Chapter 26

Synopsis of chapter 26

Angel discusses with his father the qualities of a farmer's wife. Mr. Clare is still convinced Mercy Chant is the right wife for Angel, so finally Angel tells him about Tess. He has to make Tess seem to be more of a Christian than she really is, but in the end his parents agree to meet her. The conversation then turns to Mr. Clare's attempts to convert people, including Alec, whose dissolute life-style has been brought to his attention.

Commentary on chapter 26

family prayers: Many Victorian families had a family time when prayers were said. As a pious clergyman, Mr. Clare certainly did this, probably reading the service of Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer.

your goings-out and your comings-in: a quotation from Psalms 121:8.

Communion-table – altar: one of the differences of vocabulary between Low Church and High Church was in the name they gave to where communion was served from. High Church called it an altar, after the Old Testament concept of a sacrifice being offered. Low Church saw communion more as a memorial of what Jesus achieved by dying on the cross (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), and preferred the more homely word 'table'.

a Pauline view of humanity: see the previous chapter for Mr. Clare's preference for Paul's teaching in the New Testament. The phrase presumably means that he looked on a wife's inner qualities rather than on her external accomplishments or skills.

fate or Providence: it is important to see the difference between these two concepts. Fate implies some impersonal force of destiny, whilst Providence suggests a more personal and benevolent purpose. The latter was a term sometimes used of God, in fact. Angel seems, like Hardy, to believe the first, but out of respect for his father, suggests the second as an alternative explanation (see Determinism and free will). Later on, Angel goes on to suggest 'chance', yet another concept.

Vestal virginhelpmate: Hardy echoes the Biblical term used of Eve (Genesis 2:20-24 ).

vestal: the vestal virgins were priestesses in ancient Rome at the Temple of Vesta, often from noble families.

paper-poets: poets with no real experience, quite a common occurrence in Victorian writing.

the very tribe...propagate: Angel uses an agricultural image of reproduction. Because this fits in with biblical images of sowing seed etc., Mrs. Clare thinks he is mocking biblical language by playing language games.

the mental epiderm: Angel's views on modern education seem remarkably similar to Hardy's. The thought is that, at present, education does not penetrate the central core of a person's being and so produces no real change. At most, it just manages to implant some ideas and facts.

most appreciative humanist...Christologist: Hardy suddenly makes a comparison between Angel and his two brothers. Though Angel may no longer be a believer, Hardy ironically suggests he understands who Christ is rather better than his clergyman brothers. He demonstrates a greater love of humanity and is much more alive to what true religion should entail. They, presumably, are more concerned about the practicalities of religious institutions.

a pernicious Calvinistic doctrine: referring to Mr. Clare's belief in predestination (see Determinism and free will). In its origins, the Puritan section of the Church of England embraced Calvinism, so Mr. Clare actually stands in a long tradition of belief (see Reformation).

'exclaim against their own succession': quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet II ii 341-4.

missionary sermons: this picks up from Ch 12, where the sign-painter first describes Mr. Clare as an evangelist. 'Missionary' is used in the sense of being ‘sent' by God, when a preacher seeks to convert the unbelievers in the congregation.

'Thou fool....': from Luke 12:13-21: the parable of the rich man who leaves God out of the equation of his future.

'Being reviled we bless...': 1 Corinthians 4:11-13. Mr Clare quotes the Apostle Paul who also suffered as a result of preaching the gospel.

as a good seed: a reference to Jesus' Parable of the Sower, where some seed falls into good ground and eventually produces good fruit (See Famous stories from the Bible > Parable of the Sower and Luke 8:4-15).

Social setting

Even though Angel's parents are shown to be very other-worldly, they are still very concerned about class. Angel has to defend Tess as much for her working class origins as he does about her Christian character. It shows how deep-seated class prejudices were in Hardy's day.


ecclesiastical: related to the institutional church

sanguine: hopeful, optimistic

self-abnegation: self-denial

specious: double-minded; giving an appearance only of truth

unimpeachable: blameless

Investigating chapter 26

  • What are Angel's main obstacles in persuading his parents that Tess would be a suitable wife?
  • What does 'amid beliefs essentially demonistic' mean?
  • Why does he not even mention Tess to his brothers?
  • How does Angel explain how he and Tess have been brought together?
    • How clear is this explanation?
    • Is this explanation likely to appeal to his father?
  • Look at the comments made about education and about women and class.
    • To what extent are they Angel's views and to what extent Hardy's?
    • How far do you think Angel is in danger of becoming Hardy's mouthpiece at times?
  • What is Hardy's attitude to Mr. Clare?
    • Why does Angel think he is more like his father than either of his brothers?
  • List the references in the chapter by which Hardy reminds us of Tess's past
    • What effect do these references have on the reader?
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