Chapter 14

Synopsis of chapter 14

The narrative moves on to summertime, and depicts the harvesting at Marlott. Hardy describes the process of harvesting a field, until only a central patch is left, where the wild animals hide, only to be killed by the harvesters. Tess has had her baby, which is brought to her by her younger brothers and sisters to feed during the day. The villagers seem to welcome Tess back amongst them.

Later that evening, the baby sickens. Tess fears for its life, especially because it has not been baptised. She fears that if it dies without a baptism, it will go to hell, but her drunken father forbids the village parson to come to the house to baptise the child. In the end, Tess goes ahead and baptises the baby herself, with her brothers and sisters acting as congregation. She names the baby boy Sorrow. The baby dies soon after.

Tess is anxious for her son to receive a proper burial. She intercepts the parson, tells him what she has done and asks him to perform a Christian burial service. Because of the baby's illegitimacy and because it was not baptised by himself, he refuses, but compromises his beliefs far enough to assure Tess of the baby's salvation. The baby is buried in a corner of the church graveyard reserved for those refused a Christian burial.

Commentary on chapter 14

the denser nocturnal vapours: the heavy night mists, which are common in the autumn. Compare with ch 11, and the mist in The Chase.

old-time heliolatries: pagan religions based on sun-worship. Hardy is implying older pagan forms of religion really made sense in this sort of setting. See references to sun worship at the end of the novel (ch Maltese Cross, photo by Darodot, available through Creative Commons58).

Maltese cross: a stylised cross where each of the four arms are of equal length, with a circle in the centre. Usually the end of the arms are concave rather than straight.

reaping machine: this would be horse-drawn, but Hardy emphasises the mechanical aspects of the operation, as he does later in ch 47, where the machine is steam-driven.

living as a stranger and an alien here: Tess is actually a village inhabitant, but is not living like that. Several biblical echoes resonate here. In the Old Testament, the book of Ruth is about an alien girl, Ruth, who is allowed to glean corn to feed herself and her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:1-17).

Dancers in a quadrillelike dancers in a quadrille: a quadrille is a formal dance in which the dancers approach each other in opposite sides, meet and then retreat again.

engine of regret: in its older sense, engine means device. Tess has been torturing herself with guilty feelings of every kind.

some worm-eaten Tuscan saint: the early Italian Renaissance of the thirteenth century had two centres in Tuscany: Siena and Florence. Especially in Siena, the conventional painting was of Mary and the baby Jesus surrounded by various saints, all with haloes round their heads. Such paintings were usually displayed on wood, and therefore subject to woodworm.

that little prisoner of the flesh: at this stage in the chapter, Hardy begins to use mock biblical and Book of Common Prayer language. Though the phrase is nowhere used in the Bible, it echoes several passages, such as Romans 7:22-24. In Platonic doctrine, the soul is seen as prisoner of the body, and Hardy may be mocking that idealistic philosophy, too.

Aholah and Aholibah: These two names were mentioned in Ezekiel 23:1-49. The actual passage, about two sisters who were condemned for prostituting themselves, was allegorical, applying to Samaria and Jerusalem (towns in the Middle-East), but Tess may have been taught the story as if the two girls were literal.

no salvation: views on baptism differed widely in Hardy's time. Hardy refers to the most extreme form of the teaching, more typical of Roman Catholic theology, that baptism is necessary for salvation.

corner of hell: It is not clear how much of what Tess thinks about the possible fate of her baby is from her imagination, and how much accords with what she has been taught. There was widespread teaching about hell in Victorian times, and the fear of hell was one major motivator for good behaviour. Hell itself was typically associated with burning and torment. Whilst the New Testament speaks a good deal about hell (e.g.Matthew 25:30, Matthew 25:41), nowhere is it suggested this is the fate of babies or children.

arch-fiend....: Satan, the devil, who in popular representation deriving from medieval tradition, is seen as carrying a fork to toss souls into hell.

in the book of Genesis: A reference to Genesis 35:16-19, where Rachel's second son is called Ben-Oni, meaning 'Son of sorrow', since his mother died in childbirth. Later he was renamed Benjamin.

