Chapter 44

Synopsis of chapter 44

Tess decides to visit Angel's parents to get news of him and find out an address to which she can write. As Emminster is some fifteen miles away, she can only get there and back on a Sunday and by leaving very early in the morning. She sets off before dawn, wearing some of her best clothes and boots, but carrying some nice shoes to put on when she gets to the village.

When Tess arrives at noon, the whole household is at church. She walks back along the road while waiting for them to come. Two young men, who turn out to be Angel's brothers, come up behind her unaware of who she is. Ahead is Mercy Chant. Tess overhears them discussing Angel and herself in uncomplimentary terms. They also discover her boots which she had hidden in a hedge and Mercy appropriates them to give ‘some poor person'.

Tess loses heart altogether, and carries on walking back along the road she came by. Reaching a village, she stops for lunch and learns a travelling evangelist is preaching in a barn nearby. She walks by the barn and recognises the evangelist's voice. It is Alec, who is testifying to having been converted through Mr. Clare.

Commentary on chapter 44

This is the last chapter in Phase the Fifth, and ends quite catastrophically with the re-appearance of Alec. It describes the most futile journey yet. The chapter is finely written and raises important issues in Hardy's writing.

The interplay between character and fate

  • Does Tess fail in her mission because of a flaw in her character - a lack of courage to see through the purpose for which she came, despite obstacles?
  • Or is it that Fate conspires against her, putting obstacles in her way that any girl in her position would not be able to overcome?

Co-incidence and plot structure

Alec is re-introduced, but:

  • Is this just one coincidence too many, another effort by Hardy to present Tess as a helpless victim?
  • Or is it a necessary plot structure, bringing Alec back into Tess's life just as he has already brought the other Trantridge people from her past?
    • The Alec issue lies unresolved: Tess has merely run away from it. Is this going to be a movement towards resolving it?

In other words, these issues are not straightforward but remain controversial, demanding the reader makes up his or her own mind.


Questions about character, fate and coincidence are central to any discussion of tragedy:

  • At some point in any tragedy, the feeling comes that fortunes turn and that whatever the character does will only hasten his or her fall
  • There are also points at which the audience feel that 'if only' some other action had been taken, it would have turned out for the best, not the worst.

Hardy has prepared everything in this chapter:

  • The hostility of Angel's brothers
  • The conflict between Mr. Clare and Alec
  • The lack of courage in Tess
  • The voices from the past re-assembling round Tess
  • The danger Tess's journeys pose to her and her failure to find a destination.

He places their denouement exactly at the first anniversary of the marriage. You need to be aware of all of this in analysing the chapter.


There are also two good examples of symbolic devices:

  • The blood-stained piece of paper blowing up and down the street. This type of symbol is called an emblem (see Symbolism), a picture of Tess's position in life at the moment.
  • Tess's boots. These become a metonymy of Tess, that is, a part of her that stands for her entire existence. Hardy is stressing that Tess is a pilgrim or a wanderer. The fact that she takes her boots off in trying to adopt a new guise, shows she is unable to become secure and stable again. The loss of her boots suggests that Tess herself is exposed to loss and entrapment.

Further commentary

her powers of renunciation: in Victorian convention, women were meant to renounce everything as a sign of their virtue. The Victorian authoress George Eliot explores this fully in Maggie's character in The Mill on the Floss. It appears some of Hardy's readership were quite shocked that Tess has arrived at a limit to her powers of renunciation. However, Hardy clearly does not allow Tess to benefit from this – rather, she finds herself in deeper trouble.

Calvinistic tenets: doctrines of John Calvin, one of the early Reformers, on which Puritanism and Presbyterianism were based

chalky hogs'-backs: the ridges of the chalk hills

she saw her purpose in such staring lines....: the reality of Tess's inner geography predominates over the outer geography to the extent that she nearly loses her way. Here the 'inner geography' is the way she has chosen to go in contacting Angel's family.

baseless impressibility: the impression that this was all a punishment for her guilt was without foundation

In jumping at Publicans and Sinners......: a reference to Mr. and Mrs. Clare's Christ-like attitude of sympathising with sinners rather than the self-righteous, as in Mark 2:16; Matthew 9:11-13.

a ranter: a nickname that Puritan evangelists gained through their method of declamation. In this case, the reference is more specifically to Methodist lay evangelists. Mr. Clare's own evangelistic preaching would be more refined and would not gain this nickname (see Different religious approaches in Tess of the d'Urbervilles).

extremist antinomian type: that is, a preaching based on the impossibility of keeping the law in order to gain salvation, but trusting only in God's grace and faith in Jesus Christ. Antimonianism held that grace put believers beyond the scope of any moral law – i.e. they could do anything because no notion of law applied any longer. This is a distortion of teaching in the New Testament, such as Paul's epistles, as in Romans 3:21-27; Galatians 5:4 (also see notes on Ch 25).

'O foolish Galatians...': quoting directly from Galatians 3:1.


Hardy compares the upland plateau with Blackmore Vale, the place of Tess's birth, just as in the previous chapter he had made reference to the Valley of the Froom. She is thus in-between, belonging to neither. Hardy makes his most direct reference yet to the symbolic nature of the geography when he speaks of the landscape as ' the thing symbolised.' Tess's actual journey is minutely mapped out.

the Hintocks: the three Melbury villages north of Maiden Newton. The villages form the centrepiece for Hardy's novel The Woodlanders. King's Hintock is mentioned in Ch 19. Hardy seems to have moved them somewhat eastwards here, as they would normally be seen after High Stoy Hill if one were travelling westward, not before.

Sherton-Abbas: Sherborne

High-Stoy or Rubdon Hill: the real names of the hills

Cross-in-Hand: at the top of Batcombe Hill (see next chapter for a fuller description).

Long-Ash Lane: part of the Roman Road from Dorchester to Ilchester. Dorchester was an important Roman town, and had roads spanning out from it.

Evershead: Evershot

Benvill Lane: Benvill Lane is marked as a hamlet between Evershot and Beaminster as well as being part of the road between the two villages.


crape quilling: crape is a fine woollen fabric; quilling is ribbon gathered into folds (as on a ruff)

cretaceous: chalk-like

dialectician: a person able to conduct a subtle and logical argument

guindée: stiff, prim

rhapsodist: someone who delivers his words in an inspirational manner characterised by strong speech rhythms.

tableland: plateau

Investigating chapter 44

  • How does the first paragraph establish Tess's independence?
  • Why does she decide to visit Angel's parents?
    • Does she herself think she will succeed?
      • What does Hardy suggest are her chances of success?
    • What does Hardy suggest would work in her favour?
      • Does she realise this?
  • List all the things that prevent Tess's mission from succeeding.
    • Looking at the list, is there a bias towards either
      • a particular character flaw?
      • or a malevolent fate, working against Tess?
  • Would you say Hardy is manipulating the plot too arbitrarily against Tess, or has he carefully prepared us to expect the outcomes?
    • Do you feel Tess has still some control over her fate, or that whatever she does is bound to turn out badly?
      • What gives you your impression?
    • Do you get a sense of 'if only' in this chapter?
      • If so, where exactly is this focused?
  • Discuss whether you think Tess is a pilgrim or a victim?
  • Explain the sentence beginning 'Then she wept for....'
    • What exactly does this sentence show the reader?
  • What plot elements does Hardy tie together in the last two paragraphs?
    • In what ways is there a reversal of Alec and Angel?
  • Looking over the Phase the Fifth chapters, list the ways in which Tess has ‘paid.'
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