Chapter 2

Synopsis of chapter 2

After a description of the area, both geographical and historical, the narrator turns to describing the May-Day dance or women's ‘club-walking' ceremony.

Jack Durbeyfield is seen in his hired carriage, a fact which is brought to the attention of his daughter, Tess, one of the dancers. She is then described to the readers.

There are three passers-by, young men on a walking holiday. They are brothers, and the youngest, named Angel, decides to dance, as the club-walking now has turned into a general village dance. As he leaves, he and Tess briefly notice one another.

Commentary on chapter 2

Compared to the first chapter, the narrative focuses on a great variety of different activities, people and perspectives. Again, first impressions are important.

unenclosed: part of common land, without being fenced off. Hardy refers to various Enclosure Acts, which partitioned off much of the common land for private farming from the later eighteenth century onwards, and Henry III of Englandled to many peasants being driven off the land. The Enclosure Acts contributed more than anything else to the movement off the land by its traditional inhabitants.

King Henry III's reign: 1216-1272. Medieval kings were very jealous of their hunting privileges. Royal hunting areas were traditionally called forests, even though they did not consist entirely of woodland.

Club-walking: Hardy explains this old custom. Two things are hinted at:

  • The pagan (or pre-Christian) still survives in what is originally some sort of fertility ritual among the peasants. Hardy makes this point again later in Ch 16
  • There is a separate sphere of celebration for women, though it is constantly under threat from men.

Cerealia: a Roman festival in honour of Ceres, the goddess of corn and other arable crops (from whom the term cereal derives). This is what suggests to the reader that Hardy had in mind a pagan fertility cult.

Morris dancersA peeled willow-wand: also used in native fertility rites (still used in Morris dancing).

Old Style days: The Old Style calendar referred to the Julian calendar, which was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

‘I have no pleasure in them': from one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 12:1. It refers to the fact that in old age, people may enjoy life's pleasures less, or may not be able to enjoy them as much as they used to.

Dialect...despite the village school: The Victorian school system tried to iron out all dialect forms and teach a standard English pronunciation and vocabulary.

Regulation curate: a satirical reference to the way in which all curates dressed the same. Hardy's satirical treatment of the two brothers is developed in the later parts of the novel. Other Victorian novelists also made fun of curates' behaviour and dress, such as George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte.

Uncribbed, uncabined: an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth III.4.24-25, where Macbeth feels he is ‘cabined, cribbed, confined' because Banquo's son has escaped and can bear witness to his father's assassination.

A Counterblast to Agnosticism: Not the real title of any book, but typical of many books of the day, when orthodox Christianity was in battle with liberal and agnostic ideas. Hardy read such books himself, but here the contrast is more between Angel's country pleasures and his brothers' rather remote and abstract intellectual life.

Facing and footing...clasping and colling: effective alliterations that describe various country dance positions and movements. To coll is to hug or kiss.

Monumental record: a family history carved into stone, as on a tomb stone.

Masculine side of the figure: taking the man's position in a dance.


It is helpful to keep a running note of the seasons mentioned in the novel:

  • Hardy suggests the club-walking derives from May Day dances and rituals
  • May Day is May 1st, whereas the time in the novel is in the latter part of May
  • It may be that the dance had been shifted to Whitsun (literally White Sunday)
  • Whitsun is otherwise known as Pentecost, a Christian celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church (Acts 2:1-4). The date of this is 50 days after Easter, so a late Easter would produce a late Whitsun at the end of May
  • Traditionally, in many parts of the country, there were Whitsun processions with girls wearing white. These were held on Whit Monday, which was a public holiday
  • This dance appears to be on a Saturday.


  • Stourcastle: Sturminster Newton, some three miles south of Marnhull
  • Blackmoor Vale is described in considerable detail. It is useful to compare it to similar descriptions of the Froom Valley, as Hardy often makes symbolic use of geography. The river that runs through the Vale is the River Stour
  • Hardy describes the area as being only four hours from London, by which he meant the duration of a railway journey. The railway had reached Weymouth only 33 years earlier – before that, the journey would have taken two days and would have been rarely undertaken by villagers
  • Landscape painting of picturesque parts of Britain was immensely popular in the nineteenth century, so Hardy was either being ironic, or displaying his credentials as a local, in commenting that the Vale was not on the tourist map, nor had painters found it
  • To the south lie the hills which Hardy calls elsewhere the Wessex Heights. They run east to west and cut off the northern and southern parts of Dorset. Hardy names five of the prominent hills, most of which featured in other novels and poems (for example, The Woodlanders, ‘Wessex Heights'). Behind the hills lies the plateau where Tess is forced to spend a winter later in the story
  • Hardy also gives a brief history of the Vale, especially when it was an uncleared forested area, called here the Forest of the White Hart. No doubt this forest joined other forests to the east, which are mentioned a few chapters later on.


arable: ploughed land, as opposed to pasture land which was for cattle and sheep

calcareous: chalky

escarpments: steep sides of a range of hills

factotum: a general servant, capable of doing a number of jobs

Georgian: refers to the reigns of George I, II and III, 1714 – 1798, after which came the Regency period (the time of the Prince Regent (later George IV), who ruled in place of George III, since he was deemed unfit to rule because of ill-health. It is seen as a transitional period from from the Georgian era into the Victorian era)

groom: servant who looks after horses

hoydens: wenches, rough girls

knapsacks: backpacks

lucre: money

market-nitch: the quantity of alcohol one drinks after market

metamorphosed: transformed. Here Hardy refers to the way pagan customs often linger within a Christianised culture.

orbs: eyes

ostler: a servant at a coaching inn who looks after the visitors' horses

peasantry: country working class

peony: a vivid flower, whose bloom is somewhat bigger than a rose. Can be white, pink or red, though it is typically associated with red

train: a procession of people

untinctured: not coloured; with no tinge

Investigating chapter 2

  • From what perspectives does Hardy describe the Vale of Blackmoor?
    • What are the significant features of each perspective?
  • What do you understand by fertility?
    • What seem to be the most significant features of the Vale?
  • Is there any significance in Hardy mentioning the legend of the White Hart?
  • What are your first impressions of Tess?
    • It would seem she is 16 or perhaps just 17 at this stage. Do you feel able to visualise her, or do you rather get an idea of her femininity?
    • Are the narrative descriptions more sensuous, psychological, or moral in their emphasis?
      • Are any parts of her body emphasised more than others?
  • What is ourfirst impression of Angel?
    • What associations do you have with his name?
  • Why does Hardy introduce comments from Angel's brothers?
  • Angel and Tess almost meet
    • What do we anticipate from this?
  • Tess's father appears briefly in the chapter
    • What point does the narrative seem to be making?
  • How does the chapter convey the idea of change in what could otherwise seem a timeless and ideal pastoral world?
  • Hardy uses colour symbolism frequently:
    • List the colours described in this chapter, especially those applied to Tess.
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