Chapter 45

Synopsis of chapter 45

Tess is mesmerised for a little, watching Alec preach. Then she resumes her journey, but soon finds herself overtaken by Alec. He is clearly as perturbed by seeing Tess as she him, especially when she tells him she does not believe the Christian faith any more. She also tells him about the baby.

They reach a large stone called Cross-in-Hand, a bleak place on the plateau. Alec parts to take up a preaching engagement that evening, but says he will contact Tess again, something she does not wish. Tess continues, learning that the stone monument has a grisly past and is not at all a Christian symbol, as Alec thought it was. She also meets Izz with a boy-friend.

Commentary on chapter 45

This chapter has many parallels with Ch 12, the first chapter of Phase the Second:

  • In both, Tess is on a return journey
  • On both she encounters Alec and the sign-writer.

However, much has changed:

  • Tess's character
  • Her circumstances
  • Alec and Tess are reversed in their faith.

Alec's conversion poses several difficulties:

  • The reader may feel it is too contrived
  • Alec's language does not quite sound authentic.

On the other hand:

  • It is necessary to bring Alec back into the plot
  • Such a reversal of belief raises many ironies, something Hardy revelled in
  • Tess herself doubts the reality of his conversion, and does not feel it will last.
More on religious discourse in novels: Many Christian groups develop a language of their own, often based on biblical phraseology, especially that of the Authorised or King James Version. For authors who do not belong to such a group, it is often difficult to pick up the right 'language', or register. To those belonging to these groups, the efforts of ‘outsiders' to reproduce their language seem inauthentic and obviously contrived.

The language Hardy attributes to Alec and the sign-writer would not come across as genuine to the religious amongst his readers, whereas the language he gives the Clares sounds much more authentic, because it was modelled on people he knew well.

One of the best efforts to reproduce authentic religious language was made by the Victorian novelist George Eliot. Despite losing her own faith after a religious upbringing, she remained sympathetic to believers and their aspirations, and conveyed their language sensitively, in novels such as Adam Bede, Silas Marner and Felix Holt.

evangelised into the splendour of pious rhetoric: converted into an ability to utter splendid fluent religious speech

turning again to his wallowing in the mire: quoting 2 Peter 2:22, referring to backsliding, or going back again on a profession of faith and returning to old behaviour. Ironically of course, this is exactly what happens to Alec.

diverted from their hereditary connotations...: Hardy seems to be suggesting our physiognomy (that is, outward appearances, especially facial expressions) reflects our true character, and that Alec's change of character has wrenched his features out of their true signification.

on the side of the Spirit, while she remained unregenerate: in an apparent reversal of roles, Alec now seems to be working in step with God's Holy Spirit whilst Tess's life has not been so transformed / purified

her Cyprian image: Hardy may be referring to the occasion when the goddess Diana intervened to prevent the religious sacrifice of Iphigeneia, just as Tess's image is now interfering with Alec's newfound devotion.

accoutred as the Methodist: one of the very few direct comments Hardy makes to Methodism, though it was the second biggest religious grouping in the Dorset area. 'Accoutred' means 'dressed', the Methodist preachers tended to wear plain, dark clothes (see Different religious approaches in Tess of the d'Urbervilles). It would also seem strange for Alec to refer to Methodists as the 'extreme wing of Christian believers'. There were plenty of more extreme sects in Victorian times.

the wrath to come: this phrase comes from many biblical verses, such as Matthew 3:7 and Romans 2:5, referring to the day of judgement.

the old Adam: Alec's previous bad character. The phrase is taken from Romans 5:14, where Christ is seen as the new or second Adam, undoing the effects of the old or first Adam's sin. See Second Adam.

Established clergy: the ministers of religion belonging to the Established or State Church, i.e. the Church of England. Alec differs from Mr. Clare by not believing there should be a link between church and state, a characteristic marking all non-conformist churches.

'Come out from among them...': quoting 2 Corinthians 6:17.

the first fruits of the Spirit: quoting Romans 8:23. In the Bible, Christian conversion is seen as the work or effect of the Holy Spirit.

come to scoff.....: from Oliver Goldsmith's poem The Deserted Village, ll.179-80

the sense of security: Methodist theology stressed divine assurance, the confidence that a person was truly saved, an emphasis given to it by its founder, John Wesley.

the fleshly tabernacle: her body. This is a biblical phrase (2 Peter 1:13-14) which Hardy is happy to adopt for himself, probably because Milton also uses it in Paradise Regained IV l.597.

wear a veil: it was still quite common in Victorian times for women to wear veils on their hats. Ironically, only a short time previously, Tess had tried to make herself as plain as possible (Ch 42).

relics are not in my creed: the belief in the benefits of relics, (objects – like bones, blood, clothing, or other sacred item - that once belonged to some saint or holy person or place), was typical of medieval piety, but rejected by Protestants at the Reformation.


Cerne Abbasa Giant, photo by Maurice D Budden, available through Creative CommonsAbbot's Cernel: Cerne Abbas, north of Dorchester and south-east of Cross-in-Hand. It is noted for the Cerne Giant, a huge chalk figure carved on the side of a hill.


attenuating: weakening

elusion: evasion

monolith: a single great stone

Paulinism: following the teaching of the Apostle Paul

petite mort: sudden chill or shudder

sophistries: clever but false arguments

unregenerate: unsaved

Investigating chapter 45

  • Look at the description of Alec
    • Pick out words and phrases that emphasise contrast or contradiction.
      • What is the main thrust of such contrasts?
    • Is the reader meant to trust Alec any more now than before?
      • Does Tess?
      • What are her reasons?
  • What do words like 'her seducer' (end of Ch 44) and 'her old lover' tell us about their previous relationship?
    • Why does he now say he is afraid of her?
  • Look at the use of 'paralyzing', 'paralysis', 'atrophy' to describe both Tess and Alec.
    • Has Hardy used similar terminology before?
    • What does his usage say about their relationship and behaviour?
  • What are Tess's first feelings when she confronts Alec again?
    • Do you notice any significant change in her behaviour or words when she talks to Alec compared to the early part of the novel?
    • What is Tess particularly bitter about in speaking of Alec's conversion?
      • Do you think she is justified?
  • Look at the sentence 'And there was revived in her...'
    • What does it say about Tess's feelings of guilt?
    • How does Alec try to blame her?
      • Is he justified?
  • Is Tess's loyalty to Angel something to be commended in her?
    • Is it part of her purity?
  • Look at Hardy's use of the Cross-in-Hand.
    • What purposes does it serve?
    • Is it in any way a sign of the future?
  • Compare the two journeys of Ch 12 and this chapter.
    • What would be the biggest similarity and the biggest difference?
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