Compared to Tess, the novel's male protagonists are not so rounded, though of the two, Angel is more fully developed. We see him in several different contexts: with his brothers and family; at Talbothays; with Tess in widely differing circumstances; even briefly in Brazil. Aspects considered here are:

  • The characterisation of Angel
  • Angel as an idealist
  • Angel as a modernist
  • Angel as an outsider
  • Angel's faults
  • Angel's limitations.

The characterisation of Angel

Hardy uses many of the same techniques that he does with Tess (see Characterisation > Tess).

In addition, he places Angel in comparison to Alec, his opposite and adversary:

  • In the way each loves Tess (Ch 20)
  • In the way each treats the honour of women in their proximity (Ch 22, 23)
  • In their attitude to the d'Urbervilles
  • In the loss of faith and faithlessness of each
  • Symbolically, in various episodes:
    • in using the Garden of Eden imagery (Ch 19, 50)
    • in the tomb/sleepwalking episode: Angel shows psychic disturbance; Alec treats the Kingsbere tombs as a joke (Ch 37, 52).

It needs to be understood that Angel is not necessarily portrayed more positively than Alec in all these comparisons. In view of Tess's complete trust in Angel, his faithlessness can be regarded as being much worse than Alec's.

Angel as an idealist

Ch 18 contains the first full description of Angel, the description in Ch 2 being only an initial impression. One trait that emerges strongly is Angel's idealism.

Idealism has two broad meanings:

  • An idealist lives more in the world of ideas than in facts and realities
  • An idealist believes in certain perfect forms which s/he seeks to find on earth.

Certainly, Angel seems quite other-worldly on first impression:

  • Ch 18 contains phrases like 'nebulous', 'intellectual liberty', 'meditations' (Ch 20 provides further examples)
  • He has a disregard for social rank and finds it no problem to mix with the working class folk at Talbothays
  • His initial appreciation of Tess is similarly idealised: 'What a genuine daughter of Nature....'
  • Elsewhere he is likened to the Romantic poet Shelley, who was an idealist and Platonist, as well as an atheist
  • The word 'ethereal' is often used in the narrative in conjunction with him.

Being an idealist does not mean Angel intellectualises everything. He feels passion (as in Ch 24, 31) and his desire for Tess is intense, but not sensual or lustful in any way (Ch 32), unlike Alec. He treats the women around him very gallantly, apart from the one later slip with Izz whilst highly disturbed (Ch 40).

See Ch 36 for further comments on his idealism.

Angel as a modernist

Angel's ideas are self-consciously modern:

  • In Ch 18, Hardy recounts Angel's anti-Christian reading which his father finds so shocking
  • He is full of the latest ideas on why religion is not true
  • However, Hardy suggests both his and Tess's almost pagan unbelief is not so dissimilar; rather than being truly modern, what Angel believes are really old ideas, even instincts, dressed up as new.

Angel's later treatment of Tess (Ch 35, 36, 37) is used by Hardy to make the point that although his ideas have changed the direction of his life away from the church, they have not made him a morally better person, since he lacks compassion. See also Modernity.

Angel as an outsider

Like Tess, Angel does not quite fit in to any society, working or middle-class:

  • He has rejected his father's profession, so does not quite fit in to his own family (Ch 25)
  • At Talbothays, he works with the farm workers, but has to sit apart at meal-times and is always addressed respectfully as 'sir' (Ch 18)
  • The dairymaids regard him as being almost godlike
  • He does not seem to fit with being a farmer, however much he has it in mind to be a gentleman farmer
  • His journey to Brazil seems anomalous: the reader can tell at once this is not where Angel belongs. The idea has not been thought through.

Angel is making his life up as he goes along, but being an idealist, he lacks the pragmatism to make it work and so is consigned to the margins of society.

More on Hardy's other marginal males: Angel is quite different from other of Hardy's loners and wanderers. The reddleman in The Return of the Native, Giles in The Woodlanders and Jude in Jude the Obscure are intelligent working class men thinking independently. Angel is most like Fitzpiers in The Woodlanders. Both have well-educated, middle-class backgrounds but are essentially drifters and unfocussed in their lives.

Angel's faults

Hardy makes no attempt to idealise Angel. He is a drifter, with no fixed resolves or ambitions in life. His ideas are not firmly linked in reality or experience.

Angel's perception of women is limited (Ch 28) and limiting:

  • He doesn't fully comprehend Tess
  • He seeks to honour her but is not sensitive to her inner struggle
  • He does not allow her room for confession, because real mistakes or previous sexual experience have no part in his idealised perception of her.

After Tess's confession, Angel's idealisation of Tess turns to hardness of heart:

  • Somehow, his goddess has failed to live up to her image, and this makes her a different person
  • He refuses to allow the pity in his heart to manifest itself
  • He strains to reject the ‘fallen' Tess, only allowing himself to be compassionate (in making provision for her) once she has accepted his revision of her.

Even when he has repented, Angel is complacent in seeking Tess out, assuming that everything will now be alright. This demonstrates his:

  • Idealism
  • Naivety
  • Egocentricity
  • His utter inability to put himself into Tess's shoes.

Angel also demonstrates as much social snobbery as his mother (Ch 39):

  • He desires to educate Tess (Ch 32) so he can show her off as a d'Urberville
  • This harms her and treats her as an object rather than a person.

Angel's limitations

Self-centredness is typical of an immature person, so perhaps Angel should not be condemned for his behaviour. However, Hardy will not allow the reader to think this:

  • His plot inexorably traces the consequences of Angel's wrong thinking
  • He shows how poor ideas translate into actions that bring harmful results to others.

Hardy conveys how Angel places mind above heart through his vocabulary:

  • When Angel makes his own wedding night confession, it is full of literary allusions and educated words, as he tries to distance himself from his past. It is an effective barrier to intimacy (While Hardy does not give us the text of Tess's confession, we can be sure its diction and register are quite different.)
  • Angel's un-worldly register demonstrates how hard he finds it to relate in a real way to Tess
  • The sleep-walking episode (Ch 37) illustrates that Angels' subconscious does show a much deeper disturbance than his speech will allow. The tragedy is that Tess's submissive silence does not challenge this lack of psychological integration.

See also: Sexual Predation

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