Chapter 27

Synopsis of chapter 27

Angel arrives back at Talbothays in time for the milk-skimming, where he finds himself alone with Tess. He wastes no time in proposing marriage to her. Tess is taken by surprise, and refuses, the first refusal of many. But she gives no coherent explanation for her refusal, at most hinting that her class origins would be an obstacle to his parents. Angel is not put off by this refusal, but promises to leave it for the time being. He then tells her about his father's encounter with Alec, which obviously distresses her.

Commentary on chapter 27

The proposal brings the inner conflict in Tess out into the open:

  • To the reader, the focus is on the reasons for refusal that Tess gives, and more especially, on whether she will tell Angel of her past, the real reason for her refusal
  • Hardy also brings to the fore the tension between the claims of the soul and the body. The idea of incarnation is central here; that is, the body as the embodiment of the soul. Tension arises when the soul says one thing and the body appears to be saying another.

skimming-hour: after milking, some of the milk is allowed to stand in wide vats or pans so that the cream might rise to the surface. This is then skimmed off.

Eve at her second waking...: a reference to Milton's Paradise Lost rather than to the Bible. In Book 5, Eve tells of a dream in which she seemed to be wakened by Satan and taken to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, from which God had forbidden her to eat. This is really the beginning of her temptation in Milton's account:

  • Her first awakening was after her creation, when Adam wakes her, and she is completely innocent
  • This second awakening suggests an element of temptation.

Tractarian...pantheistic: Hardy is trying to define Tess's theology. Tractarian is a reference to the High Church revival under Newman, Keble, Pusey and others at Oxford (see Religion in Victorian England). Pantheistic means a belief that God exists in every created thing and is pagan rather than Christian.

'Leave thou thy sister...': from Tennyson's long poem In Memoriam XXIII

'in season or out of season': from 2 Timothy 4:2, with specific reference to preaching the Gospel. Mr. Clare feels this biblical advice acutely as he tries to convert Alec.

leave their wallowing: a reference to 2 Peter 2:22. It is interesting how Angel echoes his father when talking about him.

Social setting

Another feature of the ideal community of Talbothays is that there is no resident landlord. Hardy suggests this has taken off one of the common restraints of agricultural society, though he does not spell out what such a restraint would be. Suffice to say, there is as much freedom for them as if Crick had actually owned the dairy. Angel feels this freedom especially after returning from the social restraints put on him by his family. In such freedom, class barriers seem of little importance.


Notice again the bird's eye viewpoint Angel has before entering the lush and fertile Frome Valley and the vocabulary Hardy uses to describe the valley. It seems to be the place of love-making, similar to traditional gardens of love-making found in literature from the Medieval romances onwards.


corollary: something that logically follows from a conclusion

incarnate: born or made into a human body

knoll: small hill

Investigating chapter 27

  • Collect together words and images to do with fertility.
    • Compare these with similar words and phrases in Ch 20. What do you notice?
  • Compare Angel's approach to Talbothays with Tess's in Ch 16.
  • What parts of Tess's body are emphasised?
    • What are the images Hardy uses of them?
      • What is their significance?
  • Examine the sentence beginning 'It was a moment when a woman's soul....'
    • What does it mean?
    • Discuss whether you think there is a possibility of conflict between body and soul
  • What does the simile 'like a plant in too burning a sun' suggest of their relationship?
  • Does Tess's inability to skim have any symbolic significance?
  • What does the mention of Alec do to Tess?
    • Why do you think that Hardy introduces this note into the chapter?
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