Chapter 52

Synopsis of chapter 52

The family pile all their possessions on to a cart on Old Lady Day, and with many other people, set off to their new home. On the way, Tess meets Izz Huet and Marian and brings them up to date with what has been happening.

Horse and cartWhen the family get to Kingsbere, they find that in fact there is no accommodation for them. Their letter booking the rooms had arrived too late and the rooms had been let out to someone else. The carter insists on unloading their furniture, which they do outside the church where the old d'Urberville vault is located. They search for new accommodation without success until Joan has the idea the family vault belongs to them and that they can squat there.

In the meanwhile, Alec discovers Tess in the church and pretends to be one of the ancestral effigies. He again makes the offer of a cottage to them. Tess refuses, but Alec says he will go to find Joan to make her the offer. Izz and Marian discuss Tess' situation. They are so concerned that they write an anonymous note to Angel, addressing it to his father's vicarage.

Commentary on chapter 52

Tess has now reached the state of homelessness in the family's fall, ironically outside the family's ancestral vault, created when they were at their height. Alec's cruel trick only reinforces the cruel tricks of fortune, as well as his trick of claiming to be a d'Urberville. The association with the ancient family has literally led them to a place of death.

The two friends realise Tess's one remaining choice, not to give in to Alec, will soon be taken from her, hence their letter to Angel. However, it would seem to be one more letter destined either not to arrive or to arrive too late. The chapter is the last one in Phase the Sixth.

Beesthe hexagon to the bee: bees build their honeycombs using hexagon cells. Hardy uses this same image in his essay The Dorsetshire Labourer.

Ark of the Covenant: This casket was considered the most sacred object in the Israelite worship of the Old Testament. When it was first made (Exodus 25:8-20) it was carried by priests through the wilderness till they reached the Promised Land. It represented the presence of God in their midst as it held the Ten Commandments.

your family vault your own freehold: in the past rich families would have created for themselves a vault under the parish church of which they were patrons, for their future burial. Joan's idea is that such vaults actually belong to the family and, therefore, they have a right to live there.

Sand Martin, photo by Nigel Wedge, available through Creative Commonslike martin holes in a sand-cliff: Sand-martins, a type of swallow, make little holes in sandy cliffs in which to nest.

Ostium sepulchri antiquae familiae D'Urberville: the Latin translates as ‘the entrance of the sepulchre of the ancient family d'Urberville'.

The old order changeth: a quotation from Tennyson's poem Morte d'Arthur l.240

their land of Canaan: in the Old Testament, the Promised Land of Israel was often referred to by its older name of Canaan (e.g. Leviticus 14:34).


Kingsbere (Bere Regis) lies some fifteen miles due south of Marlott (Marnhull), over slow upland country roads. The horses would not have gone more than three miles an hour. Bere Regis still lies on the edge of Bloxworth Heath, part of what Hardy called Egdon Heath or just The Heath.

Greenhill: Woodbury Hill, half a mile east of Bere Regis


bait: give food and drink here, whilst on the road

deparked: changed from being a (deer) park. The former d'Urberville estates had been portioned off and sold at some stage.

matrices: natural material in which something is embedded

stale: urine (usually of animals)

superincumbent: lying or resting on something else

tole: entice, draw away

Investigating chapter 52

  • Look at the two letters mentioned in the chapter.
    • In what way do they fit into the pattern of previous letters?
  • The family has returned to their ancestral home, completing a process that began in Ch 1.
    • What do they find when they get there?
    • In what way is this fall in circumstance centered on Tess?
  • What does Tess mean when she cries, 'Why am I on the wrong side of this door!'
  • If Alec represents the new and the modern, what does Hardy seem to be saying about that?
  • What to you seems the most tragic element or episode of the whole chapter?
  • The name of this phase, 'The Convert', suggests it has been largely about Alec.
    • Summarise the main features of his progress (or regress).
    • How has this affected Tess?
    • Would you say Alec is on a pilgrimage, or are his actions more like those of a raiding party?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.