Chapter 55

Synopsis of chapter 55

Angel arrives late at night in Sandbourne. He books in at a hotel, then walks to the very edge of Egdon Heath, noting how strange the new city looks. He sleeps little.

In the morning he inquires at the Post Office for Tess. One of the postmen remembers learning of someone of the name d'Urberville staying at a high-class guest house, 'The Herons'. He goes there and asks for her. The landlady calls her Mrs d'Urberville.

Finally, Angel and Tess confront each other. Angel is expecting a happy reunion as he admits his mistake. Instead, a horrified Tess tells him he is too late, that 'the other man' has claimed her through his help to her family. Dazed, Angel stumbles out of the house.

Commentary on chapter 55

Although we have not known where Tess is staying any more than Angel, we do know about Alec. This allows Hardy to set up a whole series of little dramatic ironies. Angel is far too optimistic that it will be all right and that he is in time. But Hardy has scattered enough clues for us to know ahead of time that it will not be all right and that he is too late. The subtext here is Milton's Paradise Lost, Book IX. After Eve has been tempted and fallen, the still innocent Adam eagerly greets her, only to find she is a changed woman.

British trackway: Hardy is using the term 'British' in the sense of 'Ancient Britons;' that is, from before the time of the Romans ('the days of the Caesars'), who came to Britain about 55 BC.

the prophet's gourd: a reference to the Old Testament prophet Jonah, who camped outside the city of Nineveh hoping for it to be struck down by God. A gourd plant suddenly sprouted to give him protection from the sun whilst he argued with God about God deciding to spare the city due to its repentance (Jonah 4:4-6). Hardy no doubt also means us to see Sandbourne as a type of the wicked city, Nineveh. See City and countryside.

rich cashmere dressing-gown: cashmere is a very fine expensive wool, originally from Kashmir. It gives us an immediate signal of how fashionably Tess is now dressed.


Hardy makes a great deal of the contrast between the modernity of Sandbourne and the antiquity of the surrounding country. Both the modern present and the ancient past have been equally harmful to Tess.

Egdon Waste: that is to say, Egdon Heath. Even to-day, a small part of Canford Heath still remains to the north-west of Bournemouth. The rest has been swallowed up in suburbs of Poole and Bournemouth.


gourd: a certain type of quick-growing vine bearing fruit

lounging-place: resort

tawny: an uneven brownish-orange with patches of lighter brown in it

Investigating chapter 55

  • Examine the detailed contrast between the modern city and the ancient heathland surrounding it.
    • What points is Hardy trying to make through this contrast?
    • How do Hardy's comments on modernity tie in with previous comments on this subject?
  • Find one or two examples of dramatic irony in the chapter.
    • Can you say exactly what is ironic about them?
  • Compare the physical descriptions of Tess and Angel at their meeting.
    • In what ways do they contrast?
    • In what ways are their roles reversed?
    • How has Hardy prepared us for Tess's new appearance?
  • Discuss whether it really is 'too late'?
    • What makes Tess think it is?
  • Explain what Hardy means by the sentence beginning, 'But he had a vague consciousness of one thing....'
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