Chapter 42

Synopsis of chapter 42

Tess journeys on, requesting work at the farms she passes, but failing to find any. Finally she arrives at Flintcomb-Ash, where Marian is working. She meets her and also finds employment at the farm, and accommodation in the village.

It is heavy work. The landscape is flat, treeless and grey. Tess has also deliberately made herself as plain as possible, so as not to attract male attention. She wears her wedding ring on a necklace hidden away.

Commentary on chapter 42

There are various ways to understand this journey. It could be seen as:

  • A tragic fall to the lowest level of separation, status and work, from the heights of wedded bliss
  • A journey through purgatory, a sort of atonement for the sins of Tess's past
  • A journey into the underworld, as epic heroes often had to make. It is certainly a no-man's-land and wilderness experience for Tess, a type of spiritual and physical decline consonant with the season (see fuller notes in Ch 43).

'the maiden's mouth is cold...': quoted from Swinburne's poem Fragoletta.

Cybele the Many-breasted: a nature goddess of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), represented as having many breasts, and taken over by the Romans as Diana of Ephasus. The irony is that the actual place is as infertile as possible.

swede-hacking: swedes are a root crop and therefore need digging up. A hacker was a kind of short hoe, which meant the labourer had to be doubled over to use it. Also, as explained in Ch 43, they are digging up the uneaten bottom halves of the swedes. 'Hack' also means someone who has poorly-paid work and who is exploited.

Old Lady-Day: April 6. 'Old' because it is a date deriving from the discontinued Julian calendar (see note on Ch 2). 'Lady' is a reference to the Virgin Mary, and the day commemorates the Archangel Gabriel's annunciation to her that she will bear the Christ-child (Luke 1:26-28). 'Lady Day' is also a 'quarter-day', legally significant because contracts were often dated from or to it. For instance, it is the beginning of the British financial year.

Social context

Marian is very aware of Tess's change of status to a 'gentleman's wife', which means she should not be doing manual work in the social context of the day. Tess, on the other hand, is making herself look as much like a common labourer as she can.


The symbolism of the winter season must not be missed. Everything is dead and dying; there is no green anywhere.


The place is also to be understood symbolically. Hardy describes it as a plateau between the valleys of birth and love. It is in sight of the two hills Tess passed on the fateful journey on which Prince was killed (Ch 4). The village is also symbolically named, flint being a hard, often jagged rock, whilst ash is burnt remains, as well as the name of a British tree.

Flintcomb-Ash: There seems to be no definite location for this village. It must be around the hamlets of Plush and Folly, since there are tumuli and earthworks nearby. These are situated east of Cerne Abbas, which is where Hardy's map puts it.


arable: ploughed

mommet: scarecrow

percipient: able to perceive. This is a crucial word with Hardy, a term he often uses in a negative sense to describe Fate or those forces controlling our lives.

plashed: bushes bent and interwoven to form low hedges

quickset: plants grown as a hedgerow that grow quickly, usually hawthorn.

tilt-bonnet: sun-bonnet. Presumably Marian has not been able to afford winter clothes, as Tess could, as her money gets spent on drink.

tumuli: ancient burial-mounds

Investigating 42

  • In what ways has Tess become 'a figure which is part of the landscape'?
    • What is the significance of Hardy's phrase?
  • Make sure you understand the symbolism of the landscape.
    • What are the main features of the landscape, and how do they match up to Tess's inner state of being?
  • A sort of destination has been reached at the end of this journey.
    • How would you characterise it?
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