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Clare 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.