Chapter 9

Synopsis of chapter 9

The morning after Tess's arrival at 'The Slopes', she is summoned to bring the hens and cockerels which she is looking after to Mrs. d'Urberville, whose pets they are. Tess is surprised to find Mrs. d'Urberville has gone blind and does not seem to think much of her son. She also clearly knows nothing of Tess's claim to kinship.

Mrs. d'Urberville also asks Tess if she can whistle. When Tess admits she can, she is told to whistle to Mrs. d'Urberville's pet bullfinches in future. Tess reluctantly has to accept help from Alec to regain her whistling skills. Over the next number of days, she loses some of her shyness of Alec without ever trusting him. He is aware of this and keeps his distance.

Commentary on chapter 9

chimney being enlarged ... ruined tower: the idea of ivy as a parasite plant perhaps symbolises the use of the cottage now. It no longer supports a real working family, but only the hobby of a wealthy woman, and has no productive use at all. However, ruined towers were a great feature of Victorian landscape painting, being seen as romantic, and thus socially acceptable.

dusty copyholders: Hardy uses the term ‘dusty' ironically to mean dead and buried. The Bible talks of 'dust to dust' (See Genesis 3:17-19), and the phrase is used in the burial service is from the well known Book of Common Prayer. Copyholders were tenants allowed to rent a cottage for as long as they lived. If the Rooster, photo by Muhammed Ghouri, available through Creative Commonslandlord was willing, the rented cottage could pass to the tenant's children. The plot of Hardy's The Woodlanders turns on this sort of lease expiring (or falling to hand) unexpectedly.

Hamburghs, Bantams....: all different breeds of poultry

Confirmation: at a confirmation, each priest presents the bishop with the candidates he has prepared for confirmation. In Anglican churches, confirmation is the ritual for church membership. Typically, the girls dress in white.

go back in their piping: the bull-finches will forget the tunes and go back to their usual bird sounds.

sitting like Im-patience on a monument: a reference to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night II.iv.113, where the actual phrase is 'like patience on a monument'. Misusing classical quotations for everyday small events is a typical device of the mock heroic, though Alec uses it more as a tease and to show off his education.

'Take, o take those lips away': another Shakespeare quotation, this time from Measure for Measure IV.i.1. It is the first line of a song about love betrayed.

Social context

For the first time, Hardy shows change in rural conditions. A cottage that had been used for generations by independent agricultural workers has now become both a hen house for a hobby and also a 'tied cottage' for Tess, i.e. it is only Tess's while she works there (see Agricultural and social conditions).

The transfer of economic power from traditional working class to newly-rich is also emphasised through Tess. However much she wants to remain independent of Alec, she is dependent on his mother for money and on him for practical help (see the sentence: 'But she was more pliable under his hand....').


Roman de la RoseHardy puts Tess in a walled garden. Traditionally, a walled garden was a place of love-making, as in the Medieval Romance The Romance of the Rose (see Courtly love ethic, The). Alec is quite happy to continue this convention, even if the garden is now full of hens! (Compare the old orchard in Ch 19).


airs: tunes

bullies: bull-finches

coping: top stones of the wall

crops: part of the oesophagus of a bird where food is stored prior to digestion

damask: a shiny reversible material, usually quite expensive, patterned and embossed

draggled: bedraggled, unkempt

purveyor: supplier of goods

undulations: up and down or wave-like movements

Investigating chapter 9

  • Why does Tess have misgivings when she hears Mrs. d'Urberville is blind?
  • List the different ways in which Hardy shows Tess's powerlessness?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe Mrs. d'Urberville's relationship with her son?
  • How would you characterise Tess and Alec's relationship?
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