Summary: Chapter LIX

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with Tess.

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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 LIII–LIX

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.