Tess of the d’Urbervilles

by: Thomas Hardy

Phase the Fourth: The Consequence, Chapters XXV–XXXI

Summary: Chapter XXXI

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.

Analysis: Chapters XXV–XXXI

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.