Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Phase 2, Chapters 12-15
Phase the Second: Maiden No More
Deeply angry with herself, Tess returns home early one Sunday morning in October after a few weeks with Alec. She knows that if she remains with him she will merely be his “creature,” a mistress whom he supports financially but has no intention of ever marrying: “her views of life had been totally changed for her by the lesson” (85). d’Urberville comes after her and begs her to return, but she refuses his offer to take her home. He tells her to call on him if circumstances necessitate. She walks with a sign painter who paints Biblical verses. After he stops to paint a sign, “THY DAMNATION SLUMBERETH NOT,” she is shaken. He suggests she visit the clergyman who converted him. She dismisses the idea and returns to Marlott to her mother’s initial welcome and ultimate frustration that her beautiful daughter didn’t succeed in getting Alec d’Urberville as her husband: “why didn’t ye think of doing some good for your family instead of thinking only of yourself? (92). Tess scolds her mother for allowing her to go out into the world without telling her of the danger she faced in the company of men: “I was a child when I left this house four months ago” (93).
Tess’s friends visit under the impression that she is to marry a rich gentleman. Tess is happy to be in their lively company and her depression over what seems like her hopeless life lets up only to return in full force. At church she sits with the old people in the back but “she knew what their whispers were about, grew sick at heart, and felt that she could come to church no more” (96). Feeling herself to be a figure of shame, she leaves the house under cover of dark.
During harvest, a time when field workers are most needed, Tess works harvesting grain. Her younger sister brings her baby boy for Tess to nurse and the workers notice how much she loves the baby. Sadly, however, the baby falls seriously ill and has not been christened. Tess rouses up her brothers and sisters in the middle of the night to witness the baptism she performs herself. She names him Sorrow. After the baby dies, the parson pities her and allows Tess to bury the child in a corner of the churchyard. The “girl-mother” buries him at night out of sight of the villagers and places a cross at the top of the grave and a marmalade jar of flowers at the bottom.
Tess attempts to put her “un-doing at Trantridge” behind her and comes to realize that she must leave Marlott if she is ever to find happiness. In springtime, she accepts a job as a milkmaid at Talbothays Dairy. With this new chance in life “she would be the dairy maid Tess, and nothing more” (113).
In the first eleven chapters, “Phase I, The Maiden,” Hardy structures a plotline that will ultimately lead to Tess’s demise. The term maiden in the traditional sense simply means virgin. After a female has had sexual relations, she is referred to as a woman. When Tess sets off for Trantridge she is an innocent child. Indeed, she says as much to her mother after she returns home in shame at the end of chapter eleven. In “Phase Two, Maiden No more,” the plot unfolds in the birth of the aptly named Sorrow. Although she is a different person entirely from the young maiden, at the end of this section the woman Tess is given another chance at life. There are no more dreams of castles and dashing men; Tess is more grounded, as it were, and accepts her lot as a simple milkmaid.
From the beginning it is clear that Tess’s chances of success are slim. Life has dealt her a rough hand: a drunken father, a simpleton mother who doesn’t even tell her teenage daughter about the facts of life before letting her go off alone with a man: “why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me?” Nor can she rely on her neighbors or the church.
Hardy especially takes the Church to task. Tess is marginalized by the congregation and sits in the back of the church next to the bier, a platform upon which a coffin stands, which Hardy utilizes as a foreshadowing device to associate Tess with death. Shamed and ignored, Tess is forced to leave the church, and while the parson is kind enough to assure tell her of son’s salvation, he will only allow the young mother to bury her child in the dark of night. In this regard, Hardy demonstrates a remarkable ability to evoke pathos and forces the reader to become even more emotionally engaged with Tess, who lives a life of mental torture.
Despite her problems, Tess manages to bear the heavy load and falls back into life by taking a job in another locale. In other words, despite being beaten and knocked down, Tess has the tenacity and the wherewithal to get back up and fight. And, although she could have benefited monetarily by accepting Alec’s offer she retains her honor. Alec d’Urberville, on the other hand, is a sham, bereft of honor, a phony without a real name. When compared to this rake, Tess becomes even more admirable. It would seem then that such a strong-spirited character should achieve the heights of success. However, Hardy, who has oftentimes been criticized for his deeply pessimistic attitude concerning the individual, will stick by his theory about fate by forcing his character to endure increasingly difficult hardships.
Close attention should also be paid to Hardy’s utilization of setting. He places his sad heroine in some of the loveliest settings ever created. Indeed, the novel evokes the fine bucolic, rustic settings popular in the pastoral paintings of the era. However, there is one item in the setting that seems out of order: the scarlet colored thrashing machine which helps speed up the work. In this era England was changing into an ever more industrial “modernistic” nation, as also witnessed by Hardy’s reference to railroad tracks dividing the land. As the Industrial Revolution spread, villagers were forced to leave the land for the factories of London and other cities. Attention should also be paid to Hardy’s use of the seasons. The novel begins in springtime, proceeds through summer to September and the Chase incident, Tess’s return home in October, the harvest the following year, then springtime yet again and Tess’s new optimism.