Chapter 34

Synopsis of chapter 34

Angel and Tess drive to the former d'Urberville mansion, now little more than a farmhouse. They have it to themselves. On climbing the staircase, they see two portraits of d'Urberville women, fixed into the wall. They look menacing and evil. Tess feels depressed.

Rain sets in and they huddle round the fire, waiting for their luggage to be brought. Whilst they are waiting, a package is delivered from Angel's parents. It is a set of diamond jewellery for Tess, to become an heirloom, a bequest from Angel's godmother. She puts them on, and they have supper.

At last, the luggage arrives. It has been delayed because one of the dairymaids, Retty, tried to drown herself, and another, Marian, got drunk. Tess feels their misfortune because of her good fortune and again determines to tell Angel everything, whatever the cost.

However, Angel forestalls Tess because he, too, has a confession to make, concerning a brief escapade in London with an older woman – which the reader knows about already. He, like Tess, had been too afraid to tell her beforehand for fear of losing her. Tess readily forgives him, and thus encouraged, finally tells him her story.

Commentary on chapter 34

This is the final chapter of the section, and the climax of the long drawn-out struggle for Tess to confess her past. Hardy structures the chapter well, but deliberately closes the section before we know what Angel's reactions will be. But so long has the build-up been, and so gloomy are the symbolic features of the setting, that the reader has to anticipate the worst.

The little incident of the touching of fingers in the wash-bowl repeats a similar incident between Fancy Day and Dick Dewey in Under the Greenwood Tree. In both, it symbolises a natural affinity of bodies with each other.

true construction of a difficult passage: a reference to translating, especially from Greek or Latin. The construction of these languages is so different from English that the meaning often takes a good deal of puzzling out. Angel feels he has now made Tess out.

mops and brooms: get tipsy. A reference to hiring fairs when women would carry mops or brooms to denote how they should be hired for the coming year. Usually a good deal of drinking went on at these fairs.

pay to the uttermost farthing: this has a biblical echo in Matthew 5:26. The whole paragraph is an example of what is called free indirect speech, when we are given the thoughts of the character as if in the moment of them being thought. George Eliot used this device a lot in her novels, but it is comparatively rare in Hardy, who preferred the more formal reported speech.

Aldebaran, Sirius: very bright stars which appear to flash. Sirius, or the Dog Star, is often considered a star of ill-omen.

my Fellowship: to enter an academic career, the best way was to be awarded a Fellowship of a college after graduating. For Angel, winning Tess is an equal honour.

plenary inspiration: the belief that every word of the Bible has been divinely inspired, a basic Evangelical belief (see 2 Timothy 3:16).

these words of Paul...: 1 Timothy 4:12. Angel is beginning to sound exactly like his father, preaching to Tess when he should be confessing. He is hedging himself in with erudite language.

'Integer vitae': from Horace's Odes, Book 1, 22. Apparently, the translation is Hardy's own. Again, Angel is hedging himself in with his learning.

Last Day luridness: Tess's imagination is full of her own Bible teaching, this time of the Last Day when the earth shall be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7).


Angel's new found fascination with the d'Urbervilles has brought him and Tess to a place most unsuitable for a honeymoon. The two dreadful portraits on the staircase, permanently fixed there, bear out the cruelty of the aristocratic family. Hardy is using every Gothic device he can to signal further horrors for the couple.


New Year's Eve is an ambivalent moment of time. It is usually taken to be a time of festivity and partying, with all the hope of a new year. But it can be seen as the dying of the year, at the deadest time of winter. This is more how Hardy seems to portray it, although it is meant to be the beginning of Tess and Angel's new life together. The news of the two girls' unhappiness, the rain, the depressing atmosphere of the house and the delayed luggage all seem to depress Tess' spirits.


Dree: three

gallied: worried, scared

harridans: abusive old women

heirloom: a precious object that is meant to be kept in a family, being passed down to the family's descendants.

night-rail: dressing-gown, bath-robe

roof-tree: metaphorically, a home; literally, the main beam of a roof

Squire: Lord of the Manor; highest ranking person in a village community

withy-bed: willow plantation

Investigating chapter 34

  • With which aspects concerning her ancestry is Tess confronted?
    • How do Tess and Angel differ in the way they see these ancestral manifestations?
  • Tess is also presented with an heirloom. This is her first taste of being in another social class.
    • Why does she think immediately it should be sold?
    • Does this heirloom do any more for her than the d'Urberville 'heirlooms'?
    • How do your observations tie up with what Hardy has previously said about the past and Tess's family history?
  • Collect together images and words Hardy uses to create atmosphere.
    • What is their overall impression?
    • Would you say Hardy is being rather too 'Gothic' or melodramatic here, or would you say the images mirror Tess' state of mind exactly?
  • In what ways are both Angel and Tess marginalised, especially in terms of their class status?
  • In what ways is Angel still labouring under a sense of failure?
    • How does Hardy show this?
  • Why do you think Angel starts using learned words and quotations when he comes to confess?
    • How differently does Hardy present Tess's confession?
  • Explain 'had the effect upon her of a Providential interposition'.
  • Looking at this section as a whole, how far does Hardy really show what 'the consequence' is?
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