Chapter 35

Synopsis of chapter 35

Tess's confession is not met by the same generosity of forgiveness she extended to Angel. He claims to forgive her but nevertheless rejects her, saying she is a different person from the one he loved.

Tess is stunned and finally breaks down into deep sobs. Both are at a loss what to do. After some talk in which there is no real communication, Angel announces he is going out. Tess follows him and finally catches up with him. He tells her to go back and go to bed, which she obediently does. Both are in a dazed and confused state of mind.

Angel comes to her bedroom door and assures himself she is sleeping. In his one moment of relenting, he catches a glance at one of the d'Urberville portraits, sees the cruelty in the face, and is put off. He spends the wedding night sleeping on the couch downstairs.

Commentary on chapter 35

This opening chapter of the fifth phase, 'The Woman Pays', is one of the saddest in the whole novel, indeed in all of Hardy's novels. It is painful to re-read, but it is important to do such a re-reading to be as fair and understanding to both characters as possible. Their worst fears have been realised. There have been good choices possible, but they have not been made. Had they been, some better outcome would have been possible.

More on the tragedy of wrong choices in Hardy's novels: Dismay at the failure to make good choices is a feeling typical of all Hardy's tragedies. The choices are depicted in a way that is very human, very possible and very sad, resulting in the loss of desired happiness for the characters. This is an aspect with which many readers can identify.

The reader is forced to think for the first time whether Angel's treatment of Tess may not be, after all, worse than Alec's.

the auricular impressions....: auricular confessions are those made where the penitent can be heard but not seen, as in the Catholic confessional. But 'auricular' can also mean to do with the chambers of the heart. So the sentence means 'the endearments they have been exchanging between themselves just recently have been suddenly banished.' Hardy's complicated, ironic vocabulary is a device to prevent any sentimentality, whilst not banishing sympathy.

the good hussif: literally 'the good housewife', referring to a small article with little pockets to contain items like thread, cotton, pins, useful to a housewife. Tess's mention of such a domestic details adds to the pathos of her situation.

Agape: (pronounced A-gap-ay) the word used in the Greek New Testament for the selfless love of human for human, or the love of God for man. An Agape meal refers back to Acts 2:46, and has been seen as a form of communion. The bread and wine on the table would have been the lovers' communion, drunk from the one cup (compare 1 Corinthians 11: 25-27).

his satiric psalm: a quotation not from the Bible but from Hardy's contemporary, Swinburne, from his long poem Atalanta in Calydon.

Cistercian abbey, photo by Jean Pierre Huguet, available through Creative CommonsCistercian abbey: the Cistercians are an austere order of monks who flourished in the twelfth century particularly. An abbey was a community of monks or nuns presided over by an abbot or abbess; its church may later be known as the abbey. Hardy's comments are somewhat disingenuous, since more mills than abbeys have disappeared in the course of history, especially water-powered ones.

the tester of white dimity: a canopy of sheer white cotton

no longer passion's slave: a reference to Hamlet III.ii.68-70. To be free of passion was often seen as a sign of enlightenment and freedom. Angel, as other Hardy heroes, finds neither.

the harrowing contingencies....: the unforeseen, painful happenings of life

'the little less...': quotation from Robert Browning's poem By the Fireside.


The d'Urberville house is set in the water-meads of the River Froom. The Cistercian Abbey would have been Bindon Abbey, near Wool, dating from 1172.


chromatic: to do with colour

exculpatory: excusing from blame

flaccid: limp, flabby

prestidigitation: sleight of hand, trick

purblind: originally, wholly sightless, but it eventually came to mean short-sighted, particularly in a spiritual sense.

Investigating chapter 35

  • From gothic Hardy turns to grotesque. Study the second paragraph.
    • How does Hardy express the grotesque here?
    • What other parts of the chapter fit into the category of the grotesque?
  • Explain 'the perfunctory babble of the surface while the depths remained paralyzed'.
    • What other words and phrases express this paralysis in the characters?
  • Look closely at Angel's explanations for his rejection of Tess.
    • Why does he have problems with her identity?
      • Are they his problem or are they caused by Tess, do you think?
    • What are the conflicts going on within him?
    • Look at the words, his choice of vocabulary:
      • Would Tess understand them?
      • What do you think the words show about him?
    • Explain 'initiated into the proportions of social things'
      • What does the statement show about Angel?
  • Look closely at the way Tess tries to defend herself.
    • Could she have said or done more?
      • Is she too passive?
    • Why do you think she is unable to persuade Angel to change his attitude?
  • Is Hardy pointing up a difference between men's love and women's love in general, or is this just a case of two individuals and their reaction to a crisis of trust?
  • Look at the paragraph beginning 'The cow and gorse-tracks...'
    • Look at the perspectives (bird's eye or worm's eye) gained here.
    • What function do these perspectives have?
    • Can you find another example of a shift of perspective?
  • What other images or episodes in the chapter help to bring out the pathos of the situation?
  • Analyse the symbolism of the walks taken by Tess and Angel.
  • List the descriptions of the lovers' faces and facial gestures.
    • What do these descriptions reveal about their states of mind?
    • What effect do they have on the reader?
    • Where else has there been a reference to a 'little round hole'?
  • In what ways does Hardy contrast the indifference or even hostility of natural forces to the intense personal emotions of his human characters?
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