Prayer-Book...parson: In Church of England liturgy, the clerk, a lay person appointed to be the vicar's assistant, would hold the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible open for the priest to read from. Tess is replicating the service as much as she understands it, sprinkling the baby with the holy water and using the right Prayer Book formula for the baptism.

the Lord's Prayer: the prayer Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 6:9-15 ). This most well-known of Christian prayers would have been taught to even the smallest children in Hardy's time.

manfully fighting against...: the actual words of the Book of Common Prayer baptismal service. By reporting the words, Hardy is able to introduce a note of mockery into them. This allows him both to avoid sentimentality and to undermine Anglican beliefs.

efficacy of this sacrament: baptism was seen as a sacrament, a means of God's grace, here salvation. 'Efficacy' means that it actually worked. Hardy, of course, didn't believe it worked except at a psychological level.

stopt-diapason: on the organ, a high note that is stopped, or muffled.

fragile soldier and servant: again, another mocking reference to the Prayer-Book service of baptism, where the baptised person is encouraged to be both a soldier of Christ and a servant.

Social setting

Although the setting is Tess's home village, she still seems very much isolated from the other villagers. Many novelists might have taken the opportunity to depict village activities and personalities at this point, especially as harvesting was very much a communal activity. Hardy himself did this in earlier novels and short stories, but not here. Instead, he focuses on the mechanics of the harvesting.

Hardy briefly introduces some of the farm workers, but does not allow them to develop any characteristics or to become a 'rustic chorus' extensively commenting on life, as in some of his earlier novels such as Under the Greenwood Tree. He also introduces the vicar, but again gives him no clear distinguishing features. His attitude regarding the baptism indicates that he may be liberal / associated with the Broad Church, branch of Anglicanism. See Different religious approaches in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Infant mortality

The emotional high point of the chapter is obviously the baptism of Tess's dying baby. Hardy portrays Tess as ethereal, as seen through the eyes of her younger siblings. The church is portrayed negatively, whilst Tess's purity, youth and angelic nature are emphasised.

However, at the same time, Hardy suggests that Tess was 'only a passing thought' to the world, which was basically indifferent to her guilt and grief. There is thus a tension between such comments and his portrayal of her as someone significant and central to his narrative.

Regarding the death of the baby, it must be remembered infant mortality rates were still very high, and no-one in Hardy's readership would have marked this event as unusual or highly co-incidental. Notice there is no attempt to get medical help – it would have been too expensive, or there would have been none to get.


The season moves to the summer, a year after Tess's venture to 'The Slopes'. The nine months between conception and birth (September-June) suggests the baby is no more than two months old. Tess must now be 18.


The setting is now a farm in Marlott and the churchyard and vicarage. Hardy gives us no further details of the village.


apotheosized: made divine or god-like

christen: baptise

comeliest: prettiest

concatenation: assemblage, variety of things linked together

ecclesiastic: churchman

extemporised: made up on the spot

immaculate: spotless

ordinance: sacrament, ceremony

scepticism: disbelief

sentient: conscious, sensitive to feeling

sexton: grave-digger and church caretaker

stubble: remains of stalk after corn has been cut

wain: large farm cart

Investigating chapter 14

  • Hardy delays introducing Tess in this chapter.
    • What does he open the chapter with?
    • What is the effect of delaying Tess's appearance?
    • Is the introduction of Tess's baby surprising?
  • Examine words and phrases that suggest mechanisation.
    • To what extent is Tess included in this language?
  • How does Hardy distinguish between the men and women labourers?
  • How do the labourers relate to Tess?
    • How does she relate to them?
  • Pick out the colour words.
    • Do you notice any significance?
  • Pick out words and phrases that suggest borders and marginalisation.
    • In what way are these words connected with victimisation and entrapment?
  •  In ch. 10, Tess is described as 'on the momentary threshold of womanhood'. She is now 18, an age when many girls did get married and have babies.
    • Why do you think Hardy insists she is still a girl?
  • How are Tess's younger siblings described?
  • What does Hardy achieve in the baptism scene?
  • In what way is formal religion characterised in the chapter?
  • What qualities does Tess display in the chapter?
  • Hardy suggests Tess has 'a slight incautiousness of character'.
    • Is this fair?
  • Is Hardy laughing a little at Tess when he mentions the marmalade jar at the end?
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