He wore the ordinary white pinner and leather leggings of a dairy-farmer when milking, and his boots were clogged with the mulch of the yard; but this was all his local livery. Beneath it was something educated, reserved, subtle, sad, differing.
The narrator describes Tess’s first impression of Angel. While he dresses like any other farmer, he gives the impression of more refinements than his clothes would suggest. Readers do eventually learn that Angel comes from a higher social class and chooses to work as a farmer. Like his biblical name suggests, he descends from a lofty position to spend time with those beneath him.
Nevertheless, something nebulous, preoccupied, vague, in his bearing and regard, marked him as one who probably had no very definite aim or concern about his material future. Yet as a lad people had said of him that he was one who might do anything if he tried.
As the narrator describes Angel’s past, he explains that Angel has never been ambitious about anything in particular, and yet those around him expected great things of him. Angel’s lack of aim in life reveals his social status, as he never had to worry about money. However, his eventual career decision of being a farmer shows that he simply does not share others’ value of his social status. Rather than chase after a position to impress others, Angel chooses a simple life.
She had not known that men could be so disinterested, chivalrous, protective, in their love for women as he. Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him in this respect.
After Tess agrees to marry Angel, she feels amazed at how he behaves while in love with her. The only other man who readers know to have declared his love for Tess was Alec d’Urberville, who professed the sentiment so that he could take advantage of her. However, Angel represents the exact opposite of Alec from what Tess can see.
He looked upon her as a species of impostor; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one. Terror was upon her white face as she saw it; her cheek was flaccid, and her mouth had almost the aspect of a round little hole.
After Tess confesses her past to Angel, he sees her in a completely different light. He even starts to see physical changes in her. Although Angel has professed his ambivalence to society’s norms, clearly the rules form a deep foundation in him that becomes a line in the sand. Such a change of heart reveals him as less angelic than Tess and readers would have believed.
She broke into sobs, and turned her back to him. It would almost have won round any man but Angel Clare. Within the remote depths of his constitution, so gentle and affectionate as he was in general, there lay hidden a hard logical deposit, like a vein of metal in a soft loam, which turned the edge of everything that attempted to traverse it. It had blocked his acceptance of the Church; it blocked his acceptance of Tess.
While Tess and Angel argue, she begins to cry and yet, as the narrator reveals, her tears have no effect on Angel. Even though he has said in the past he would love her no matter what, in this moment he cannot even try to comfort his wife. Although Angel seemed nearly perfect before, this passage reveals his weak spot: Angel feels unable to accept anything that contradicts his expectations. As he sees Tess as a different woman now, he cannot logically love her.