Summary: Chapter 20

As the months pass, Angel and Tess grow closer, and Tess finds herself in the happiest phase of her life. They wake up early, before the others, and feel as if they are the only people on Earth. Indeed, the dairy seems to be an Eden, where Angel is Adam and Tess is Eve. Tess is Angel’s “visionary essence of woman,” and he playfully nicknames her “Artemis” and “Demeter.” Tess does not understand these nicknames and simply tells him to call her Tess. They continue to enjoy the morning, as the summer fog slowly lifts and birds swoop and play in the misty air.

Summary: Chapter 21

Life on the dairy begins to change. There is worry about the butter, which is not churning properly. Mrs. Crick jokes that this sort of thing happens only when someone on the farm falls in love. Indeed, there are two people who are in love, and the milkmaids often discuss Angel’s noticeable love for Tess and imagine what the future will hold for them. Tess does not want to marry, though, because she is still ashamed of her past. After some further churning, the butter begins to set and everyone’s fears melt away—except for Tess’s.

Summary: Chapter 22

Early in the morning, the Cricks receive a letter from a customer who complains that the butter he has bought from them “had a twang,” or a sharp taste. Mr. Crick realizes that this taste must be the result of the cows eating from garlic weeds. The dairymaids go out to the pasture to search for these disastrous weeds. Tess feels faint, and Mr. Crick encourages Tess to take a moment to rest. Angel stops with her, and she makes a point of mentioning the virtues of two of her close milkmaid friends, Izz and Retty. Angel agrees that they are nice women and capable dairymaids, but indicates that he has no romantic interest in them.

Summary: Chapter 23

Two months after her arrival at the dairy, Tess sets out with her friends to attend the Mellstock Church. There has been a torrential downpour the day before, and the girls come to a long stretch of flooded road. Angel offers to carry them across, and they agree. All the girls notice that Angel takes the longest with Tess, and they each realize that he prefers her.

Tess begins to avoid Angel, but she notices from afar his grace and self-discipline in the company of the girls who dote on him. One night, Marian, Izz, and Retty each confess to feeling love for Angel, and Tess feels guilty, since she too loves Angel but has already decided never to marry. She wonders if she is wrong to take so much of his time.

Summary: Chapter 24

Later that summer, Angel and Tess are milking cows, and Angel is overcome with his feeling for Tess. He embraces her, and she gives way to her feelings for a moment before trying to pull away. Angel tells Tess he loves her and is surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth. No one has noticed their encounter, and the two return to their milking, shaken.

Analysis: Chapters 20–24

These chapters mark the end of Phase the Third, subtitled “The Rally,” which concerns Tess’s “invincible instinct toward self-delight” as she enjoys a happy period at the Talbothays Dairy and her new romance with Angel Clare. The harsh irony of Angel’s first impression of Tess, that she is “virginal,” is underplayed by Tess’s self-sacrificing virtue throughout these chapters—she even avoids him intentionally when she thinks her friends deserve him more. The plot of this phase is, like that of Phase the First, essentially linear: Tess meets Angel and their relationship grows closer until it becomes clear that he loves her.

A new conflict arises in these chapters between Tess’s new love for Angel and her moral reservations about acting on that love. This conflict and indecisiveness on Tess’s part is mirrored by the new problems that surface at Talbothays Dairy concerning the quality of the butter. Certain agents have caused the butter to become tainted, affecting its taste and attractiveness. Tess feels a similar inner turmoil with the agents that have affected her, which leads her to think that her attractiveness may be tainted even though Angel expresses his love for her.

With Tess’s virtue as uncompromisable as ever, her personal reservations about marrying Angel seem clearly designed to arouse both our sympathy and moral outrage. It seems ludicrous for poor Tess to have to refrain from acting on her passion. Surely any moral code that would force Tess to suffer for the rest of her life for a single error must be deeply flawed. This line of reasoning is Hardy’s argument, but still Tess seems to be fated to suffer, the victim of “the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things.”

As Angel and Alec are compared and contrasted in previous chapters, Tess is compared and contrasted with the other dairymaids in these chapters. Tess views herself as equal or subordinate to her friends Marian, Izz, and Retty, but Angel sees her as his sole, perfect mate. All of the dairymaids have crushes on Angel, but Angel is interested only in Tess. The final scene in the section—in which Tess and Angel are overcome by their love—is a wonderful conclusion to these chapters, which have focused on the growing attraction between them. The conclusion satisfies the natural progression of their love in a way that is surely meant to appease us. Tess is surprised by Angel’s confession, and a bit shaken by its implications. She is torn because she knows her dark past will stand in the way of her future with Angel, and even as their love continues to grow, these issues and problems do not show any signs of disappearing.