Chapter 17

Synopsis of chapter 17

Tess immediately joins the milkers, her skill having presumably been learned from her mother. Hardy shows us a community working together on the dairy farm under Dairyman Crick. After supper, Tess is shown her bedroom, which she shares with three other dairymaids. She is told about one of the milkmen who is clearly different from the others. He is Angel Clare, who turns out to be the young man who danced with some of the girls in Marlott in Ch 2. He is a vicar's son, the same vicar whom the sign painter had mentioned in Ch 12. Angel is learning to be a farmer.

Commentary on chapter 17

This is most the vibrant community that Hardy shows us in the novel. It is almost the 'rustic chorus' of his earlier novels such as Under the Greenwood Tree. Indeed, one of the characters from that novel, William Dewey, is mentioned.

The meeting with Angel is one of the necessary coincidences any plot has to use to work. It is a credible coincidence, and thus fills us with anticipation.

Journeymana man in shining broadcloth....: sitting in his family pew of the church every Sunday, Dairyman Crick becomes respectable Mister Crick, a man with his best suit on.

journey-milkmen: a journeyman was someone who had ceased to be an apprentice, and was now travelling around to gain further experience with other master craftsmen of his skill or trade.

the cattle kneel o' Christmas Eves...: it was an old country tradition that the cattle knelt down on Christmas Eve as they were believed to have done around the original nativity crib of baby Jesus and his mother. Hardy himself wrote a poem about this: At a Christmas Nativity.

'Tivity Hymn: Nativity hymn, probably referring to the one Isaac Watts wrote in 1707, which starts 'Come let us join our cheerful songs...'

the old Low Church sort: see Different religious approaches in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Social context

Hardy gives us a carefully layered account of the dairy community. We hear the comments, stories and banter of the working people. Dairyman Crick stands as a working man, yet he and his wife have middle class aspirations, represented by the more formal clothes they wear on occasion. They rent a family pew in the local church, a typical middle class action. In Hardy's day, it was quite common to rent out pews to produce income for the church.

Angel Clare is treated with deference, even by Crick, although technically he is only an apprentice. But his class connections give him a right to be treated apart from the others. Tess identifies herself as just a working girl, denying her aristocratic past when Crick mentions it.

The community is far better ordered than those at Marlott and Trantridge. Productivity is prized, and when the cows or the milkers fall behind in their yield, it is immediately noted, though in a good-humoured way.


The dairy is obviously very prosperous and well-ordered. Hardy, however, notes that the agrarian landscape is constantly changing. The farm is laid over older, probably smaller, farms. see Enclosure and the agrarian revolution.

Emminster: Beaminster, in the western part of Dorset

Mellstock: Stinsford, just outside Dorchester, the setting for Under the Greenwood Tree, and the area of Hardy's own boyhood.


brimstone: sulphur, often connected with the flames of hell

cord breeches: corduroy trousers

dun: nondescript brownish colour

ejaculation: exclamation

gaiters: canvas or leather bands tied round the ankles to contain the trouser ends, thereby preventing them getting dirty

gam'sters: gamesters. A possible modern equivalent might be 'jokers'.

kex: dry stem of a plant

leery: hungry, faint

long-dog: greyhound

nott cows: cows with no horns

pattens: wooden clogs or overshoes

pew: long wooden seat in a church, usually with a back to it.

'pinner: pinafore

prints: patterned cotton dresses

stave: line of music

terminatively: conclusively

tranter: haulier or carrier

vicissitudes: the ups and downs of life

whey: the thinner milk strained out in cheese making

wrings: cheese presses

Investigating chapter 17

  • What is the first impression Tess makes on the others?
    • How much of it is to do with her looks?
  • What are the grounds for Tess's optimism?
    • Do you think they are well-founded?
  • Collect together the remarks about the past.
    • Does Hardy seem to view the past positively?
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