Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Phase 5, Chapters 35-44
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
Angel is devastated by Tess’s confession of her seduction and the subsequent birth of her son. Indeed, he breaks into “horrible laughter—as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell” (260). He leaves the mansion in the middle of the night, with Tess following on his heels. After offering to kill herself, Tess returns distraught to the house to sleep alone in her bridal bed: Angel follows later and sleeps on the downstairs sofa.
The following morning Angel prepares breakfast and leaves to go to the flour mill: “the pair, in truth, were but the ashes of their former selves” (269). Tess suggests divorce but he says it is impossible. She suggests returning home, and he agrees.
The night before returning to Marlott, Tess awakens in the night to find Angel hovering over her while sleepwalking. ”Dead! dead! dead!” he whispers, wraps her in a sheet, carries her outside over a narrow bridge to the churchyard, where he places her in a coffin (279). He remembers nothing. Angel gives Tess fifty pounds and tells her she can call on his father in case of emergency. She is not to come to him but to wait to hear from him after he learns to live with her past.
The cart driver tells Tess that Durbeyfield has been boasting of his family’s regained grandeur through Tess’s marriage to a gentleman. Devastated, she runs to her mother for comfort, only to receive further rebuke for being a fool about telling her husband the truth of her past. The neighbors scorn her. After she receives a letter from Angel informing her that he is searching for land, she lies about going to live with him and gives her parents half her money.
Angel visits his puzzled parents and tells them he is leaving for Brazil without his wife. He finds his parents have changed their earlier opinion of Tess and now compare her with the mother of Jesus, a pure woman of modest means. His father reads a biblical verse extolling the virtues of a pure woman whose “price is far above rubies” (297). Tears come to Angel’s eyes and his mother guesses something is amiss concerning Tess. He denies it.
After depositing the diamonds in the bank, Angel sends Tess more money. He meets the former Talbothays milkmaid Izz Huett who tells him of her love for him. He asks her to go to Brazil will him, and she agrees. When he asks if she loves him more than Tess does, she answers “nobody could love‘ee more than Tess did!”(304). Angel apologizes and goes to Brazil, and yet again, Izz is devastated.
Despite a variety of agricultural jobs, Tess runs short of money but sends her parents the money Angel gave her to repair their roof. She doesn’t know that Angel is ill in Brazil. Marian, another milkmaid from Talbothays, has written telling Tess about a job, and Tess travels to join her. She meets the man whom Angel attacked for insulting her. She runs to hide and takes refuge for the night in a thicket of bushes. In the morning she discovers a flock of dying pheasants who sought refuge in the bushes during a hunt. Tearfully, she breaks their necks to put them out of their misery. She feels a personal affinity for the tortured birds and “in the sight of such misery,” realizes that comparatively she is not so bad off (312).
To counter the constant advances of men, on her journey to Flintcomb-Ash to join Marian Tess wears ugly clothes, covers her face and clips her eyebrows. The farm is hard with poor soil and Tess does not want to talk to the curious Marian, who now drinks habitually, about her husband.
The two women work side by side, digging up turnips from the near frozen ground. Soon, Izz Huett arrives. After the full winter sets in, the women work in the barn where, to Tess’s dismay, the owner of the farm appears. He turns out to be the man who insulted Tess, and he takes vicious delight in having the upper hand. Tess has to work even harder. One afternoon, a drunken Marian tells Tess that Angel invited Izz to accompany him to Brazil.
Tess decides to pay Angel’s parents a visit in hopes of information about Angel. She wears boots for the fifteen-mile walk and hides them in a bush. She mingles with village people leaving church, and discovers that the two men behind her are Angel’s brothers. She overhears their remarks about Angel’s marriage. Then they find Tess’s boots and take them to give to a poor parishioner. On her dejected walk home “full in the conviction that a crisis in her life was approaching,” she stops at a barn to rest (337). Inside she hears a clergyman preaching passionately and recognizes the voice of Alec d’Urberville.
While life at Talbothays Dairy in “Phase the Third” was Edenic, as the novel progresses the setting becomes ever gloomier. This contributes to Hardy’s pervasive pessimistic sense of tragedy and enhances the characters and the plot. For instance, the site of the doomed honeymoon, the d’Urberville mansion, is gray and dark, and the presence of portraits add to the feeling of Gothic disquiet. All is shadow, with light used merely to contrast dark. Even the outside is shadowy and evil. The sleepwalking Angel carries the passive Tess to, what else, a graveyard, where he places her in a stone coffin. Hardy utilizes the Gothic conventions which were popular in the Victorian era, as witnessed by such popular novels as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the story of another pure woman in danger of being disgraced in an old mansion by a love affair.
In this section, Hardy heightens his condemnation of society’s double standard which shrugs its shoulders at men—boys will be boys—but that castigates women for the same behavior. Angel confides in Tess about a sexual indiscretion with an older woman but, instead of feeling horror, she is gladdened because now she feels she can confess to Angel about her own past without his passing judgment on her for actions that are “just the same” (254). In this, Tess could not be more wrong: the double standard is fully in force. And, instead of standing up to her new husband for his pious judgmental position, she kneels in front of him and offers to be his slave, passively allows him to place her in a coffin and even to kill herself if he wishes. In short Hardy is adamant, “God’s not in his heaven; all’s wrong with the world” (288).
Angel’s sleepwalking should be viewed as a metaphor. He lies in a dream world. He invents his own religion, so to speak, where he is one with mystical Nature and eschews his family’s beliefs. He sees in Tess a pure pagan woman of Nature and not a real-life human being. He fails to give his parents a chance to meet Tess and judges them for rejecting their new daughter-in-law before they meet her. He condemns the aristocracy for its behavior towards the lower classes, yet no one could be as mean-spirited and cruel to an innocent woman. When he leaves for Brazil, he is in effect a coward, running away from the reality he cannot accept. His “was the face of a man who was no longer passion’s slave” (267). His pride overwhelms his judgment. His cruelty to Izz Huett, when he is in need of female adoration, should also not be overlooked. Here is another country woman who loves him purely and simply and who accepts his advances only to be thrown back wailing in the dirt.
Tess is forced to leave Marlott to avoid the condemnation of her parents and her neighbors—proper society—to enter into the frozen world of Flintcomb-Ash, where she might as well be dead. Simply, there is no way she can ever regain her stolen virginity. Thus, as the novel progresses Hardy tightens his deterministic thesis—people are victims of fate and regardless of how they fight, they are doomed. From the foreshadowing regarding death and dying—biers, pheasants, portraits, graveyards and coffins--there is no way Tess can avoid an early death. She is powerless; her fate was divined before she was born. In this line of thinking, however, there is an inherent flaw. Hardy also condemns society for Tess’s ills—church, aristocracy, a double-standard for men and women. How then how can fate be at issue?