Chapter 43

Synopsis of chapter 43

A severe winter comes on as Marian and Tess work in the open fields, hacking swedes. They manage to stay cheerful by talking of the days at Talbothays. Finally, snow makes outdoor work impossible and they are assigned to working in the barn at reed-drawing, a heavy manual labour. They join the two Darch sisters with whom Tess was briefly involved at Trantridge. Fortunately, they do not recognise her.

However, unfortunately, the farmer does recognise her - he was the one who had previously insulted her and from whom Tess had run away. He insists on Tess and the crew finishing all the work, even though they are on piece work.

They have been joined by Izz, whom Marian has asked to come and work with them. As the three girls toil on, Izz tells Marian about Angel's proposal to her to go with him to Brazil. Later, Marian, having got somewhat drunk, tells this to Tess. Tess defends Angel, but realises she must write to him.

Commentary on chapter 43

There is some very fine descriptive writing of the winter landscape in the chapter. The bird's eye perspectives of the Arctic and the northern landscape are particularly powerful.

More on Hardy and winter: The descriptions of winter in Tess match the power of some of Hardy's winter poems, such as Winter Word or The Darkling Thrush. Anybody who has worked outside, labouring through a northern winter, knows how bitter it can be.
More on the Victorians and the Arctic: Nineteenth century writers were fascinated by the polar regions. In Jane Eyre, Jane studies Bewick's volume on Arctic birds in the opening chapter; and in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the opening and closing sequences are situated in the Arctic.

Hardy could be accused of making the situation unduly bleak. Not only is the farmer from Trantridge, but the two Darch girls from there are brought in. There are three possible explanations for Hardy's move here:

  • He wants to show how nomadic and temporary the socio-economic conditions are for farm workers
  • He wants to show how impossible it is to escape from the past
  • Tess is going through a place of testing, which includes hearing voices from the past, a motif carried over from Ch 42.
More on places of testing:

In literature, as in life, there are places of testing for the protagonist. This is especially true of the Romance genre. It is a pattern in both classical and Christian writing also. There are three main forms:

  • The wilderness: for example, Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested in readiness for his forthcoming mission. The devil tempted him with several ways of conducting it, but Jesus resisted these (Matthew 4:1-11) See Desert and wilderness.
  • The Underworld: for example, Aeneas has to descend to the Underworld in Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid. There he revisits the past but also sees the future. See Afterlife
  • Purgatory: for example, in Dante's epic, The Divine Comedy, the second book is devoted to Dante's journey through purgatory, where souls are tried by fire to cleanse them of their earthly sin and prepare them for heaven. This Catholic doctrine was rejected by the Reformation, and so is not common in Protestant writing.

absentee-owner's village: In Ch 27, Hardy has suggested the absence of a landlord has been to the advantage of Talbothays. Here he seems to suggest the opposite, which is the more usual criticism made throughout the nineteenth century. The assumption is that the absentee owner is only concerned to collect his rents and does not bother to keep up the farm or the houses in the village.

stony lanchets or lynchets: Flinty outcrops of rock. Notice Hardy's erudite language, giving alternative terminology, making sure he gets his geology right. This objective linguistic terminology serves as a frame for the strong descriptions of emotions and natural forces described in the chapter.

Two Marys early Italian conception of the two Marys: a reference to the art of the early Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth century, when religious scenes often depicted Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, grouped around the cross.

the inherent will to enjoy and the circumstantial will against enjoyment: this could be said to be the heart of all Hardy's tragedy. Humans have an instinct to seek out pleasure, but in Hardy's view the world they live in seems programmed to deny them that pleasure, at least for any length of time.

queer-shaped flints aforesaid: being in phallic and other sexual shapes, the coarse Marian sees a joke. Being purer in nature, Tess does not.

put off a vegetable for an animal integument: as if the branches had taken off their thin bark and instead put on animal fur, so thick was the frost.

photo by Anne Burgess, available through Creative Commonsreed-drawing: preparing the straw for roof thatching, by straightening and binding it into sheaves. Hardy makes it clear that this is commonly a man's job, certainly one for which Tess is not suited.

an achromatic chaos of things: a colourless confusion.

Amazonian: the Amazons of classical mythology were a tribe of warlike women living in what is now Turkey.

Like a bird caught in a clap-net: a string was pulled to close a clap-net, which would trap the birds inside.


Hardy continues to make the contrast between this desolate upland place and the valley of the Frome which lies just over the hills. The contrast is at every level:

  • seasonal
  • in terms of fertility
  • in terms of experience.

From such contrasts, the symbolic nature of the place becomes obvious


Bill-hookbill-hook: tool with wooden handle and a long blade, ending in a hook. Used for cutting in agriculture

bulbous: bulb-shaped

cusped: pointed by the intersection of two arcs

phallic: shaped like an erect penis

pinners: pinafores

siliceous: flinty

springe: trap

stoicism: a refusal to take notice of pain or pleasure

terraqueous: formed by a continuum of water and land

thirtover: obstinate, perverse

Investigating chapter 43

  • List the main difficulties or tests that Tess faces in the chapter
    • How does she cope with them?
    • Which one affects her most deeply?
  • Do you think Hardy designed this chapter to describe a place of testing or not?
    • If not, what other reason do you feel the chapter serves in the novel?
    • If you do, what sort of testing is it?
      • What does it achieve for Tess?
    • What qualities emerge in Tess?
  • Look at the paragraph beginning 'The swede field...'
    • What are the images that strike you most forcibly?
    • Compare it with the description of the valley in Ch 16.
    • Compare the image of flies in both
    • What else forms a contrast and what else is similar?
  • Look at the paragraph beginning 'After this season...'
    • How does this compare with the previous paragraph studied in terms of Hardy's use of the bird's-eye perspective?
    • What is the point Hardy is making about grandeur and awareness?
    • Do you see the birds as symbolic of Tess?
      • If so, in what way?
    • Who else are 'temporary sojourners'?
  • What images does Hardy use to describe entrapment in this chapter?
    • Has he used similar images previously?
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