Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Angel wakes up and the room seems like the scene of a crime. He makes breakfast and calls for Tess, and her morning hopes die at the sight of Angel's face. The couple is as cold and ashen as the dead fire from the night before.
The cold gray morning reflects their emotions, and the feeling of criminality foreshadows later disasters. It is ambiguous who has committed the crime, though, Tess or Angel.
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Nature and Modernity Theme Icon
Tess looks purer and more innocent than ever, and Angel almost can't believe that her story is true, but Tess reaffirms it. Angel asks for the first time about Alec and the baby, and is distraught that Alec is alive and still in England. He states his position that he had decided to not take a wife of high society, but thought that he was getting “rustic innocence” in Tess.
Angel had not even considered to ask about the baby before, showing how wrapped up he was in his own idea of Tess's unfaithfulness. He is finally clear about how he had idealized her, and now he feels he has been cheated by her lack of "innocence."
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Tess says he could still divorce her, but Angel calls her crude and not understanding of the law. She feels even more guilty, and reveals that she considered suicide under his mistletoe the night before. She only decided against it as it would have caused a scandal for Angel. Angel is shaken and makes her promise to never think of killing herself again.
Angel again draws attention to her lower class and lack of understanding of his society. The mention of her suicidal thoughts seems to make the power of his actions real to him, but Angel still plows determinedly forward in his decision.
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They eat breakfast mechanically and then Angel goes off to study with the miller. Tess watches him disappear over the bridge and then cleans and waits for his return. At lunch he discusses the mill, which is very old compared to most modern machinery, and then leaves again, returning at night. Tess busies herself in the kitchen the whole time.
They act out their planned future with no feeling behind their performance. Even the mill here is of no use to Angel, as it is too old and cannot connect with the modern, industrial world he helplessly belongs to.
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Social Criticism Theme Icon
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Angel finds her and says to stop working, that she is not his slave but his wife, and Tess says she thought she was not respectable enough for him. She starts to cry and any other man but hard, skeptical Angel would have had mercy, but he rejects her like he rejected the Church. He says it is not a matter of respectability, but of principle. Tess takes his condemnation meekly and makes herself pathetically subservient to him. She is like Charity personified returning to the cruel modern world.
Angel clings to his principles and beliefs even in the face of others' pain. He has just as much power over Tess now as Alec did, and he also abuses it, although in a very different way. Tess is compared to a Christian virtue taken human form and beaten down by modernity. This image leaves Angel and Victorian society looking very bad.
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Paganism and Christianity Theme Icon
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More days pass in the same manner, and one morning Tess offers her face to kiss, but Angel ignores it. She is crushed by his rejection, and he says that they have been living together so far for form's sake only, but it cannot last. More days pass, and Tess no longer hopes for forgiveness.
Their parting is not real until Angel agrees to it and Tess's final attempt to cling to the fantasy fails. Angel has only been acting with society's conventions in mind, and when Tess sees this she accepts that she cannot persuade him.
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Angel spends all his time trying to figure out what to do next, and tells Tess he cannot live with her without despising both of them. He cannot accept that Alec still lives as her “husband in nature,” and that nowhere on earth is far enough away to escape the past, and their future children would suffer for it.
The concept of natural laws versus societal ones is used against Tess here, although by the same logic Angel's true wife is a woman in London. He also crushes Tess's dream of escaping the past by traveling far away.
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Women Theme Icon
Tess had hoped that she could wear down Angel's resolve just by being close to him, but when she sees how far he has thought ahead she despairs. Experience has taught her that life itself is a penalty, no matter how well you try to live it.
Tess had not realized how stubborn Angel could be. After her brief period of happiness she is reinforced in her conception of the cruel injustice of fate.
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Tess still might have used her own beauty and the image of a far-off land to persuade him, but she is too crushed to even try. The narrator muses that if Angel had a more animalistic nature he might have acted more justly, as here his idealism works against Tess.
Angel is on the opposite extreme from Alec; he is so concerned for his own moral uprightness that he ends up being as unfair and hurtful to Tess as Alec was.
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Tess suggests that they part and she return home, but she is upset when Angel quickly agrees. He is still determined to submit his emotions to his ideals, and decides that he will leave too and write to her when he has cleared his mind.
Their parting is now real, and Tess starts to understand some of her husband's terrifying, unsympathetic firmness. He is like society itself, unwilling to be merciful no matter the special circumstances.
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They pack with an air of finality, and both know that it is unlikely that their passion will return, as other things will fill their lives while they are apart.
They prepare for a new stage in their lives, one which is sure to bring as much pain as the last one brought pleasure.
Themes
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