Chapter 53

Synopsis of chapter 53

A very haggard and gaunt Angel returns from Brazil. He is given Tess's angry letter, and realises he may not be easy to be reconciled with her. He writes to Marlott, only to discover she is no longer there, and her mother will not tell him where she is. However, he complacently decides to wait, not sensing any urgency.

Once he re-reads Tess's first letter, which he had received in Brazil, Angel changes his mind and realises the situation requires immediate action. This decision is reinforced by the arrival of the note from Izz and Marion.

Commentary on chapter 53

The chapter begins the final section of the novel from Angel's perspective, not Tess's. In a number of novels, especially Victorian ones, the last section shifts from a realistic novel mode into the Romance mode, perhaps influenced by the popularity of stage melodramas. This influence can be seen in Tess, where events assume greater proportions and where coincidences take the place of the supernatural.

PietaCrivelli's dead Christus: The Italian painter Carlo Crivelli's fifteenth century masterpiece Pietà hung in the National Gallery in London, where Hardy could have seen it many times.

'which alters when it alteration finds': from Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 which begins 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment'. Angel, unfortunately, had admitted a great deal of impediment.

Faustina...Cornelia: both wives of Roman emperors, the first reputed unfaithful, the second virtuous.

Lucretia...Phryne: the first was a virtuous aristocratic Roman lady who killed herself after being raped by King Sextus Tarquin; the second was the nickname of a famous Greek prostitute, the lover of the sculptor Praxiteles.

woman taken...wife of Uriah: the first refers to John 8:3-11, where Jesus is merciful and non-condemnatory to a woman caught in adultery; the second refers to King David's adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, who later became one of David's queens (2 Samuel 11:2-27). David sent Uriah to certain death so he could marry Bathsheba. These references show that Angel is now realistic about his own culpability.


Chalk-Newton: Maiden Newton, north-west of Dorchester and the nearest railway station to Beaminster (Emminster).

Crimmercrock Lane: like Long-Ash Lane in Ch 44, one of the old Roman roads radiating from Dorchester. This one runs out to Crewkerne over Toller Down.


reprobates: delinquents

the Word: the Bible

Investigating chapter 53

  • How does Hardy further demonstrate that Angel's experiences have been a form of purgatory?
  • What is the irony in Angel's mother saying 'It is not my son...'?
  • Examine the order of the letters Angel receives:
    • How does it determine his actions?
    • Do you think Hardy means the reader to feel it is all going to be too late?
  • What is the effect of Hardy shifting the perspective over to Angel and the Clare family ?
  • What is the irony of Angel telling his parents about Tess's ancestry at this moment?
  • Explain the long sentence at the end beginning 'From his remarks his parents...'
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