tess is still great, both physically and emotionally. Ironically, the distance may have led them closer together, as their loneliness and separation have shown Angel how much Tess means to him. Notably, Angel’s transformation comes when he is at a great distance from English society and its prevailing sentiments. Even though he remains the die-hard progressive of the Clares, the pressure of conforming to English propriety coupled with his troubled view of his marriage stifles Angel’s growth while in England.

As Alec’s courtship of Tess increases in intensity, so too does the string of misfortunes that plague Tess and her family. With her options narrowing, Tess becomes more desperate in her desire to reconcile with Angel: “Come to me!” she pleads, “Come to me and save me from what threatens me!” Throughout, Alec is portrayed as a sinister and threatening figure even when supposedly in the grip of religious conflict—at one point, the narrator notes that his face blackens “with something that was not Christianity.” Even when he appears most in love with Tess, he still seems the same old Alec, thinly disguised, hoping to seduce Tess by doing a good turn for her.

The supernatural, Gothic atmosphere of the old d’Urberville mansion reappears here at the d’Urberville Aisle in the churchyard. Here, Tess, a real d’Urberville, and Alec, an imposter, have one of their most solemn moments, as Alec asserts that he can do more for Tess than all her lofty dead ancestors. Tess begins to realize the futility of claiming such an aristocratic legacy, since her ancestors truly cannot help her at all. She begins to realize that Alec may be her only hope. In the yard, Alec’s legend of the d’Urberville Coach evokes the Gothic or supernatural yet again, providing an ill omen that foreshadows the deadly conclusion of their story.

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