Chapter 4

Synopsis of chapter 4

The chapter falls into two distinct halves. The first half portrays another interior, that of Rolliver's Inn. Here, Mr. and Mrs. Durbeyfield sit drinking whilst discussing further plans. Joan has heard of other D'Urbervilles who live at Trantridge. She reasons they must be kin and might be prepared to help them if they met Tess, the most presentable member of the family. Finally, Tess arrives to bring her parents home. They try to keep some dignity as they stagger home through the village.

The second half deals with the journey Tess has to undertake with her younger brother, Abraham. Her father's drunken sleep and poor health means he is unable to take the horse and cart to Casterbridge market with its load of bee-hives. Tess volunteers, hitches Prince, the horse, to the cart and the two set off southwards, through the night. Abraham tells Tess of their parents' plan, which disturbs her. They also discuss philosophic issues about the state of the planet they live on.

They fall asleep and the light on the cart goes out. The mail cart crashes into them, killing Prince as its shaft goes through the animal's chest. The postman Cobsends another carter to take the load to market, who then returns to bring the dead horse back. Tess reproaches herself bitterly. Mr. Durbeyfield buries the horse rather than suffer the indignity of selling it for pet food. The chapter closes with Prince's funeral.

Commentary on chapter 4

the pattern of Polynesia: Polynesia is the largest grouping of the South Sea Islands. The dregs on the dust of the roadway look like a pattern of islands.

‘it was better to drink with Rolliver....': the pattern of the words here is parallel to Proverbs 21:9 and Proverbs 25:24. It amused Hardy to compare trivial things with great.

Solomon's Temple‘the magnificent pillars of Solomon's Temple': reference to 1 Kings 7:2, which describes the first temple built in Jerusalem. Again, small things are being compared to great.

‘'tis well to be kin to a coach': i.e. related to the aristocracy, who would keep a coach, probably bearing their coat of arms.

King Norman's day: Hardy is again laughing at the peasants' historical confusion. William the Conqueror was a Norman, i.e. from Normandy in northern France.

gaffer sent by Gover'ment: customs and excise officer, probably looking for smuggled drink as much as for illegal consumption on the premises

get green malt in floor: referring to the danger of Tess getting pregnant before any marriage has been arranged. Preparing malt for making beer was a complicated business and could easily be spoiled if the malt was ‘green' or unready. The remark suggests what could easily happen.

his eastings or genuflections: as part of the Anglican ritual, the congregation would turn east at certain moments in the service, or bend the knee. However drunk or hung-over Durbeyfield was, he could do it automatically.

Swarming will soon be over for the year: Bees annually start a new colony by ‘swarming'. This is the moment to buy new hives. After that, it would be too late, hence the urgency to get the hives to market in time.


Rolliver's Inn: Although pubs are still a central feature of British social life, the licensing laws have changed a little and need understanding:

  • Rolliver's is described as being an inn, an ale-house, and an off-licence. In fact, legally it is an off-licence. Mrs. Rolliver is well aware she could lose her licence if anyone is discovered drinking on the premises. If locals her clients drank upstairs; if strangers, outside in the roadway on a makeshift counter.
    • What excuse does she have ready if she were to be discovered?
  • The other pub, mentioned in Ch 1, is the Pure Drop Inn. This is licensed and altogether a much grander affair, having its own carriage for hire, and situated at the other end of the long straggly village. It would be better described as a tavern, as opposed to an ale-house.

Tess's first journey

It is important to keep track of all of Tess's journeys, as they usually have symbolic value. Here the journey lies southwards towards Casterbridge, although by themselves they only make twelve miles of the total twenty. They go through Stourcastle, over the hills near Bulbarrow and Nettlecombe Tout, two of the hills mentioned already in Ch 2 and mentioned again in Ch 42. Both have archaeological interest, representing an archaeological period long before the historical time in which the Durbeyfields are caught up.

Trantridge, The Chase: see Ch 5.


b'aint: dialect form of ‘be not'. ‘Be' is the subjunctive or hypothetical form of the verb, still actively used in the dialect

Catechism: In the Book of Common Prayer, the section on questions and answers about the Christian faith

cob: a type of horse with short legs

conclave: a gathering or meeting

of 'count in wold days: of account in old days

cwoffer: dialect form for coffer or chest

fine figure o' fun: attractive, gives pleasure or fun. In this context, it is another warning about pregnancy

furrows of fifty years extemporised: his face appeared as if lined and fifty years old

licends: licence

spy-glass: telescope

stair-door: many old cottages had doors at the foot of the stairs

stubbard-tree: a type of apple tree.

sumple: supple, pliable

vinous bliss: happiness created by alcohol

zeed: dialect form of ‘saw'. Initial s's become z's in West Country dialects

Investigating chapter 4

  • Colour symbolism plays an important part in the novel
    • Begin to construct notes on the colours Hardy uses in his descriptions of people and episodes.
  • Look at the description of Marlott.
    • What does its layout suggest about the sort of place it is?
  • In what ways is the thinking behind Joan's ‘project' naive?
  • Examine the conversation Abraham and Tess have together.
    • What does it show of Tess's philosophy of life?
    • What perspective does it introduce?
      • Do you think Hardy putting his own views into Tess's mouth?
    • How else does Hardy show Tess' spiritual side?
  • In many novels, certain episodes are used to prefigure significant happenings later on.
    • What does Prince's death prefigure?
  • Mark the phrases that show Tess' sense of responsibility.
    • How might this sense of responsibility influence her decisions?
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