Chapter 56

Synopsis of chapter 56

The landlady hears Angel go and is inquisitive. She overhears Tess wailing, then reprimanding Alec. Then there is silence. Finally, she hears Tess going out.

The landlady, now sitting in her downstairs room, sees a red spot on the ceiling, which grows into a heart shape. Fearing some harm, she summons a labourer. They discover Alec dead, stabbed through the heart with a carving knife brought up with the breakfast.

Commentary on chapter 56

We still do not see anything from Tess's perspective. Along with the landlady, we hear some of her words, but do not realise what has happened any sooner than the landlady does. Hardy thus continues to distance Tess from us in this Phase, though we know enough about Alec to piece together what has happened.

Alec's murder has all the signs of a crime passionel. (The nearest to it in the serious English novel to Ixionian wheeldate might be Tulkinghorn's murder by Hortense in Dickens' Bleak House.)

Ixionian wheel: In classical mythology, Ixion was tied to a revolving burning wheel for boasting he had seduced Hera, Zeus' wife.

walking costume: a dress or suit designed for the fashionable lady to wear to walk around town (or travel in a carriage)

watering-place: a spa resort


dirge: a song of mourning, usually with little tune

materialized: money-minded

proclivity: inclination (usually with a negative meaning)

Investigating chapter 56

  • Make notes on the colour symbolism in the chapter.
  • Comment particularly on the shape of the patch of blood on the ceiling.
  • 'The wound was quite small': where else in the novel has this been the case?
  • Can you anticipate exactly why Tess killed has Alec?
  • Why did she not just walk out on him?
  • Do you feel horrified by the murder?
  • How does Hardy lessen its immediate impact?
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