Chapter 20

Synopsis of chapter 20

Hardy describes the early mornings at the dairy. Angel and Tess are the earliest risers and frequently begin the milking together. In the half-light, Tess seems ethereal to Angel, but neither have, as yet, fallen in love with each other. The chapter brings the first volume of the original three volume edition to an end on a positive note.

Commentary on chapter 20

germs and inorganic particles: Hardy's scientific awareness produces interesting language at times, balancing poetic descriptions with scientific vocabulary. The thought here is repeated in his poem Proud Songsters in the sequence Winter Words (1928). The term 'germs' is used in the sense of 'cells'.

the stress of threadbare modishness...: Hardy satirises the attitudes of the nouveau riche, who try to ape the current fashions, managing to spend what would normally be an adequate amount to live on comfortably, still without having enough to be stylish.

the spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light: Hardy's painterly eye is nowhere better seen than in this chapter. His sense of light is that of the Impressionist painters, who were, indeed, making a big impression in England at the time of writing.

as if they were Adam and Eve: the Garden of Eden imagery is continued from the last chapter.

the Resurrection hour: just after sunrise. The reference is to the two women who first discover that Jesus' tomb is empty and that he Mary Magdalenehas risen from the dead (Luke 24:1-12).

the Magdalen: a sinful but reformed woman. In the New Testament, Mary Magdalene is one of the women who first saw Jesus' empty tomb (Luke 24:1-12). Hardy points up the irony of Angel's idealisation of Tess, as against her actual history.

Artemis, Demeter: Artemis is the Greek goddess of chaste love and child-bearing; she is also associated with the Roman goddess Diana. Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, whom the Ancient Greeks also believed was the preserver of marriage. This is hugely ironic when considered in the light of Tess and Angel's marriage.

London folk: Hardy refers to the destination of the dairy produce from the farm. This is the source of the farm's prosperity (see note in Ch 30 and also Social / political context: Agricultural and social conditions).


arborescence: the growth of trees, or a tree-like growth

askance: with a disapproving glance

convenances: unwritten laws of fashion

inceptive: formative, beginning

preternatural: beyond or above the natural

Investigating chapter 20

  • How does Hardy continue to stress:
    • the fertility of the dairy and the surrounding countryside?
    • the dairy as ideal community?
  • Examine again Hardy's use of borderline states of being. How does this apply to:
    • the relationship of Angel and Tess?
    • the time of day when they are most together?
      • How does Hardy describe this early morning state?
      • What does he achieve by such detailed descriptions of the early light?
  • Pick out words and phrases to show how Angel sees Tess.
    • How does Hardy produce tension for his readers regarding these perceptions of Angel?
  • What are the implications for the novel of the phrase 'under an irresistible law'?
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