Chapter 15

Synopsis of chapter 15

After the baby's death, Tess stays quietly at home for the next twenty months, doing odd jobs round the home and village. But it becomes increasingly obvious to her that she needs to move on, even though the village has practically forgotten about her efforts to claim kin. She applies for a dairymaid's job in the southern part of the county, and is taken on for the summer. An added interest to the farm, Talbothays, is that it is near the ancestral burial place of the d'Urbervilles.

Commentary on chapter 15

In this last chapter of Phase the Second, Hardy spends much of the narrative in reflection. It is not always clear when the thoughts, put in reported speech, are Hardy's, and when they belong to Tess. Unusually for Hardy, most of his ideas are expressed at the beginning of the chapter, not at the end. Readers have to question whether these ideas are consistent with what Hardy actually shows through narrative and emotional impression.

Roger AschamRoger Ascham: famous early sixteenth century English educator and private tutor to Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth I.

to feel the whole truth of golden opinions...: golden because wise and pure. Hardy is labouring the irony that the best wisdom never coincides with the moment we need it.

Saint Augustine: Augustine lived 354-430, and was a leading theologian of the early church. His Confessions, from which the quotation is taken, is a frank account of his often tumultuous life leading up to his conversion, and is often seen as the first autobiography.

Jeremy Taylor's thought: Taylor was a leading Anglican writer in the seventeenth century. The reference is to his The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying.

a liberal education: usually meaning an education not specifically vocational, but one which fits people for life in general, giving them the means to live a culturally rich life.

like Babylon, had fallen: a prophetical biblical reference to the fall of Babylon in and the word 'fallen', Hardy uses double-entendre, referring to both destruction and sexual impurity.

invincible instinct: unconquerable urge, as opposed to the fallen, defeated state of the d'Urbervilles. Hardy sets up a number of oppositions within Tess, of which this is one of the most important (see Ch 28 for more on this).


Hardy is vague about how long Tess spent back in Marlott, as in 'the last year or two'. But working backwards, Tess mentions she is twenty whilst at Talbothays, which means she must have spent practically all her nineteenth year in Marlott. Thus, she stayed some twenty months there. The beginning of the next chapter confirms this. She sets out again in late spring, again a time symbolic of new beginnings.


Hardy makes it clear that in days when travel was very restricted, distances between one side of a county and the other are significant. North-south travel in Dorset was not easy unless heading for the county town of Casterbridge. Talbothays is more to the south-east part of Dorset in the valley of the River Frome. The d'Urberville ancestors would have been buried at Bere Regis (Kingsbere), a few miles to the north of the Frome valley.


chastity: abstinence from sexual activity. Hardy appears to be using it more in the sense of virginity (as also maidenhood), meaning to have not had any sexual experience.

gnomic: full of wisdom, proverbial

unexpended: unspent

Investigating chapter 15

  • What is Hardy's attitude about learning through experience?
    • Does Hardy make it sound possible that Tess can recover from her bad experience?
  • In the phrase 'but for the world's opinion', which world is Hardy talking about?
    • Are you inclined to believe him?
  • Weigh Tess's thoughts of death against her hope of something springing from working near to the d'Urbervilles.
    • Does one outweigh the other?
    • Are they passing moods or real emotional attitudes?
  • Hardy is very interested in Tess crossing various borders.
    • What border does she finally cross here?
      • What has been the crucial factor to thrust her over?
  • Collect together references to memory and bygones.
    • What questions does Hardy shape from them?
    • What sort of answers can we anticipate?
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