Chapter 54

Synopsis of chapter 54

Angel sets out to find Tess. He retraces her journey from Emminster to Flintcombe-Ash, only to find she has moved on. Riding on to Marlott, he finds a family in possession of the Durbeyfield cottage which has no knowledge of Tess or her family at all. He visits the field where he first saw Tess at the club-walking, and the graveyard. There he finds Jack's grave with a headstone not yet paid for. He settles the debt with the sexton.

RailwayAfter being given a forwarding address for the Durbeyfields, some twenty miles away, Angel reaches them in the early evening. Joan at first will not tell him where Tess is, but reluctantly admits she has gone on to Sandbourne, a resort town, but she has no precise address. Angel walks to the nearest railway station and catches the last train of the day for Sandbourne.

Commentary on chapter 54

In Romances, the hero has to go in search of the heroine, who has been hidden away or abducted. In many Victorian novels' adaptation of this motif, the final section is a frantic search for a main character (as the search for Lady Dedlock at the end of Dickens' Bleak House). So here Angel goes in search of Tess.

In this phase of the novel, Hardy has switched the perspective away from Tess in a way he has not done before. Even when previous chapters have focussed on Angel, the reader has known where Tess is and what she is doing. Now she has mysteriously disappeared, and the reader knows no more than Angel, though probably has much more of an idea with whom she is.

'a tale told by an idiot': a quotation from Shakespeare's Macbeth V.v.27, spoken by Macbeth after the death of his wife. The sentence ends 'signifying nothing'.

'how are the mighty fallen': quoted from 2 Samuel 1:27, part of David's lament for King Saul and his son Jonathan.


Angel's journey retraces much of the past life of Tess. Transport is by horse and carriage or by foot until the last journey, which is by rail. This symbolically projects Angel into the modern world.

Hardy is strangely reticent about the village where the Durbeyfields are staying. It is not the cottage at 'The Slopes', which Alec had promised them. As it is fifteen miles from Shaston and twenty miles from Marlott, but only three miles from a railway station on a line that gets to Sandbourne, it must be in the region of Wimbourne Minster.

Sandbourne: Bournemouth, then an up-and-coming seaside resort.

Investigating chapter 54

  • What does Angel learn about Tess on his journey?
    • When Angel claims to Joan 'I know her better than you do', would you agree with him?
  • The family in the old Durbeyfield cottage 'had never known her'.
    • What point is Hardy making here?
  • It appears the Durbeyfields never make it to Kingsbere, either dead or alive.
    • Again, what point is Hardy making here?
  • What do we know about Tess that Angel still has not discovered by the end of the chapter?
    • What clues are we given that Alec has had his way and that Angel is too late?
    • Find examples of how does Hardy uses dramatic irony in the chapter.
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