Chapter 21

Synopsis of chapter 21

Tess's pastoral happiness is disturbed by two small events:

  • A story she overhears about a jilted dairymaid and her subsequent enforced marriage makes Tess realise her past is still with her. Whilst everyone else treats the story as rather comic, she feels it deeply
  • She also discovers her three companions are all in love with Angel, but they realise they have no hope of him. They believe Angel is attracted to Tess, and, whilst Tess is tempted to make something of this, she resists, having taken an inner vow not to marry because of the past.

Commentary on chapter 21

For the first time, Hardy distinguishes between the dairymaids and begins to characterise them. Tess is thus introduced to a sub-community of thwarted lovers within the greater community. This is the theme of the Butter churn by User Musphot on Wikimedia Commonschapter.

the butter would not come: the milk to be made into butter is turned in a churn until it begins to thicken, or 'come'. The turner can hear when this happens because it makes a different sound.

Conjuror Trendle's son: a conjuror in country terms would be someone endowed with country wisdom and cures for ailments. He might use remnants of old pagan rituals to aid him. Trendle is mentioned a number of times in Hardy's Wessex Tales. The Mayor of Casterbridge contains an episode where Henchard visits another conjuror, Fall.

cast folk's waters: tell a person's fortune by testing their urine

Holy Thursday: Ascension Day, the day Jesus was taken into heaven (Acts 1:1-11).

dog-days: the hottest part of the summer, when the Dog Star (Sirius) is in the ascendancy in the night sky, roughly early June to mid-August.

county annals: history of the country. Hardy has previously mentioned the Paridelles as being rather like the d'Urbervilles (Ch 19).


Owlscombe: Batcombe, in the hills some six miles north of Dorchester, near a village called Minterne Magna.


almanack: calendar which lists holidays, stars and planets, seasonal happenings

ballyragging: cursing, verbally abusing

en: dialect form of 'them'

'hor's bird: bastard (literally 'whore's bird')

pummy: apple pulp, left after cider-making

Investigating chapter 21

  • What purpose is served by introducing the butter-turning incident?
    • What does it show us about the community?
    • What does it show us about Tess?
  • Look at the description of the sun and the bird song as examples of the pathetic fallacy.
    • What does it show about Tess's emotional state?
    • How does this description compare to previous descriptions of sunrise and sunset?
  • How does Hardy distinguish the three dairymaids?
    • In what ways are they all set apart from Tess?
    • What does the phrase 'more woman than either' mean?
  • What dilemma is Tess now faced with, having overheard the dairymaids' conversation?
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