Chapter 23

Synopsis of chapter 23

The dairymaids decide to visit a neighbouring church for its Sunday service, the first time Tess has left the dairy (since first going there). It had previously rained and a huge puddle blocks their path. Just then, Angel comes walking by and offers to carry them over the water. This is a highly charged emotional moment for the girls. Angel deliberately leaves Tess till last, and his attraction to her becomes obvious to all.

Later that night, Tess tells the other girls she has no intention of ever marrying. They realise Angel is highly unlikely to marry any of them anyway, especially as they learn there is already a clergyman's daughter intended for Angel by his parents.

Commentary on chapter 23

This chapter achieved some notoriety when the novel was serialized. The publishers felt the incident as Hardy wrote it was too sexually charged, with too much physical contact. Hardy was asked to re-write the incident, with Angel wheeling the girls through the water in a wheelbarrow.

haymaking: cutting the long grass and allowing it to dry and become hay, which would then be stored as winter food for the cattle.

this Sun's day: Sunday is seen by Hardy as basically a pagan day. It is a 'day of vanity' since everyone dresses up in their best clothes to be seen by everyone else. The churchgoing becomes an excuse to show off these clothes- there is very little real Christianity involved.

That-it-may-please-Thees: a reference to the service of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. At a certain stage, there is a set of prayers for public officials that begin 'That it may please Thee'

un-Sabbatarian: not fitting Sunday behaviour. Here Angel refuses to dress up for Sunday or go to church. The Victorians went to church far more often than now, especially in country areas.

sermons in stones: a quotation from Shakespeare's As You Like It II.i.16-17, where Duke Senior praises the joys of pastoral life as opposed to court life.

'a time to embrace....': another quotation, this time from the Bible (See Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). It is part of a longer section detailing the most appropriate times for a number of activities. The whole passage was often taught in church schools.

Leah and RachelThree Leahs to get one Rachel: a reference to the Old Testament story in Genesis 29:1-30, where Jacob falls in love with Rachel, and makes a deal with her father Laban to work seven years to marry her. He is then tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah, and then has to make another seven year deal with Laban to get Rachel. Angel is making it clear to Tess how much he prefers her.

the dry land was reached: the wording suggests the crossing of the Red Sea (See Famous stories from the Bible > Crossing the Red Sea), in a somewhat mock heroic way.

fatalism is a strong sentiment: Hardy notes that country people believe strongly in Fate, and so 'what will be will be'. See Ch 32 and also Determinism and free will.

Doctor of Divinity: a clergyman who had gained a doctorate in theology or biblical studies, often abbreviated to D.D.

Crown of thornsthe thorny crown: a reference to the crown of thorns put on Jesus' head as part of his suffering (or Passion) just before his crucifixion (Mark 15:16-20).

eyes of propriety: a figure of speech meaning in the sight of respectable society. This is one of Hardy's many digs at his middle-class readers and their narrow morality.


Although this is only a short journey, it is seen as being as significant as some of Tess's earlier ones. Mellstock has already been mentioned in Ch 17.


controversialist: someone who likes to stir up controversy or debate

cursory: superficially, without much forethought

paltered: played around, acted insincerely

thistle spud: tool for digging up thistles

Turnpike: toll road

Investigating chapter 23

  • With which earlier journey could this journey be compared?
    • List the main similarities and differences
  • Look at the various images of entrapment in the chapter.
    • How do these images correlate with the clothes and social position of those concerned?
  • Compare the way the four girls react to being carried by Angel.
    • In what other ways is Hardy beginning to distinguish them?
  • Explain the phrase 'there was an understanding between them'.
  • Hardy is building up a community of suffering within the larger dairy community.
    • How does he set this smaller community apart from the larger?
    • What are the main features of the smaller community?
    • What words and phrases does Hardy use to characterise the girls' passion for Angel?
    • What is Tess's special 'thorny crown'?
      • Does she realise it?
  • Is Hardy's reference to 'cruel Nature's law' consistent with remarks at the end of Ch 13?
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