Chapter 39

Synopsis of chapter 39

Angel sees an advertisement for agriculturalists to go to Brazil and decides this is what he should do. He returns to see his parents who are frankly puzzled why Tess is not with him. His excuse is that Tess is not yet ready to meet them at a social level. He tells them he will return from Brazil when he is settled there, collect Tess and then present her to them.

His mother discerns some difficulty in their relationship, but Angel swears Tess is a pure woman and the difficulty has not been about that. He is angry at himself and at Tess for having to lie to his parents.

Commentary on chapter 39

This is only the second time the focus has been taken off Tess, the first time also being Angel's visit to his parents (Chs 25, 26). It also marks the end of the second volume in the original three-volume set. The first volume ended with Angel's proposal; this with their separation.

The Premature Burial by WiertzWiertz Museum: in Brussels, Belgium, an art museum the Hardys had visited. Antoine Wiertz lived in the first part of the nineteenth century, and concentrated on grotesque scenes and people. Hardy contrasts this with the harmony of Italian Renaissance art.

Van Beers: Jan van Beers was a contemporary Belgian artist, who had a London exhibition in 1887. His work was often compared to that of Antoine Wiertz.

the Pagan moralist: Marcus Aurelius, a Roman writer and emperor of the second century. His writings and stoic philosophy were highly popular for many centuries.

the Nazarene: Jesus Christ, who lived in Nazareth. The quotation is from John 14:27.

the Empire of Brazil: Brazil was not normally a place that attracted British emigrants, Argentina being the preferred South American destination. But there had been a disastrous colonisation scheme in 1872 which Hardy is probably remembering.

a good thing could come out of Nazareth: referring to John 1:46, where it is posed as a sceptical question. Angel's mother, however, tries not to apply scepticism to Tess.

The words of King Lemuel: as Hardy says, the reading is from Proverbs 31:10-31, where King Lemuel describes the qualities of a ‘wife of noble character'. Mr and Mrs Clare's choice of text brings a remarkable pathos to the plight of Tess and Angel's treatment of her. Nothing is known about King Lemuel, the book of Proverbs being generally attributed to King Solomon.

the world, the flesh nor the devil: words from the Book of Common Prayer, especially the Baptism service and Litany about temptations facing people

Social context

Once again, the Clares' social snobbery is clearly shown by Hardy, even though the couple seem a very humble and unpretentious pair. This is Hardy's point: even among such decent people, class and social manners matter more than anything else, even virtue. Their religion and their practice do not match. Angel himself, for all his idealism, thinks the same way at heart.


apostasy: denying one's faith

Vicar at a lecterndeprecations: protesting or expressing disapproval of something, belittling or depreciating

lectern: stand on which notes or a book may be placed when reading, commonly found at the front of a church. This suggests the Clares' excessive formality in their religious practice at home

magnanimity: generosity of feeling

meat: in the sixteenth century meaning of food in general

Papistical: literally, of the Pope; i.e. Roman Catholic.

Investigating chapter 39

  • Compare the present visit with Angel's previous one to his parents.
    • What do you notice about how Hardy has structured each visit?
  • Tess's ancestry keeps coming up in Angel's thoughts as well as in Hardy's comments.
    • Connect ancestral references to themes of:
      • The purity of Tess's character
      • The past and the destiny of history
      • Class consciousness
  • For the first time, there is a full description of what Tess looks like physically.
    • Why do you think Hardy has delayed so long in giving a complete picture of her, instead of just partial references to face or figure?
  • What effect do the Clares' naivety and piety have on Angel?
  • Look at the last paragraph.
    • Do Hardy's comments add anything to what we have already realised?
    • Is Hardy being overanxious to establish Tess's purity, do you think?
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