Summary: Chapter 32

Tess agrees to leave the dairy with Angel around Christmas, and their wedding date is set for December 31. Angel hopes to spend that time visiting a flour mill and staying in a home that belonged to the d’Urbervilles. Angel buys Tess clothes for their wedding and, to her relief, quietly takes out a marriage license rather than publicizing his intent to marry Tess.

Summary: Chapter 33

While out shopping, Angel and Tess encounter a man from Alec d’Urberville’s village, who disparages Tess and denies her virginity. Angel strikes the man, but when the man apologizes, Angel gives him some money. Tess is wracked with guilt, and that night she writes a confession and slips it under Angel’s door. Strangely, in the morning, Angel’s behavior toward her has not changed, and he does not mention the letter. Tess ascertains that it slipped under the carpet and that Angel never saw it. On the morning of the wedding, Tess again tries to tell Angel about her past, but he cuts her off, saying that there will be time for such revelations after they are married. The dairyman and his wife accompany them to church, and they are married. As they are leaving for the ceremony, however, a rooster crows in the mid-afternoon.

Summary: Chapter 34

After the wedding, the couple travels to the old d’Urberville mansion, where they will have a few days to themselves before the farmer returns. Tess receives a package from Angel’s father, containing some jewelry that Angel’s godmother bequeathed to his future wife some years ago. The newlyweds enjoy a happy moment, which is broken when the man arrives from the dairy with their luggage, bringing bad news about Tess’s friends. After the wedding, Retty attempted suicide and Marian became an alcoholic.

After this disclosure, Angel asks Tess for forgiveness, telling her of his past indiscretion with an older woman in London. Tess says that she, too, has a confession and tells him of her past with Alec.

Analysis: Chapters 32–34

As these chapters mark the end of Phase the Fourth, “The Consequence,” they permit the phase to fit well with the seesaw scheme of the novel up to this point. Tess of the d’Urbervilles alternates sections that build up to a climax with sections that detail the result of the climax. Phase the First builds steadily toward Tess’s fall from grace, and Phase the Second lays out the consequences for Tess—her child and her loss of reputation. Phase the Third builds inexorably toward Tess’s union with Angel, while Phase the Fourth brings us the consequences of their love: Angel and Tess marry, and she confesses her past. Aside from the repeated instances of supernatural effect and mystical ill omen, such as the cock crowing in the afternoon and the creaky old mansion, the real conflict in this section is again moral, between Tess’s desire to be happily loved by Angel and her conscious obligation to tell him about her past. Because Tess has such a strong instinct for self-delight, she is able to delay and resist her conscience through October. Since Tess has an even stronger sense of moral duty, however, she cannot resist it forever; the section ends as she begins her story, “murmuring the words without flinching, and with her eyelids drooping down.”

The universe is still hostile to Tess, and fate still toys with her in the form of the accidental mishaps on which the plot turns. Had Angel received Tess’s note before they were married, the course of the story might have gone differently. But the letter happens to slip under the carpet, and another chance for Tess’s tragedy to be averted is lost. This fluke may seem like an unbelievable coincidence, except that the universe expresses its hostility toward Tess through the portentous mishaps that plague her throughout the novel. The cock crowing in the afternoon does not doom Tess to ill fortune, but simply announces her foreordained doom to the world.

Indeed, Angel’s decision to seek work at Talbothays is one of the most improbable circumstances in the novel. Although we see Angel as a progressive, new-thinking young man, his decision to give up a university education and an esteemed position in the clergy seems almost too idealistic to be true. While we see Tess as the responsible, patient, and persistent character that she is, Angel may appear rather spoiled—the youngest son in a privileged family who is not satisfied with his status quo and seeks adventure in murkier waters. In a sense, Angel is much more childish and naïve than the extremely responsible Tess. Angel may be angelic not in his morality, but in the sense that he is cherubic and childlike, indicating his need to grow and develop a truer love for Tess.

Talbothays Dairy is a kind of classless haven untroubled by social difference. Even Angel, the closest thing Talbothays has to an aristocrat, fits in quite seamlessly. Nevertheless, the themes of social prejudice and noble heritage continue to arise. Angel’s mother, who exhibits snobbery throughout the novel, wants Angel to marry a suitable girl—meaning highborn. Angel is pleased to discover Tess’s noble background in this section because he knows it will placate his mother, who will conclude that Tess must be worthwhile if she has such a remarkable pedigree. This situation can be interpreted in various ways. On the one hand, it is superficial and reprehensible of Mrs. Clare to place such a high stock in social class. On the other, Tess is nobly born, and she does possess all the stereotypical characteristics that are supposed to distinguish nobility, such as beauty, courage, and integrity.