Chapter 37

Synopsis of chapter 37

On the night before they are due to leave the house, Angel Clare sleepwalks. He picks Tess up, as if she was dead, and carries her out of the house over a plank bridge to the Abbey. He places her in an open tomb and lies down beside her.

Tess manages to speak to him whilst he is dead asleep, and lead him back to the house. In the morning, he has no recollection of the event, and Tess does not refer to it. They pay a final visit to the dairy, pretending everything is normal. Only Mrs. Crick notices Tess's eyes do not look right.

Angel has hired a vehicle and driver. When they get as far as Blackmoor Vale, Angel alights, says his farewells to Tess and sets off for his parents. He has left Tess a sum of money and instructions not to come to him, but she may write if she is in dire need. He leaves the future somewhat open. Tess refuses to make a scene or any final appeal. She sets off on the short distance home.

Commentary on chapter 37

The sleep-walking scene is one of the more famous episodes of the book. After all the talk and suppression of feeling, Hardy has managed to dramatically convey Angel's deep psychic disturbance, symbolically acting Samson and Delilahout the burial of the Tess he fell in love with, rather than the real one.

like a Samson shaking himself: referring to Judges 16:19-20 in the Old Testament, when Samson, having revealed the secret of his supernatural strength lay in his uncut hair, wakes after his wife Delilah has shaved his head, resulting in the loss of his strength.

any intention...pure reason: if he had decided on a course of action one evening, from whatever motivation, and that decision still seemed firm and real to him the next morning, then he would act on it as being rational.

'God's not in his heaven...': a negation of Robert Browning's famous lines from his poem Pippa Passes, where he writes,

'God's in his heaven —
All's right with the world'.


Two strange journeys take place in the chapter:

  • The first one, the sleepwalking incident, is highly symbolic. Hardy anticipates psychoanalytic discoveries that suggest people act out their unconscious thoughts and desires in symbolic forms. There was actually such a tomb at Bindon Abbey, belonging to Richard de Maners (c.1310). The incident anticipates a later incident when Alec pretends to be lying dead on a tomb at Tess's ancestral burial place (Ch 52).
  • The second journey is an ironic echo of the usual honeymoon tour. Tess and Angel literally part ways, both returning to parental homes, negating their married state. This journey is more or less in line geographically with the fateful journey on which Prince was killed. They must have passed near the spot of his death, in fact.

Weatherbury: Puddletown, north-east of Dorchester

Stagfoot Lane: Hartfoot Lane, a hamlet in the hills, overlooking Blackmoor Vale, and near where Prince was killed

Nuzzlebury: Hazelbury Bryan, at the foot of Bulbarrow, five miles south-west of Sturminster Newton.


fastidiousness: over-sensitivity, pickiness

vagary: quirk, strange behaviour

wicket: a small gate, usually an alternative to a larger one nearby

Investigating chapter 37

  • What does the sleepwalking incident reveal about Angel?
  • How does Tess respond to the incident, and what does this show about her?
  • Look particularly at references to death and dying.
    • What, in fact, has really died?
  • What does Hardy emphasize in the visit to the dairy?
  • Look at Tess and Angel's farewell.
    • What are the terms and conditions Angel lays down?
    • Hardy seems to suggest that if Tess had tried harder, she may have been able to make Angel change his mind. Would you agree?
    • What chances do you think exist for the marriage at this point?
    • Is Angel's behaviour here any different from Alec's in Ch 12?
  • Hardy also suggests there is a fatal family flaw.
    • What is this?
    • Is Hardy being fair to Tess here?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.