Chapter 38

Synopsis of chapter 38

Tess returns home husbandless for the second time. News has already reached the village of her marriage, and her father has been busy celebrating with his friends at the village pubs. Her mother greets her, as before, with anger at Tess's having failed to secure a husband, but quickly accepts the failure with an easy fatalism. Her father is touchier, since he had hoped this would restore the family fortunes.

Tess quickly realises she has no place in the family home any more. She hears from Angel that he has gone north, and, to save the face of the family, makes an excuse that she has to join him. She leaves her mother half the money Angel gave her, which is soon spent. She sets off into the unknown.

Commentary on chapter 38

New Year's Day.. when changes were made: many rural jobs were for a year only, after which the labourer was re-hired or looked for another position. Hardy is making a point about the continuous change in the rural economy, even when many of his readers would think nothing ever changed in the countryside. Tess finds similar changes at her home, small but significant.

in the time o' the Romans: as in the first few chapters, Hardy is making fun of the peasants' historical confusion.

Social setting

The villagers' discussion as to the social status of the clergy indicates the lowering of the clergy's status. In earlier times, village clergy, often drawn from aristocratic families, would be seen as upper class. The villagers now see them as middle-class professionals ('clerks').


glane: sneer

impingement: collision, impact

mortification: sense of shame

'Nation: damnation

quarter-hogshead: small beer cask

Investigating chapter 38

  • List references to Tess's loss of identity and place.
  • Why does she sense she has no place at Marlott any more?
  • At the end of the chapter, do we have any indication where Tess is going and where she belongs?
  • Has she become a wanderer?
  • Compare Tess's return with her previous return from Trantridge (Ch 12).
  • How does her mother come to accept the new situation so quickly?
  • Does Tess's family benefit from the gifts provided for them, either from Alec or Angel?
  • List some of the ironies Hardy creates in the chapter.
  • Which seems to you the most poignant?
  • How does Hardy continue to stress Tess's purity?
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