Angel feels that he needs time to understand the nature of his relationship with Tess, so he decides to spend a few days away from the dairy visiting his family. At his father’s house in Emminster, he finds his parents breakfasting with his brothers: the Reverend Felix, a town curate, and the Reverend Cuthbert, a college dean at Cambridge. Angel’s family notices that his manners have worsened somewhat during his time with common farm folk, while Angel thinks that his brothers have become mentally limited and bogged down by their comfortable situations.
After prayers that evening, Angel and his father discuss Angel’s marriage prospects. The Clares hope Angel will marry Mercy Chant, a pious neighbor girl, and they admonish their son about the importance of Christian piety in a wife. Angel contends that a wife who understands farm life would also be an asset, and he tells them about Tess, emphasizing her religious sincerity. The family agrees to meet her. Angel’s father also tells Angel that he has saved the money he would have needed for his college education, and, since Angel did not go to college, he is willing to give it to Angel to buy land. Before Angel leaves, his father tells him about his efforts to convert the local populace, and mentions his failed efforts to tame a young miscreant named Alec d’Urberville. Angel’s dislike for old families increases.
Angel returns to the dairy, where he finds Tess just awakening from her afternoon nap. He takes her in his arms and asks her to marry him. Tess replies that she loves him but that she cannot marry. Angel replies that he will give her time to think it over, but she replies again that the marriage is impossible. Nevertheless, in the coming days Angel continues to try to persuade her, and Tess quickly realizes that she loves him too strongly to keep up her refusal.
In the early fall, Angel again asks Tess to marry him. Tess hesitates, saying that one of the other girls might make a better wife than she. Tess still feels that she cannot marry Angel because of the implications of her past indiscretions. But Angel still believes that Tess is objecting only because of her low social status, and he thinks that she will accept soon enough. Tess believes that she must tell Angel about her lineage and her dark past, but hesitates and resolves to tell him later.
The farm floods with gossip about a failed marriage. A man named Jack Dollop married a widow, expecting to partake of her substantial dowry, only to discover that her financial stability and income vanishes as a result of the marriage. Most people at the dairy think the widow was wrong to deceive Jack Dollop of this fact and that she should have been completely truthful with him before marrying. This widespread opinion makes Tess nervous again about her past. She wonders whether she should reveal this past to Angel.
As they are taking care of some chores, Angel mentions offhandedly to Tess that they are near the ancestral territory of the ancient d’Urbervilles. She takes the opportunity to tell Angel that she descends from the d’Urbervilles, and he is pleased, realizing that her descent from noble blood will make her a better match in the eyes of his family. At last Tess agrees to marry him, and she begins to weep. Tess asks if she may write to her mother, and when Angel learns she is from Marlott, he remembers where he has seen her before—on May Day, when they did not dance.
When Mrs. Durbeyfield receives Tess’s letter, she immediately writes back advising her daughter not to tell Angel about her past. Tess luxuriates throughout October, and, when Angel asks her to finalize the date of their wedding, she again appears reticent, saying she is reluctant to change things. When Angel announces their engagement to Mr. Crick in front of the dairymaids, Tess is impressed by their joyous reaction. She feels that she can finally express her happiness, but she soon feels unworthy of Angel. Tess decides that she will finally tell him about her past.
It is obvious that Angel has become very different from the rest of his family as a result of the time he has spent farming. His brothers have excelled in the ministry and in intellectual circles, and Angel feels that he has nothing in common with them anymore. Overall, Angel’s family is somewhat snobbish. They are quite respectable in their religious observances, but they seem to lack the ability to feel and to understand people on an emotional level.
Tess represents many bad things to Mrs. Clare. Angel’s mother sees in Tess the beginning of the fall of the great Victorian era of opulence and high society. She does not accept Tess as a suitable daughter-in-law because she believes that Tess will bring down the status of the family. The Clares hope that Angel will find a suitable bride, meaning a highborn, well-bred woman of society. For them, marriage is not about love, but rather social, financial, and religious prosperity. The difference between Angel and the rest of the Clares lies in his progressiveness. He has rejected the clerical profession because he does not believe in serving the church but, rather, working on land and supplying food.
Tess’s denial of Angel shows that she is concerned about what her past may mean to her future. To Angel, her denial seems to signify that Tess is even more virtuous than he thought. By denying him not because of a lack of love but, he believes, because of her lack of social status, her convictions seem almost too pure to him. In fact, Angel believes that both his family and Tess suffer from holding onto the belief in a privileged class.
The story of Jack Dollop’s wife makes Tess feel nervous again about her predicament. As Angel persistently seeks Tess’s acceptance of marriage, Tess continually seeks an opportunity to share her past with him. She understands that a woman’s virginity is regarded as supremely important by most of her society, and that Angel does not see her as anything but completely pure. Telling Angel of her family’s d’Urberville lineage is difficult enough for her. He takes the news well, but she does not gain confidence that her other, more shameful revelation will be met with the same excitement.
Mrs. Durbeyfield advises Tess against the ethically sound choice of telling Angel about her past. Mrs. Durbeyfield’s advice, however, stems from her love and concern for Tess. Like any mother, Mrs. Durbeyfield does not want anything to interfere with her daughter making an advantageous marriage. Tess is relieved to receive this advice from her mother, but she knows deep down that she cannot follow it. Although Tess’s mother can advise an unethical course of action in order to preserve her daughter’s happiness, Tess’s conscience is too strong to live with the secret, and she must free herself of the burden so that she can live comfortably and morally.
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