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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy

Phase the Second: Maiden No More, Chapters XII–XV

Chapters VIII–XI

Phase the Third: The Rally, Chapters XVI–XIX

Summary: Chapter XII

After a few weeks of confused dalliance with Alec, Tess realizes she feels no love for him, and decides to flee from the d’Urberville mansion to her home during the early morning hours. Alec discovers her on the road, questions her early departure, and tries to convince her to return with him. When she refuses, he offers to drive her the rest of the way home, but she refuses even this offer. Alec tells Tess to let him know should she ever need help.

Tess continues on her way home, randomly passing by a sign painter who is busy painting Bible passages onto random walls and gates throughout the countryside. He interrupts his conversation with Tess to paint a sign, which says “THY DAMNATION SLUMBERETH NOT.” These words resound in Tess’s mind, and she asks the painter if he believes the words he paints. He answers affirmatively. She tries to ask him for advice about her plight, but he tells her to go see a clergyman at a nearby church. She continues home, where her mother is surprised to see her. Her mother is frustrated with her for refusing to marry Alec, but she softens when Tess reminds her mother that she never warned Tess of the danger she faced.

Summary: Chapter XIII

Some of Tess’s friends come to visit, and in their high-spirited company Tess feels cheered. But in the morning she lapses back into her depression: to her, the future seems endless and bleak. She tries to attend church but hears the crowd whispering about her. Shaken, she falls into the habit of only going out after dark.

Summary: Chapter XIV

The following August, Tess decides the time has come to stop pitying herself, and she helps her village with the harvest. Her baby boy, conceived with Alec, falls ill, and Tess becomes worried that he will die without a proper christening. She decides to christen him herself and names him Sorrow. When he dies the following morning, Tess asks the parson if her christening was sufficient to earn her baby a Christian burial. Moved, the parson replies that though he cannot bury the child himself, Tess may do so. That night Tess lays Sorrow to rest in a corner of the churchyard, and makes a little cross for his grave.

Summary: Chapter XV

Tess realizes she can never be happy in Marlott and longs to begin a new life in a place where her past is unknown. The next year, the chance arises for Tess to become a milkmaid at the Talbothays Dairy. She seizes the opportunity, in part drawn by the fact that the dairy lies near the ancestral estate of the d’Urbervilles and spurred on by “the invincible instinct towards self-delight.”

Analysis: Chapters XII–XV

Phase the Second, subtitled “Maiden No More,” lays out the consequences of Tess’s fall in Phase the First. Tess flees Trantridge, pledging violence to Alec in an uncharacteristic manner, which proves that she does not remain complicit with fate and instead promises to be proactive in changing it. At home, she incurs her mother’s disappointment, fueling the need to fulfill her familial obligations. Later, she bears her doomed son Sorrow and buries him, against the precepts of the church and proper society. She is miserably unhappy throughout this period, but her unhappiness seems to stem at least as much from her fall from the grace of society and from her own troubled conscience as from her child’s birth and death, which are treated almost tangentially. Tess is sad when he dies, but she seems just as upset when villagers whisper about her in church—she even begins shunning daylight to avoid prying eyes. Tess’s early one-sidedness gives way to an identity crisis in which she is torn apart by her hatred of Alec, her guilt toward her family, her shame within society, and her disappointment in herself.

However we view Tess’s struggle with what has happened to her, we are likely to consider her an innocent victim and to be sufficiently impressed with her character that we react with outrage to her unhappy fate. As she asks her mother, “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?” Tess sees herself as a victim of her own ignorance. She can claim that she did not know the dangers a man such as Alec d’Urberville posed and that it is not fair that she is made to suffer for succumbing to an unknown danger. When Tess refuses to marry Alec despite the social advantage the match would give her, and refuses his offers of help because she does not sincerely love him, we see her as more than an unwitting victim: her integrity and courage make her heroic.

Phase the Second is primarily a transitional period, taking Tess from the scene of her disgrace to the promise of a new life at Talbothays. But it also begins to crystallize some important themes in the novel. We see in the previous section that Tess is fated to tragedy. In this section, we learn about the human instinct that leads Tess to oppose her fate, “the invincible instinct towards self-delight.” Tess’s healthy desire simply to be happy is perhaps the source of her great courage and moral strength. Additionally, the novel’s exploration of nobility, which begins with Mr. Durbeyfield’s discovery of his aristocratic heritage, is developed further here. In the previous section, the upper-class Alec trifles shamelessly with the lower-class Tess. With Tess’s moral integrity shown to its fullest extent, we begin to see Tess as truly noble through her goodness and her determination. Of course, the irony is that Tess is actually the real possessor of the d’Urberville name, while Alec is simply an imposter, the amoral son of a merchant and, hence, a commoner.

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