Tess of the d'Urbervilles Contents
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Chapters 1-9
- Chapters 10-19
- Chapters 20-29
- Chapters 30-39
- Chapters 40-49
- Chapters 50-59
- Tess as a 'Pure Woman'
- Tess as a secular pilgrim
- Tess as a victim
- The world of women
- Tess as an outsider
- Coincidence, destiny and fate
- Disempowerment of the working class
- Heredity and inheritance
- Laws of nature vs. laws of society
- Nature as sympathetic or indifferent
- Patterns of the past
- Sexual predation
- Inner conflicts: body against soul
Synopsis of chapter 56
The landlady hears Angel go and is inquisitive. She overhears Tess wailing, then reprimanding Alec. Then there is silence. Finally, she hears Tess going out.
The landlady, now sitting in her downstairs room, sees a red spot on the ceiling, which grows into a heart shape. Fearing some harm, she summons a labourer. They discover Alec dead, stabbed through the heart with a carving knife brought up with the breakfast.
Commentary on chapter 56
We still do not see anything from Tess's perspective. Along with the landlady, we hear some of her words, but do not realise what has happened any sooner than the landlady does. Hardy thus continues to distance Tess from us in this Phase, though we know enough about Alec to piece together what has happened.
Alec's murder has all the signs of a crime passionel. (The nearest to it in the serious English novel to date might be Tulkinghorn's murder by Hortense in Dickens' Bleak House.)
walking costume: a dress or suit designed for the fashionable lady to wear to walk around town (or travel in a carriage)
watering-place: a spa resort
dirge: a song of mourning, usually with little tune
proclivity: inclination (usually with a negative meaning)
Investigating chapter 56
- Make notes on the colour symbolism in the chapter.
- Comment particularly on the shape of the patch of blood on the ceiling.
- 'The wound was quite small': where else in the novel has this been the case?
- Can you anticipate exactly why Tess killed has Alec?
- Why did she not just walk out on him?
- Do you feel horrified by the murder?
- How does Hardy lessen its immediate impact?
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