Chapter 5

Synopsis of chapter 5

The loss of Prince the horse inevitably means the Durbeyfield family fall on hard times. Tess feels duty bound to agree to her mother's plan to ‘claim kin' with the D'Urbervilles she has been told about, despite feelings of shame about being the ‘poor relations'.

She travels to Trantridge, near where the D'Urbervilles live in a house called ‘The Slopes'. She finds it a newly built house, not at all an old country estate. Hardy explains that the family is not the genuine old family at all, but a manufacturing family, the Stokes, the father of which decided to set up as gentry in the South, having made his fortune in the North of England. He quite carelessly took over the D'Urberville name and invented a family tree. In fact, the father is now dead and the mother an invalid, which leaves Tess to be met by the only son, Alec, a lusty young man of twenty-four.

He escorts her round the estate, plying her with food and flowers, clearly attracted by her looks and figure. He listens to her story and promises to see what he can do.

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Accompanying teaching resources

Commentary on chapter 5

Malthusian......long family of waiters on Providence: Thomas Malthus had written An Essay on the Principle of Population (2nd.ed. 1803), in which he put forward the dangers of overpopulation and the need to restrict family numbers. Tess becomes increasingly aware her large family is subject to the dangers of overpopulation, whilst her mother trusts to the goodness of Providence. Here Hardy is making use of irony; the implication being that the family have waited long and nothing good has as yet arrived.

to be well-favoured....came by nature: parody of a line in Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing III iii13-16. Hardy is Alexander the Great, photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, available through Creative Commonsusing the words of Shakespeare's stupid constable to mock the D'Urbervilles.

the swarthy Alexander: Alec is an abbreviation of Alexander, perhaps after Alexander the Great who was the Greek empire-builder. Here, Alec's empire is his estates and, by implication, whatever sexual conquests he can make.

Druidical mistletoe: Mistletoe was used in various rituals performed by the druids, ancient priests of the pagan religion flourishing before Christianity in Britain.

A fullness of growth: As the Victorians were very reticent about naming parts of the female body, circumlocutions were used. Here, Hardy suggests Tess has inherited a big bust from her mother even though she has not, unlike her mother, had any children to nurse as yet.

the human progress: since Darwin's publications on evolution, considerable discussion on the nature of human progress had taken place, much of it quite optimistic. Hardy adds his comments to the discussion.

Social context

Work opportunities for women in agriculture were plentiful in the nineteenth century, but they tended to be casual and seasonal. Hardy tells us here that Tess has learnt to be a dairymaid when her father kept some cows. Most girls would learn how to make hay and look after poultry also. See Agricultural and social conditions.

It was quite common for men who had made their fortune as industrialists, merchants or financiers to gain entry into the gentry class by buying up a country estate, or by building a new one, and by taking over a hereditary name.


The main clue to the passage of time is that it is the strawberry season, usually June and July. Tess is surprised at the early varieties of the fruit available, so possibly the time is no more than a month after the preceding chapters.


This chapter contains Tess' second journey. Hardy hints at its symbolic nature, as she journeys out of the valley where she has always lived.

The Chase: Cranborne Chase lies to the south and east of Shaftesbury (Shaston), and is indeed a tract of very ancient forest.

Trantridge; Chaseborough: No obvious equivalent in the real geography of Dorset, though the names are local.

For further notes on Tess's mode of travel, see Hardy's Wessex: Roads and railways.


acme: high point

bailiff: steward, farm manager

castle argent: in heraldry, a term denoting a silver castle. The crest Alec has in mind was probably devised for his father

Chapels of Ease: an outlying church for use just by certain families or groups who could or would not get to the main parish church

crumby: desirable

higgling: see haggler (Ch 1)

Pollarded treesmaladroit: clumsy

pollarded: pruned by cutting off the topmost branches.

pot-hook: an S-shaped hook used for hanging pots over an open fire

quagmire: marsh, bog

ramping: Tess's misnaming of rampant. In heraldry it means upright, standing on hind feet.

reticulated: criss-crossed, like the strings of a net

stuff: woollen or worsted material

sylvan: wooded, forested

Investigating chapter 5

  • How does Hardy use geography to describe Tess's awareness of the world?
  • What is Tess's second journey a journey towards?
  • Hardy makes a great deal about layers of time.
    • Collect together the references to time and history in this chapter and arrange into:
      • Pre historical time
      • Historical time
      • Modern time (modernity)
    • In what ways does Hardy suggest modernity and falsity run together?
  • Compare the names Durbeyfield and D'Urberville.
    • Can you see anything significant in the differences?
  • What parts of Tess's and Alec's bodies are described?
    • What is the significance?
  • How does Hardy make us aware that Alec is a threat to Tess?
  • Notice Tess went about ‘as in a dream'.
    • What does this suggest to you about Tess's state of mind?
  • Look at Hardy's comments in the last few paragraphs.
    • Hardy often does stop to comment on his story, nearly always at the end of a chapter. Consider:
      • What the remarks say about Hardy's method of plot construction
      • How they help readers to anticipate how the plot will develop
      • How this anticipation helps create a sense of impending doom or tragedy
    • From these remarks, does Hardy seem to believe in progress?
  • Think about the phrase ‘not by a certain other man'
    • Who would be meant here? Does he actually turn out to be the ‘exact and true one'?
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