Summary: Chapter 35

Angel is distraught by Tess’s confession. He begs her to deny it, but she cannot. He flees the house, and Tess follows after him. For hours, they walk the grounds of the mansion. Tess tells her husband that she will do anything he asks and even offers to drown herself. Angel orders her to go back to the house. When he returns, Tess is asleep. After an uncomfortable moment looking at the d’Urberville ladies’ portraits, Angel goes to sleep in a different room.

Summary: Chapter 36

Three miserable days go by, during which Angel spends his time at the mill or with his studies. Tess wonders if they should get a divorce, but she learns that the law does not allow divorces. Finally, Tess offers to go home, and Angel tells her she should go.

Summary: Chapter 37

Clare came close, and bent over her. “Dead, dead, dead!” he murmured.

See Important Quotations Explained

That night, Tess wakes up and discovers that Angel is sleepwalking. He stumbles into Tess’s room and seizes her in his arms. Moaning that his wife is dead, he carries her over a narrow bridge and into the churchyard, where he lays her in a coffin. Tess carefully leads Angel back into the house, and in the morning he shows no recollection of the event.

The couple makes a brief stop at the dairy on their way to Marlott. They behave awkwardly together in public. Angel leaves Tess near her village, telling her that he will try to accept her past, but that she should not try to come to him until he comes for her.

Summary: Chapter 38

Tess returns home dolefully and confesses to her mother what has happened. Mrs. Durbeyfield calls her a fool, and Mr. Durbeyfield finds it hard to believe Tess is even married. Tess is miserable at home, and when a letter arrives from Angel informing Tess that he has begun looking for a farm in the north, Tess seizes the excuse to leave and tells her family that she is going to join her husband. She gives them half of the fifty pounds Angel gave her and leaves her home.

Summary: Chapter 39

Three weeks after their marriage, Angel visits his parents and tells them he is traveling to Brazil and not taking Tess. His parents are alarmed and disappointed, but Angel tells them they will meet Tess in a year, when he returns.

Angel’s parents surprise him by reading a biblical passage about how virtuous wives are loving, loyal, selfless, and “working.” Mrs. Clare applies the passage directly to Tess, demonstrating her wholehearted acceptance of Angel’s choice not to marry a fine lady, but Angel, overcome with emotion, leaves the room. Following him, Mrs. Clare guesses that Angel discovered something dishonorable in Tess’s past, but he vehemently denies it.

Analysis: Chapters 35–39

Atmosphere is a very important component in these chapters, and as Tess nears the culmination of her tragedy, the sense of mystical gloom intensifies. The old, abandoned, Gothic d’Urberville mansion is a perfect setting for the emotional change that takes place. The setting also mirrors Tess’s feelings of emptiness and coldness toward her family legacy. In exploiting the setting for dramatic and psychological effect, Hardy draws heavily on the conventions of Gothic literature, sometimes creating very unrealistic effects.

In a similar vein, the scene in which Angel sleepwalks is Gothic almost to the point of being ridiculous. The scene represents the fact that, while Tess herself is still very much alive, Angel’s vision of her is dead. The woman he married does not seem to be the same woman now, and he cannot reconcile the difference. As Alec sexually violated Tess, Tess’s past has spiritually violated Angel. It seems inevitable that Angel’s idealized, pure vision of Tess must shatter and, given the importance he attaches to this vision, their marriage must shatter along with it. Angel’s reaction is a result of his childish decision to marry the Tess that he envisioned as opposed to Tess as she actually is.

The scene becomes even harder to believe when Angel scoops up his wife, and—still asleep—carries her to her ancestral cemetery and places her in a coffin. Hardy may have included such a scene to please a Victorian readership that loved Gothic gloom and mystery. But the scene also attests to the hostility of fate toward Tess. Hardy means for us to accept Tess’s tragedy as foreordained, willed by the universe, and executed by powers beyond mortal control. By suggesting such a deterministic view of events, Hardy makes us look at the story in a new and unsettling way. For much of the novel, Hardy seems to criticize the archaic and outmoded morality that unfairly judges and condemns Tess, as well as the social hierarchies that allow aristocrats to exploit the lower classes and men to abuse women. But if Tess’s tragedy is foreordained, it may not be solely the fault of outdated public moral judgment.

Angel thinks that Tess is somehow dead, and Tess herself actually wants to be dead. She loses her strength and tells Angel that she wishes to submit: “I will obey you, like your wretched slave, even if it is to lie down and die.” She never complains about his feelings, and she only criticizes and blames herself. As Angel carries her over the narrow bridge, she imagines both of them falling over the side to their deaths in each other’s arms. She wants to commit suicide but—as with her inability to tell Angel about her past—she cannot summon the courage. As they say good-bye, Tess is little more than a walking corpse. Indeed, it seems that Angel has killed her soul and her desire to live. It is apparent now that Tess can never escape the wrongs of the past, either socially or personally.