Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The section begins a few weeks after the scene at The Chase. Tess is walking the twenty miles back home to Marlott, carrying a heavy basket but looking like her burden is an emotional one instead. She climbs the hill that Alec had ridden so recklessly down four months before, and sees the beautiful, familiar Vale of Blakemore. She can hardly bear to look at it, as her view of life has been so corrupted since she last left. Alec approaches her from behind and wonders why she slipped away so stealthily. He offers to drive her the rest of the way, and she passively accepts. She is not afraid of him anymore.
Tess is a new woman now, one no longer innocent and naïve but broken by the harsh world. It hurts her to even look at Marlott, the site of her old self, the symbol of agricultural purity. She does not fear Alec anymore because he can't do anything worse to her than he already has, so in a way she has achieved a new strength through her tribulations.
Themes
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They drive the rest of the way making small talk, and Tess sits “like a puppet” replying shortly. When she sees Marlott she starts to cry a little, and says she wishes she had never been born. Alec downplays her sorrow and asks why she came to Trantridge if she did not love him. Tess says she did not understand his intentions. Alec says “that's what every woman says,” and Tess flies into a rage, threatening to strike him for his insensitivity.
Tess has been reduced in her humanity by Alec's continued dominance, but finally her independent spirit flares up again and she takes control briefly within her anger. This flare-up is foreshadowing for her later, more dangerous act of rage against Alec's blithe cruelty.
Themes
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Alec laughs and admits he has done wrong, but he wants to make amends by giving Tess money. Tess scorns the offer and refuses to take anything from him, lest she should be his “creature.” Alec confesses he is “a bad fellow,” but says he was born bad and can't help it. He offers again that if Tess finds herself in a time of need she should call on him. Tess gets out of the cart and passively lets Alec kiss her goodbye, admitting hollowly that he has mastered her. She looks away at distant trees as he kisses her.
The way Alec talks about the rape only makes it seem more horrible, as if his money and flippant apologies could undo it. Alec claims it is fate that he should be bad, but he was the one with the agency in the deed. Tess gazes out at Nature as he kisses her, but her old, familiar world gives her no comfort now.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
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Alec laments that Tess will never love him, and Tess affirms it. Alec sighs and downplays her melancholy, complimenting her beauty again and asking her to return to him someday. Tess says she will never return, and Alec rides away. The sun and the season seem to mourn with Tess as she walks.
Tess is able to retain a little dignity still by refusing to give in to Alec when she is awake. She again symbolizes Nature as all her surroundings seem to grieve alongside her.
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A man approaches Tess from behind and they converse. He is religious, and spends his Sundays painting Bible quotes on fences. Tess watches him paint “THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT” and feels that the words accuse her personally. She asks about what if the sin was not of your own making, and man says he is not sure. He says he has even more crushing quotes that would be good for “dangerous young females” like Tess to see. He wants her to read his next one, which is going to be about adultery, but Tess refuses and walks on. As she leaves the man shouts that she should speak to a Reverend Clare if she wants explanations for her theological questions. Tess doesn't believe that God would say such things.
This begins Tess's unfair condemnation by Christianity and English Victorian society. She asks the question that seems to hold her destiny: what if the sin was not hers, but inflicted upon her? It makes no difference to the world, for now she is a “fallen women,” and Hardy's tragic critique of the sexual double standard and the hypocrisy of society begins. Tess believes in a simpler, purer religion that is not this kind of harsh Christianity, but an innate and innocent faith. Angel's father is first mentioned here as well.
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The sight of her house makes Tess's heart ache. Her mother greets her excitedly until she hears what has happened. Tess also reveals that they were not actually related to those d'Urbervilles. Joan gets angry that Tess didn't get Alec to marry her, and guilts her with the family's hardships. Tess had never even considered marriage, and Alec never mentioned it. Joan continues to berate her for not being more careful until Tess breaks down and weeps. Joan had never warned her about the dangers of men, and she had no experience in the matter. Joan feels bad, but says they must “make the best of it.”
Joan blames Tess for not holding up her end of the plan, despite the many sacrifices Tess has already made for her family. Even her mother did not realize the extent of Tess's innocence. Tess is able to retain at least a little dignity by showing no regret for not getting married. Joan quickly jumps to a similar conclusion that the narrator reached, the simple fatalism of the rural townspeople.
Themes
Injustice and Fate Theme Icon
Social Criticism Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon