came close, and bent over her. “Dead, dead, dead!” he murmured.
After fixedly regarding her for some moments with the same gaze
of unmeasurable woe he bent lower, enclosed her in his arms, and
rolled her in the sheet as in a shroud. Then lifting her from the
bed with as much respect as one would show to a dead body, he carried
her across the room, murmuring, “My poor poor Tess, my dearest darling Tess!
So sweet, so good, so true!” The words of endearment, withheld so
severely in his waking hours, were inexpressibly sweet to her forlorn
and hungry heart. If it had been to save her weary life she would
not, by moving or struggling, have put an end to the position she
found herself in. Thus she lay in absolute stillness, scarcely venturing
to breathe, and, wondering what he was going to do with her, suffered herself
to be borne out upon the landing. “My wife—dead, dead!” he said.
In Chapter XXXVII, Angel Clare begins
to sleepwalk on the third night of his estrangement from Tess, having
rejected her as his wife because of her earlier disgrace. Like Lady
Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, Angel’s nighttime somnambulism reveals
an inner conflict within a character who earlier seems convinced
of a moral idea, in control, and inflexible. For Lady Macbeth, her
earlier cold protestations that killing a king is justifiable are
belied by her unconscious fixation on being bloodstained. For Angel,
the situation is reversed. He consciously maintains a conviction
that Tess is bad, corrupt, and cannot be forgiven, but his unconscious
sleepwalking self reveals the tender love and moral respect for
her (“so good, so true!”) that he feels somewhere inside him. This
revelation foreshadows his final realization, too late, that his
condemnation of Tess was wrongheaded. Angel’s words “dead, dead,
dead” hint at Tess’s future death, but they also signal Angel’s
conception of Tess. She is alive physically, but for him she is
dead morally, as dead as an idea of purity that he once revered.