Chapter 11

Synopsis of chapter 11

After an initial feeling of triumph over her companions, Tess is soon anxious about Alec's attempts to woo her. In the end, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She does not refuse, feeling too helpless; especially when Alec tells her he has sent her family a new horse and the children some toys.

Alec rides aimlessly, making no attempt to return to Trantridge. When Tess realises this, at about 1 a.m., she insists he lets her down from the horse. He, too, is lost and goes off to find where they are, leaving the horse with Tess, who soon dozes off.

When Alec finally returns, he finds her deeply asleep. The moon has gone down and they are in thick darkness, just before dawn. Hardy finishes the chapter and the first section lamenting Tess's fate and asking why there was no-one to protect her. We are left to presume that Alec has sex with her.

Commentary on chapter 11

Rape or seduction?

This is a crucial chapter to understand. The obvious debate is whether Tess was actually raped or whether there was some degree of consent to it. The subtitle of the book depends on the outcome of this debate. Hardy notoriously refuses to give clear details, perhaps because Victorian morality prohibited this. Indeed, in a very early version, he had a mock marriage service performed. But perhaps the conventions suited his purpose, since ambiguity and ambivalence are key elements in the delineation of Tess through the book.

Further commentary

Tess's guardian angel: refers to the popular Victorian belief that everyone has an angel assigned to guard them, probably based on Jesus' comment in Matthew 18:10 regarding children

that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke: The Tishbite is the Old Testament prophet Elijah. He confronted the priests of the pagan god, Baal, demanding that Baal send fire from heaven to prove himself. When nothing happened, Elijah mocked him as a useless idol. See 1 Kings 18:16-45.

analytical philosophy: Hardy is suggesting that none of the systems of philosophy ever devised have satisfactorily explained the disordering effect of evil on innocent people.

possibility of a retribution: the only explanation that Hardy suggests that has some sense of order to it, is that Tess's aristocratic ancestors often raped country girls, and now the same is happening to her. This sort of retribution, paying back evil on a later generation, he dismisses as unsatisfactory.

good enough for divinities: Hardy uses the term 'divinities' (gods) because the Bible refers to God visiting the sins of the fathers on the children (Exodus 34:6-7 He perhaps rather wilfully disregards other Biblical teaching that suggests that while this may refer to natural consequences, God in fact only holds the sinner himself responsible for his sin.


Two layers of past time are mentioned: the primeval trees of The Chase, and the days of Tess's ancestors. The former suggests time's indifference to Tess; the latter, male violence and the female as the victim. See


The Chase takes on symbolic meaning here, as Alec 'chases' Tess. Paths peter out in the ancient woods. For similar woods where people get lost, see Hardy's The Woodlanders. Giles actually dies in the woods in that novel. See


cob: see Ch 4. Alec has replaced Prince with the same type of horse.

gossamer: literally, a film of floating cobwebs, but coming to mean any delicate tissue

twain: two

Investigating chapter 11

  • Gather up all the references to Tess's powerlessness.
    • Are they balanced by anything that suggests she has any control?
  • List the geographical features that act as symbols
    • What do they symbolise?
  • Look at Tess's behaviour towards Alec.
    • Does Hardy suggest she is actively encouraging or discouraging him?
  • How is Tess described physically?
    • Look at the colours and parts of the body described.
  • On this third journey, how is Tess's vulnerability brought out and her danger?
  • Look at Hardy's comments at the end of the chapter.
    • Collect words that have to do with higher powers.
      • Do they suggest protection, enmity or indifference?
    • To what extent is Hardy suggesting some external force is to blame and to what extent Alec himself?
    • Does he ever suggest Tess must bear some blame?
  • 'There lay the pity of it.'
    • Do we know what is to be pitied?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.