Chapter 33

Synopsis of chapter 33

Angel arranges a day out for Tess and him in a nearby town. Tess is recognised by a man from Trantridge, who comments negatively on her virtue. Angel overhears and hits the man. Fortunately for Tess, the man states he is mistaken and accepts Angel's compensation. However, Tess is unnerved and feels more strongly that she must tell Angel about her past before the wedding.

Tess realises she has not the courage to tell him directly, so thinks of writing a letter. She slips it underneath his door and anxiously awaits reactions. When nothing is said by Angel, and there is no change in his manner, she thinks at first he has dismissed her past.

On the wedding day, Tess starts to doubt whether he has received the letter. She goes to check and finds that the letter actually slipped underneath the carpet, so Angel has never read it. Tess makes one final effort to tell him on the wedding day but Angel positively says he does not want to hear any past confessions till afterwards.

Tess goes to the wedding in a dream, riding in an old carriage. It is a very private ceremony. As they ride back, Tess is troubled by the carriage when Angel mentions an old legend about the d'Urbervilles and their carriage. Apparently some misdeed was done in it, and it now re-appears in ghostly form as an ill-omen.

The couple receive a final send off from the dairy farm, for they are both leaving for good. Tess asks Angel to kiss all three milkmaids, which he does, re-awakening all their old emotions.

Commentary on chapter 33

This is a long chapter in which much happens. Hardy depicts Tess' state of mind closely, as it changes from ecstasy to anxiety and back again. The wedding itself seems all over with in a matter of moments, for the crisis and climax will be in confession, not ceremony. This is still delayed by one device or another, but grows ever more imminent.

One of the devices most debated in the novel is the letter-writing incident:

  • Writing a letter of confession is a plausible solution with which readers can identify
  • And it is possible for letters, like all messages, to get mislaid.

So should the letter under the carpet be interpreted as:

  • A device to delay the release of tension?
  • Fate conspiring against Tess?
  • Tess consciously wanting to 'brush the affair under the carpet' while her conscience will not let her do it? Psychological interpretations of the incident suggest this. The act of pushing the letter under the carpet then becomes a subconscious act performed by her psyche to allay her conscience. At some level, she meant the letter to be mislaid.

Close carriage, photo by Emilio de Pradoa close carriage.. postilion: a large enclosed coach drawn by a pair of horses, on one of which would sit a postilion to guide the horses. In Hardy's day, they were going out of fashion. The old stage-coach system of travel had been replaced by railway travel or by much smaller gigs. The equivalent today would be producing some ancient Rolls-Royce to take the bride to the wedding, driven by an elderly chauffeur.

the Angel whom St John saw in the sun: quoting Revelation 19:17 in the New Testament.

the notion expressed by Friar Laurence: quoting from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet The reference does indeed suggest impending tragedy for the two young lovers.

the crowing of a cock: this untimely crowing is held as an ill omen, but also refers back to Peter's denial of Christ just before the crucifixion (Luke 22:59-62).


Bass violbass-viol: old fashioned stringed instrument somewhat like a double bass

drachm: dram; a division of an ounce.

gig: a light carriage drawn by a single horse

put up: in the nineteenth century, 'putting up' at an inn did not necessarily mean staying overnight. It could just mean a place to stay during the day, to stable one's horse, to have meals in private, and to leave one's things.

randy: party

temerarious: daring

Investigating chapter 33

  • What questions does Hardy raise by the episode with the man from Trantridge?
  • How would you interpret the letter-writing and the pushing under the carpet situation?
  • Are Angel's reasons for not minding the absence of his family at the wedding justifiable?
    • The reader can understand Tess wanting a small and private wedding - can Angel's reasons be understood?
  • Hardy spends more time on describing the coach and the old legend than on the wedding ceremony.
    • Why do you think that he considers it significant?
  • Explain 'to call him her lord, her own - then, if necessary, to die'.
    • Regarding the whole novel, in what way does this seem a piece of dramatic irony?
    • What other phrases and words suggest Tess's extreme emotional attitudes in this chapter?
  • Look at the overall shape of the chapter.
    • What is the effect on the reader of the chapter taken as a whole?
    • How does Hardy undermine any feelings the reader may have of joy for Tess?
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