Chapter 7

Synopsis of chapter 7

On the day appointed to go to the d'Urbervilles' home, ‘The Slopes', Tess dresses in her working clothes. Joan, however, insists she dresses in her Sunday finery, so Tess puts on the white dress she wore at the club-walking. Tess looks much more mature than she really is. It is clear that there is tension between her and her mother: her mother is confident of a good match; however, Tess is unwilling to contemplate this.

Tess and her parents set out to wait for the cart at the end of the valley, saying farewell as the cart appeared. They watch as Alec arrives in a smart Giggig and persuades Tess to mount with him. Later that night, Joan expresses some doubts as to her eagerness in going ahead with her ‘project' without finding out about Alec's character, but complacently remarks Tess is sure to marry him one way or the other.

Commentary on chapter 7

‘I'll take a thousand pounds': John Durbeyfield's lessening of the amount he will take to sell his title is a comic allusion to Abraham's bargaining with God to save Sodom in Genesis18:23-33.

passively trusting to the favour of accident: probably anticipating Joan's words, ‘And if he don't marry her afore he will after', meaning that he will either marry her before he gets her pregnant, or at least afterwards. In the days before birth control, pregnancy was more likely to result from any sexual contact, however ‘accidental'. Joan's sentiments may have been controversial to Hardy's middle-class readership, but were an honest reflection of the fatalism that was typical of much rural living. See Determinism and free will

bedecking: dressing-up. The cottagers make a full-length mirror out of the window by putting black material one side. Hardy may have in mind Victorian paintings, called genre paintings, which depict such rural scenes. Hardy's imagination tends to be very picturesque, even cinematographic at times.


Hardy stresses margins and borders in this chapter, relating them to Tess:

  • She is on the borders of girlhood and womanhood - the idea of a gradual adolescence is a modern concept, not appropriate to working-class rural society where young people were expected to shoulder adult responsibility earlier than is now acceptable in modern society
  • The meeting place is also on the borders of the valley and the upland area into which she is travelling
  • Tess is symbolically on the borders of innocence and experience.


acclivity: slope upwards

breeches: trousers

buck: fashionable young man

dand: dandy

dog-cart, gig: light speedy vehicles designed for one or two passengers, the equivalent of an open-top sports car to-day.

drab: a reference to the material more than to the colour, a dull brown heavy cotton or wool.

tractability: obedience

trump card: strongest asset

Investigating chapter 7

  • List the references in this chapter to margins and borders
    • Which are symbolic?
  • Pick out words and phrases that have to do with passivity
    • Does Hardy seem to suggest this is a dangerous attitude?
  • A great deal is made about the clothes Tess and Alec are wearing
    • What do you think Hardy is trying to establish?
  • What do you think are Tess's ‘bitter sentiments' that she does not utter?
  • From whose perspective do we see much of the chapter?
    • What is the effect of Hardy shifting the perspective?
  • What would you say are the ultimate failures of Tess's parents towards her?
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