Summary: Chapter 53
Angel returns to his parents’ home, haggard and gaunt after his tribulations abroad. He reads Tess’s angry letter, and he worries that she will never forgive him. His mother haughtily declares that he should not worry about the opinions of a poor commoner, and Angel reveals to her Tess’s exalted lineage.
Angel spends a few days at home regaining his strength. He writes a letter to Tess addressed to Marlott, and finally receives a reply from Tess’s mother informing him that they have left Marlott and that Tess is no longer with the family.
After a short time spent waiting, Angel decides that he must not delay his reunion with Tess. He is encouraged in this feeling by the revelation that Tess has not used any of the money Angel left with his father. Angel realizes that Tess must have suffered great poverty while he was abroad, and he is overcome with pity and guilt. Angel’s parents finally guess the secret cause of their son’s estrangement from Tess, and find that the knowledge disposes them to feel more kindly toward their daughter-in-law. Just before Angel leaves, he receives the letter from Marian and Izz.
Summary: Chapter 54
Angel sets out to find his wife, traveling through the farm at Flintcomb-Ash and through Marlott, where he learns of the death of Tess’s father. He finds the elaborate gravestone of John Durbeyfield, and when he learns that it is unpaid for, he settles the bill. When he meets Joan, he finds his mother-in-law uncomfortable and hesitant to tell him where Tess has gone. At last she takes pity on him and reveals that Tess is in Sandbourne.
Summary: Chapter 55
In Sandbourne, Angel is unable to find a Mrs. Clare or a Miss Durbeyfield, but he does learn that a d’Urberville is staying at an expensive lodging called The Herons.
Angel hurries to The Herons and is impressed by its grandeur. He wonders how Tess could possibly afford it and thinks she must have sold his godmother’s diamonds. When Tess appears, she is dressed in expensive clothing. Angel pleads for her forgiveness and tells her that he has learned to accept her as she is and desperately wants her to come back to him. Brokenhearted, Tess replies that it is too late—thinking Angel would never come back for her, she gave in to Alec d’Urberville’s desires and is now under his protection. Tess leaves the room, and Angel rushes out of the house.
Summary: Chapter 56
Mrs. Brooks, the landlady at The Herons, follows Tess upstairs and spies on her through the keyhole. She sees Tess holding her head in her hands, accusing Alec of deceiving her into thinking that Angel would never come back for her. Alec replies angrily, and Mrs. Brooks, startled, flees the scene. Back in her own room, she sees Tess go through the front gate, where she disappears onto the street. A short while later, Mrs. Brooks notices a dark red spot spreading on the ceiling. Terrified, Mrs. Brooks has a workman open the door of the d’Urberville rooms, where they discover Alec lying on the bed, stabbed to death. The landlady gives the alarm, and the news of Alec’s murder quickly spreads through the town.
Summary: Chapter 57
Angel decides to leave on the first train. At his hotel, he finds a telegraph from his mother informing him that Cuthbert is going to marry Mercy Chant. Rather than waiting for the train, Angel decides to walk to the next station and meet it there. As he hikes out of the valley, he sees Tess running after him. He draws her off the main road, and she tells him that she has killed Alec. Tess says she had to kill Alec because he wronged Angel, but that she also had to return to Alec because Angel abandoned her. She begs Angel’s forgiveness, and he, thinking she is delirious, tells her he loves her. At last he realizes she is serious, though he still does not believe she has actually killed Alec. He agrees to protect her.
They walk toward the interior of the country, waiting for the search for Tess to be called off so they can escape overseas. That evening, they find an old mansion and slip in through the windows. After a woman comes to close up the house, Angel opens the shutters, and they are alone for the night.
Summary: Chapter 58
Five days pass, and Angel and Tess slowly lapse back into their original love. They make little mention of their estrangement. One day the woman who airs the house discovers their hiding place, and they decide it is time to leave. After a day of travel, they arrive in the evening at Stonehenge, where Tess feels quite at home. As she rests by a pillar, she says that she feels as if there are no people in the world but them.
Tess becomes distraught, and asks Angel to look after Liza-Lu when Tess is dead. She says she hopes Angel will marry Liza-Lu, then asks her husband if he believes they will meet again after death. Angel does not answer, and Tess, upset, drifts into sleep.
At dawn, Angel realizes that they are surrounded. Men are moving in from all sides, and Angel realizes Tess must truly have killed Alec. Angel asks the men not to take Tess until she wakes. When she sees them, she feels strangely relieved. Tess is glad she will not live, because she feels unworthy of Angel’s love.
Summary: Chapter 59
“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess.See Important Quotations Explained
Sometime later, from a hillside outside Wintoncester, Angel and Liza-Lu watch as a black flag is raised above the tower. Tess has been put to death. Angel and Liza-Lu are motionless for a time, and then they join hands and go on.
Analysis: Chapters 53–59
Phase the Seventh brings the novel to a tragic close through a shift in perspective. It begins in an aura of mystery, as Hardy chooses not to narrate the climax of Tess’s struggle—her return to the bed of Alec d’Urberville. The first part of this section is told instead from Angel’s perspective. When he arrives at The Herons, we have a gradual, sickening sense of what to expect, but Angel has no idea. He is too late because the race is over, and Tess’s loyalty to her family has overmastered her integrity. Torn apart, Tess now kills her lover in a murderous rage out of love for her husband. From that moment, the novel simply becomes a mechanical process leading to the inevitable conclusion—Tess’s death.
As Angel returns with renewed loyalty and love for Tess, it becomes apparent that Alec has considerably broken down Tess’s loyalty to Angel. Tess recovers this love and loyalty when she sees Angel again, and she feels guilty about how far she has drifted. Her pride in poverty when Angel is away stands in direct contrast with her fancy clothing and luxurious lodging, which physically measures how far into temptation she has gone with Alec. Her shame and grief cause her violent side to explode, and she kills Alec. Whether intentionally or not, Tess has fulfilled Angel’s proclamation that they cannot be together as long as Alec is alive. The murder may appear justified to us at this point, after everything through which Alec has put Tess. But, though we may sympathize with Tess’s actions, we know that Tess must now flee and live the life of a hunted criminal.
The short section narrated from the perspective of Mrs. Brooks is almost an exact double of the technique Hardy uses with Angel at the beginning of Phase the Seventh. Just as he excludes Tess’s return to Alec, he excludes her murder of Alec. Just as an unsuspecting third party shows us that she has gone back to him, another unsuspecting third party shows us that she has killed him. Tess’s mind has been at the center of the novel from its beginning, and practically everything that has happened has been shown solely in its relation to her. By shifting attention away from her so suddenly, Hardy creates the sense that Tess is already lost—though she is still alive, she has partially vanished into the gloom of her fate. At the end, despite the atmosphere of Gothic mystery and supernatural portent that infuses much of the novel, Hardy still manages to surprise us by setting the conclusion at Stonehenge, one of the most famous and mysterious monuments in the world.