Chapter 41

Synopsis of chapter 41

Tess finds work during the spring and summer quite easily in the western part of the county . As autumn passes, the dairy work and harvesting finish and she is forced to look for work in more remote areas. She has had to give her family some of Angel's money, and spend the rest on herself for food and warm clothing. Meanwhile, Angel is struggling in Brazil, having contracted a tropical fever.

On the journey to find winter work, Tess is passed by the man from Trantridge whom Angel had a scuffle with (Ch 33). He becomes hostile and she runs off into woodland, sleeping the night there. In the morning, she finds a number of dead and dying pheasants, shot by some hunting party. She puts the dying birds out of their misery.

Commentary on chapter 41

From now on, Tess becomes more or less nomadic, journeying from place to place in efforts to find work or shelter. The seemingly solid community of Talbothays disappears for good. The promise of a stable marriage has also disappeared.

Hardy briefly tries to keep two plots going, but soon gives up on a subplot for Angel, whose stay in Brazil becomes increasingly invisible.

The pheasant episode may seem a little melodramatic, but Hardy seeks to invest it with symbolic meaning. Whether he succeeds or not remains to be discussed. But Hardy's defence of Tess by creating an opposition between 'arbitrary' laws of society and nature seems to run into the same difficulty as it does in Ch 13: he excuses too much, including Alec's 'natural' behaviour.

his touch had consecrated them … like giving away relics: by employing the language of religion (consecrated, relics) Hardy conveys how Tess has made a ‘god' out of Angel

Not being aware of the rarity of intelligence...: Tess could easily have got a job as an indoor or domestic servant, as she has the intelligence for it. But she does not realise how unintelligent the typical indoor servant is, and so does not try for such a post, which would have given her accommodation and permanence.

Black Care: a quotation from Horace's Odes Book III, i l.40. Tess's experience of gentility was confined to the d'Urbervilles at Trantridge, from which all her troubles had stemmed.

'All is vanity': Ecclesiastes 1:2. The phrase becomes a leitmotif of this book of wisdom in the Old Testament, which focuses on the futility of most human effort. Ecclesiastes is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon. Vanity also signifies emptiness and nothingness, here used as an expression of futility.

Malay peninsula...amuck: the Malaysians were reputed to suddenly run wild at times and inflict tremendous harm on anyone unlucky enough to get in their way.

Social setting

Hardy hints at his own personal views on a number of issues, including hunting and the unsatisfactory situation of domestic servants. Hardy makes sarcastic remarks about the servant problem, a perennial one for the Victorian middle classes. Tess's natural feelings of pride and delicacy prevent her from receiving help from Angel's parents or from returning to Talbothays. She is thus forced to sink to the level of migrant agricultural worker. Her family seem in their usual insolvent plight, too.


Hardy skips over this fifth summer quickly, taking us on to October. Tess will now be twenty-one.


Tess chooses to work the summer in the western part of the county to be near Angel's parents, though, ironically, she is too sensitive to contact them. The search for winter work takes her towards the higher plateau in the centre of the county.

Port Bredy: Bridport

Chalk-Newton: Maiden Newton, some nine miles east of Bridport.

Curitiba: In fact, this is some 3000 ft above sea level, a hundred miles inland in the southern part of Brazil.


éclat: brilliant success, literally, glittering

fancy-man: a man who is loved or, in slang terms, a man who lives on the earnings of prostitutes; a pimp

purlieus: suburbs, outlying districts

relics: religious objects, purporting to originate from saints and holy people, considered to benefit the possessor

van: vanguard, the one who goes first

Investigating chapter 41

'whatever it may be called': Hardy is not usually so lost for a precise meaning when it comes to describing Tess and her motives.

  • What do you think it is that prevents Tess from contacting Angel's parents?
    • Would you say this is a character defect?
  • Why does Tess not seek work:
    • As a domestic servant?
    • At Talbothays?
    • What do these reasons show about her character?
  • Tess's journeys continue to expose her to danger. What point is Hardy making about her chance encounter with the man from Trantridge?
    • Compare this with the chance encounter with Alec in Ch 45.
  • What is the symbolic significance of the pheasant incident?
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