Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Phase 7, Chapters 53-59
Phase 7, Chapters 53-59
Phase the Seventh
The Fulfillment, Chapters LIII–LIX
Finally, Angel returns from Brazil. His parents are shocked at his physical appearance: “so reduced was that figure from his former” (416). Gaunt and thin from illness, he has aged twenty years. After reading Tess’s second letter castigating him for abandoning her, he fears losing her. His mother asks why he cares so much for a “mere child of the soil,” at which point Angel retaliates, informing her of Tess’s noble lineage (417). After writing to Tess at Marlott, he hears back from Joan Durbeyfield that Tess has left. He realizes how Tess must have suffered, is overcome by guilt and tells his parents the truth about why the couple split. They surprise him with kind understanding. Then he reads the warning letter from Marian and Izz.
Angel follows Tess to Marlott, learns that Sir John Durbeyfield has died and that the family is living at Trantridge. He pays for the headstone. After first withholding the information of Tess’s whereabouts, her now well-cared for mother informs Angel, and he leaves to go to Sandbourne.
Angel’s search finally leads him to an expensive lodging house called The Herons, where he finds Tess expensively dressed and in the company of Alec d’Urberville. He begs her to forgive him but she explains that it is too late: “he has won me back to him” (427). She believed that Angel would never return and so left with d’Urberville for the sake of her homeless family. Devastated, Angel leaves.
The landlady Mrs. Brooks looks in through the keyhole, sees Tess crying and hears her accusing d’Urberville: “you used your cruel persuasion upon me” (430). Mrs. Brooks returns downstairs and sees Tess leaving in a hurry. Soon she wonders why d’Urberville doesn’t ring to have the breakfast tray removed. Then she looks up to see a dark red spot spreading across the ceiling. She calls for help. Alec is discovered stabbed to death on the bed.
As Angel walks to catch the train, he turns to see Tess running behind him. She tells him that she has just killed d’Urberville, and the couple flees. She pleads with him to forgive her and, thinking she is merely hysterical, he declares his love: “it is all come back” (434). Soon however, it becomes apparent that she has in fact stabbed d’Urberville, but still can’t believe he is dead. Angel buys food, the couple flees into the woods, and they plan to run away from England. They come across an old empty mansion, climb in the window and remain overnight after the housekeeper closes the windows and leaves.
It begins to rain and the couple remains blissfully alone in the deserted mansion for five days. When the weather clears the housekeeper returns and spies them asleep. They leave and arrive in the dark at Stonehenge, the ancient sacred site. Tess lies on a rock that Angel declares to be an altar and begs him to marry Liza-Lu after her death. Angel remains quiet and Tess sleeps. He awakes to the sound of the authorities surrounding them and asks them not to wake her.
She wakes, relieved that soon she will be dead: “I am ready” (446).
In the final chapter, Angel and Liza-Lu, now a couple, watch as a black flag is raised on a tower signaling Tess’s death: “justice was done…they joined hands again and went on” (448).
Although she is still alive, in the final and shortest section, it seems as if Tess is already dead. While most of the novel has been narrated from Tess’s perspective, the final section is told from Angel’s perspective, and since he knows nothing of what has happed to Tess in his absence, the reader is left just as much in the dark, having never seen Tess leave with Alec. She just appears at Sandbourne without a second seduction scene, as expected. Indeed, at this point even the minor characters have more agency than Tess. Angel hears from her mother that Tess is no longer at Marlott. Mrs. Brooks is central to the murder scene. When Angel arrives at Sandbourne, Tess is a “different woman,” dressed in cashmere, living in the lap of luxury—a far, far remove from the Tess shivering and starving at Flintcomb-Ash. It is as if she has come so far under Alec’s spell that she has lost her “self.”
It takes Angel’s renewed presence to force Tess into taking action against Alec. And act she does. Seeing Angel once more ignites in Tess a storm of pent-up emotion that results in Alec’s death. For once she manages to break out of the fragile female role and kills her lover violently with a phallic knife—but readers never see her act and it is the minor nosey character Mrs. Brooks who reports the murder.
At the end of the novel, Tess and Angel are finally equal. As they make their escape, there is no more hesitancy about their socially inferior or superior backgrounds. Finally, they are just themselves and cannot worry about how society will judge them. Angel has undergone great mental anguish that has resulted in conversion and forgiveness, and physical pain that has left him weakened, aged, and not at all handsome. Tess similarly has undergone privations beyond endurance and doesn’t owe anyone an apology. In the old mansion in the woods they stand as equals and finally experience a joyous honeymoon. However, as Hardy makes clear in his title “Phase the Fifth, the woman pays” Tess must mount the scaffold alone while Angel walks off with a new Tess.
hat of Alec d’Urberville, who leaves his selfish self behind to be replaced, albeit temporarily, with a man of the cloth bent on saving others.
But this man of the cloth is a sham. Hardy compares him with “the Other,” otherwise known as Satan, who tempts Eve in the garden paradise. And, just as he did years before, Alec seduces Tess. However, Alec appears to love Tess, who has some kind of hold on him. Why else the transformation into a man of God when she leaves, and why else the return to the man-of-old upon her return?
Throughout the novel, Hardy paints a picture of, as the title denotes, “a pure woman,” and the tenuous position of such a woman, without a man’s protection, in nineteenth-century Britain. Because of her fall from maidenhood Tess can only live as a man’s mistress but never as his wife. Alec no doubt wanted Tess to remain with him, but he never asked her to marry him. Hardy provides no explanation for this because to his readers it would not be credible for a lower-class servant to marry an upper-class man with a noble name, even though that name is a sham. The upper-class Angel can marry Tess, but he has to justify this decision by pointing out how virtuous she is and how she will benefit him monetarily in his future as a farmer. Tess, however, is never Angel’s wife in the physical sense of the word until the end of the novel. when the couple lives outside society’s boundaries in the woods.
Despite all the maneuverings of his characters, Hardy holds fast to his idea that fate ultimately controls all. Tess attempts to get Angel’s attention by visiting his parents to ask for help and support. However, fate would have it that Angel’s brothers just happen to be talking of their errant brother’s marriage and they pass a veiled Tess. Had Tess spoken to the Clare family, chances are that she never would have encountered Alec, and certainly, if she had, not had the necessity to return to him in desperation. Hardy would thus have us believe that the course of our life, and thus our decisions, is predestined.