Chapter 16

Synopsis of chapter 16

Tess sets out for Talbothays, helped by a lift on a farmer's cart for much of the way. Hardy describes her walking the last part over Egdon Heath, from where she sees the whole Frome valley lying below her, full of dairy farms. She arrives just in time for milking, in late afternoon.

Commentary on chapter 16

This chapter begins Phase the Third, entitled The Rally. Hardy describes Tess as fully restored and full of the joy and energy of youth. He sees women as being especially able to bounce back after setbacks. Much of the chapter is a description of the landscape, much of which is symbolically portrayed.

More on symbolic geography: like pathetic fallacy, symbolic geography is the imposition of human meanings on the natural landscape, often by projecting inner states of being. In Ch 16, Hardy contrasts two valleys. Each valley represents one of Tess's states of being:
  • Blackmore represents the enclosed, innocent, but less conscious life of her girlhood
  • Frome valley, the wider, lighter, more conscious aspect of her developing maturity.
Both are fertile, but in different ways. Between the valleys lies upland, representing Tess's difficult experiences of life, her exposure and isolation, her lack of fulfilment (see Ch 43). These are only just a few examples. Learn to read with eyes attuned for such descriptive passages. See also Symbolism.

her day's pilgrimage: see Ch 10 for notes on pilgrimage.

Part of a van Alsloot painting Van Alsloot or Sallaert with burghers: Belgian genre painters of the seventeenth century. They often painted landscapes crowded with people. Burghers are townspeople. Hardy's references to paintings are frequent, and he often reconstructs his landscapes in a painterly or even cinematographic way.

the pure River of Life....: a reference to Revelation 22:1. The writer is called the evangelist because it is generally supposed he wrote the Gospel (or Evangel) of John in the New Testament as well as the book of Revelation.

eaten of the tree of knowledge: Genesis 3:1-6 describes Eve eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus losing her innocence (traditionally this was particularly associated with the loss of her sexual innocence). Tess' 'sin' is different from Eve's sin of disobedience. Nevertheless, it results in guilt and a loss of innocence. Milton treats the subject at length in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, which at times becomes a subtext for the novel.

a Fetishistic utterance in a Monotheistic falsetto: a fetish is a form of pagan ritual. Hardy is suggesting Tess is mainly responding to pagan urges but is putting on a Christian (or Jewish) set of words as a cover for these deeper instincts (see also Ch 27).

the old Benedicite: This is a chant in the Morning Service of the Book of Common Prayer. Benedicite (pronounced ben-ay-die-cee-tay) is the Latin for 'O bless'. The words are derived from The Prayer of Azariah and the Hymn of the Three Children 35-66 in the Apocrypha.

like a fly on a billiard table: some critics have suggested an oblique reference to Shakespeare's King Lear, where Lear says: 'Like flies to wanton boys, so are we to the gods'. However, Hardy's remark suggests Frieze, photo by Twospoonfuls, available through Creative Commonsindifference rather than cruelty, though in the light of later events, the reference might seem more relevant.

Olympian shades...: again, a painterly set of references. Hardy is suggesting the sun etches the silhouettes of the milkers as carefully as any classical painter or frieze-maker did in Greek or Roman times in their depictions of gods (Olympians), heroes or beauties.

polished brass knobs: some milking cows are allowed to keep their horns. These were covered with knobs to protect the other cows from being gored by them in the enclosed space of the milking barn.


As the last chapter suggests, two years have gone by since Tess set off for Trantridge. Hardy suggests that in this time, Tess has recuperated and is ready to resume her life again.


This is another journey, this time to be contrasted with the other journeys, in that it is made hopefully. Hardy briefly mentions Egdon Heath, a part of Wessex that occurs as the central locus in several of his novels, especially The Return of the Native. Today, there are still small areas of heathland left, running from Morden Heath in the east to Puddletown Heath in the west.

Hardy takes both a bird's-eye and a worm's-eye perspective of the new terrain, as he does, for example, of Casterbridge, at the beginning of The Mayor of Casterbridge. Quite different views come from these perspectives, bringing an ambivalent attitude to the place. The area was especially well-known to Hardy, as many of his relatives lived there. Notice how detailed the description is.

Kingsbere: Bere Regis

Talbothays: near Moreton, west of Wool

Var or Froom: today spelled Frome.

Weatherbury: Puddletown


barton: farmyard

crowfoot: a member of the butter-cup family of flowers, although it has white petals as opposed to yellow

invidious: envious

kine: cattle

milchers: another term for a milking cow

phlegmatically: patiently, unemotionally

photosphere: a sphere or envelope of light

psalter: book of Psalms. In fact, the Benedicite (see Liturgy Morning Prayer:Benedicite) is not actually part of the Psalms, but in the Prayer Book would be in the section of chants.

serpentining: snaking or twisting

steading: the buildings used for farm activity

turbid: heavily sedimented

Investigating chapter 16

  • What does Hardy suggest about this new journey in terms of:
    • previous journeys?
    • Tess's emotions and attitudes?
    • what she sees on the way?
  • Collect Hardy's comments throughout the chapter that suggest Tess's absence or presence will not be noticed.
    • How does this stand in contrast to our seeing this new landscape through Tess's eyes?
  • Compare the two valleys that Hardy mentions.
    • In what ways is the contrast symbolic?
  • Compare the bird's-eye and the worm's-eye view of the Frome Valley.
    • What significant differences are there?
  • As if you were a film director, mark the chapter with the different types of camera shots you would use to represent the different perspectives Hardy conveys.
  • Look at Hardy's comments about women. Discuss whether they are:
    • Sympathetic
    • Patronising
    • Chauvinistic?
      • Do you think Hardy's attitudes are valid?
  • Make notes on the colour symbolism in this chapter.
  • Note words that suggest fertility.
    • Why should Hardy be stressing this?
  • What to you are the most significant images in the chapter?
  • Why does Hardy think that Tess is pagan at heart?
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