Chapter 30

Synopsis of chapter 30

As they drive to the station, it begins to rain. Tess and Angel have to huddle up under a canvas. They pass one of the d'Urberville ancestral homes.

On the way back, Angel again presses Tess for an answer and Tess resolves to tell him her real reason for refusal. However, she gets only a little way into her story when her heart fails her. All she can do is admit she is a d'Urberville descendant, and say she was afraid this would incur Angel's displeasure. In fact, he finds it quite interesting and sees the social advantage in telling his mother this piece of news. Tess now has apparently no reason to refuse Angel and so accepts.

Commentary on chapter 30

This is a crucial chapter, representing Tess's first big test to 'come clean', a test she fails in, for understandable reasons. It is a finely written chapter, and repays close analysis. It marks the halfway stage of the novel, and fittingly climaxes in Tess's acceptance of Angel's proposal.

Hardy wrote several very good personal poems about driving in the rain, including 'At Castle Boterel', and several about railway stations in his collection Winter Words.

of Caroline date: that is, from the time of either Charles I or Charles II, in the seventeenth century.

Centurioncenturions: in the Roman army, a centurion was like a captain, having eighty men under him. (Previously, they were in charge of a hundred men, but this was changed under Marian reforms in 107B.C.). Tess has heard the term from hearing accounts of Jesus' encounters with centurions in gospel readings at church (Luke 7:1-10), and has confused the historical context. This is why Angel repeats it in a gentle mockery probably lost on Tess.

a certain school of politicians: probably a reference to the growing interest in socialist ideas at the time of writing, for instance, nationalisation of the land. The Labour Party was formed in Britain around this time.

the 'appetite for joy': a quotation from Robert Browning's long poem Paracelsus.

vague lucubrations over the social rubric: literally, vague and pretentious waffle about the established rules and customs of society. Hardy's comments seek to defend Tess, but the oppositions he sets up are false. Tess has sought to refuse Angel, not because of such waffle, but because of her moral sensitivities and her innate purity (which is a quality that Hardy refers to in the subtitle of the novel).

Social context

Two aspects of context come to the fore here:

  • Mrs. Clare's latent social snobbery. The fact that Tess is from an aristocratic family will help Tess in regards to her acceptance by Angel's family. Ironically, the continued mention of the d'Urbervilles brings Alec's name up again, and, even more ironically, from Angel, when the ‘day of truth' should have entailed Tess talking about him.
  • The depiction of the milk train. The station Hardy describes was probably Moreton Station, built to serve the dairies as much as to pick up passengers. The milk can thus reach London in time for morning delivery, which is the secret of Talbothays' prosperity (see Agricultural and social conditions).


carking: burdensome, distressing

impassioned: passionate

Investigating chapter 30

  • Which previous journey would be the best one to compare this journey with?
    • What would be the similarities and what the differences?
  • List the images and symbols used by Hardy to describe the landscape and geographical features of the journey.
    • What sort of atmosphere do they produce?
    • What can the reader discern in them?
  • Look especially at the juxtaposition of the old house and the railway station.
    • What is Hardy saying about history and modernity, and how does this relate to Tess and Angel?
  • Study the paragraph beginning 'Then there was a hissing of the train....'
    • What different perspectives of Tess does the reader get?
  • Examine the dialogue between Tess and Angel as she attempts to reveal her past.
    • Can you trace the dynamics of it?
    • Is there anything in these dynamics which prevents Tess from saying what she means to say?
  • Look at how Hardy combines purity and passion in his heroine in this chapter.
  • List Hardy's examples of dramatic irony (irony of circumstances) in the section.
  • How does Hardy indicate to his readers that all will not be well for Tess?
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