Chapter 19

Synopsis of chapter 19

Hardy traces the beginnings of Angel's friendship with Tess. At first, Tess notices he is directing certain cows to her to milk, against Crick's orders, and remarks on this to Angel. Then she overhears him playing his harp in an overgrown garden.

It seems they do not understand each other, since Tess expresses herself very pessimistically; and she cannot understand why he should want to be a farmer with all his learning. She feels quite ignorant in conversation with him. He offers to teach her some history, an offer that she rejects.

She wonders whether to tell Angel about her ancestry, but Crick tells her Angel has decided views against old families and has made fun of one of the other dairymaids from an old family also fallen on hard times.

Commentary on chapter 19

but the relative is all: Tess has no idea what good harp-playing sounds like, so she is satisfied with Angel's relatively poor performance. Hardy uses such comments to undermine any sentimental note to the developing relationship.

the weeping of the garden's sensibility: a good example of pathetic fallacy. The garden needs to be seen symbolically as a sort of Garden of Eden or paradise to Tess, though to us, it is more like the 'unweeded garden' of Hamlet (an image of rank growth of unhealthy passions).

conscious of neither time nor space: interestingly, not 'place'. Hardy links this back to the previous chapter and to Ch 3, to Tess's out-of-body perceptions.

Sixth Standard training: Hardy has previously referred to Tess's education to this level (Ch 3), the highest possible that a village girl could attain to.

the ache of modernism: a typical Hardyean phrase. He develops this idea more in Jude the Obscure. Here it is expressed ambiguously, since he suggests in the next sentence that Tess's pessimism has been around for centuries, and that it is only the label for it that is modern. (see Hardy's pessimism in Challenges to established religious belief.)

the Valley of Humiliation: a reference to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Note the reference to 'pilgrim' (also Ch 10). See Pilgrimage in literature.

the man of Uz: the Old Testament character, Job (Job 1:1), who, like Bunyan's Pilgrim, was brought very low.

'My soul chooseth....': Job 7:15-16. Words uttered by Job when in great anguish.

Peter the GreatPeter the Great ...: Russian Tsar (1672-1725) who, in order to modernise his country's navy, undertook an apprenticeship in Western European shipyards.

Abraham: the Old Testament patriarch who had extensive flocks and herds (Genesis 13:5-6).

his spotted and his ring-straked: a reference to the flocks of Jacob, Abraham's grandson, whose flocks were marked to differentiate between his own and those of his father-in-law, Laban (Genesis 30:39-43). Tess confuses the two references in her mind.

'lords and ladies': wildflowers, being a small kind of lily. Hardy may be using the name of the flower symbolically to refer us back to Tess's aristocratic family being stripped.

the poor Queen of Sheba: a reference to 1 Kings 10:1, 1 Kings 10:4-5 where the Queen of Sheba visits King Solomon and is overwhelmed by his wisdom and riches.

why the sun shines....: a biblical quotation from Matthew 5:45. Tess uses it to refer to the injustice of the world, whereas Jesus uses the words to refer to God's goodness and love to everyone, qualities which Christians strive to display.

the Billetts and the Drenkhards....: another list of old decayed families, interestingly including Hardy's own family.

Earl o' Wessex: in Hardy's day, the title was fictitious (although is has currently been assumed by the youngest son of Elizabeth II, Prince Edward).

in Palestine: that is, during the Crusades

Social context

In this chapter, history is not seen as time so much as heredity and loss of genetic energy. There were various evolutionary genetic theories being discussed in Hardy's day, some indeed suggesting 'exhaustion' of the gene pool. Angel uses this idea to support his reaction to the prevailing snobbery.


There is a series of vignettes of places round the farm. The overgrown garden has to be seen as symbolic of the Garden of Eden, even down to the trees being apple trees. The apple was traditionally the forbidden fruit that Eve gave Adam.

King's-Hintock: mentioned in The Woodlanders. One of the Melbury villages in the north-west of Dorset.


blights: diseases of plants and trees, appearing as white fluff, which cause the plant to whither and die

desultorily: aimlessly

ebullition: outburst

half-a-crown: an old coin, worth 12.5p to-day but a boy's weekly wage then.

niaiseries: foolish utterances

polychrome: multi-coloured

predilection: preference

rote: by heart, without really understanding the meaning

rozums: eccentric people

transmissive: able to transmit

undulated: floated as on waves

Investigating chapter 19

  • What do Tess and Angel notice about each other physically?
    • What attracts them to each other?
  • Look carefully at the garden episode.
    • How does Hardy present Angel to us?
    • How does Tess perceive him?
      • What are Tess' sensations at hearing and seeing him?
    • What can you see that is symbolic in the episode?
      • Consider the place, the fruit, the colours, the harp, the imagery.
    • How does Hardy bring a double perspective to the scene?
  • How does Angel undermine the authority of the dairy?
  • What do these phrases mean:
    • 'Tess's passing corporeal blight had been her mental harvest'?
    • 'she little recked the strength of her own vitality'?
      • Does Hardy mean these ironically?
  • Give some illustrations of Tess's apparent pessimism.
    • How deeply do you think she means them?
  • Consider the views of history and the past that both Angel and Tess express.
    • Can we anticipate future difficulty from them?
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