Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles Quotes

Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Don't you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d'Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d'Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?

Related Characters: Parson Tringham (speaker), John Durbeyfield
Page Number: 7-8
Explanation and Analysis:

In the first chapter of the novel, a religious figure, Parson Tringham, gives John Durbeyfield the information that sets the remainder of the novel in motion. Parson Tringham believes that John and his family are descendants of the famed d'Urberville family, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the area. The d'Urbervilles have something more important than money: they have history and cultural capital, the respect and elite status that come with having lived in England for hundreds of years.

It just so happens that the Parson's remarks will eventually mislead the Durbeyfields--Tess Durbeyfield will go to a nearby family of d'Urbervilles, unaware that they've just adopted the surname to seem prestigious. In a different kind of book, the Parson's speech would set in a motion a kind of Victorian "Cinderella story," in which John and his family rise to the top of society by reclaiming their family connection. But in this novel (as is common in Hardy's work), such a quest only leads to doom. John's family wants to rise in society, but they won't do so by the strength of their name.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain. Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or “club-walking,” as it was there called.

Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hardy introduces us to an old English custom--the May-Day dance. Mayday is one of the oldest English holidays, dating back to pre-Christian times--it's often seen as a celebration of fertility and feminine life force. In Tess's world, the literal forests have been cut back, and the pagans were long since driven out or converted, but the people continue to celebrate May-Day, albeit in a much different form. This suggests that even in the modern era, people hold onto some of their cultural roots--and that nature and paganism can never totally be snuffed out.

The passage further suggests a connection between England's ancestral past and its present. England looks much different than it did centuries ago--factories instead of forests--but through its culture, certain aspects of the "merry old" ways survive. It's women like Tess, we'll see, who really preserve England's past in their very existence.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Well, Tess ought to go to this other member of our family. She'd be sure to win the lady – Tess would; and likely enough ‘twould lead to some noble gentleman marrying her. In short, I know it.

Related Characters: Joan Durbeyfield (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield, Mrs. d'Urberville
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Joan Durbeyfield, Tess's mother, suggests that the family send Tess to the d'Urbervilles in search of work, Joan is sure that Tess, with her charm and vitality, will be able to convince the d'Urberville family that she's one of them, and might even be able to succeed in marrying one of them, ensuring the survival and prosperity of her own family for years to come.

Joan's plan is implausible for a number of reasons--and yet it tells us a lot about her personality, and about English society. There's no indication that a marriage to one of the supposed d'Urbervilles would be profitable in any literal sense, since the real d'Urbervilles have no money, and indeed have all died off (as we later learn). The practical Joan also seems more concerned with the ascendance of her own family than with her daughter's personal happiness, though she has the best of intentions; in a way, she's to blame for Tess's misfortune in the coming years. Another layer of irony is that the supposedly old and prestigious d'Urbervilles that Tess will eventually meet aren't really d'Urbervilles at all--they've just adopted the surname to seem more impressive. And thus Tess slips into her tragic fate because of a case of mistaken identity.

The morning mail-cart, with its two noiseless wheels, speeding along these lanes like an arrow, as it always did, had driven into her slow and unlighted equipage. The pointed shaft of the cart had entered the breast of the unhappy Prince like a sword, and from the wound his life's blood was spouting in a stream, and falling with a hiss into the road. In her despair Tess sprang forward and put her hand upon the hole, with the only result that she became splashed from face to skirt with the crimson drops.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Related Symbols: Prince the Horse
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tess's family horse, Prince, is killed by the shaft of a mail-cart--a highly symbolic tableau. Prince is a symbol of the "old England"--the England of forests, May-Day, nature, etc. The mail-cart, on the other hand, represents industrialization in all its aspects: its insensitivity to people and animals, its cruel efficiency, etc. Thus, for the cart to kill Tess's horse symbolizes the rise of industrialization during the period when the novel is set. Furthermore, the highly sexualized language of the passage might be said to represent the terrors of sex and masculinity. Tess is a young, virginal girl, unaccustomed to interactions with men. Here, the mail-cart seems like a hyper-masculinized figure, piercing the horse with its phallic shaft. Tess sees the horse's death as a nightmarish spectacle, perhaps foreshadowing her later experience with sexuality as violence.

Chapter 5 Quotes

He watched her pretty and unconscious munching through the skeins of smoke that pervaded the tent, and Tess Durbeyfield did not divine, as she innocently looked down at the roses in her bosom, that there behind the blue narcotic haze was potentially the “tragic mischief” of her drama – one who stood to be the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her young life.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield, Alec d'Urberville
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tess is introduced to Alec d'Urberville, one of the main characters of the novel--and, perhaps more than anyone else, the architect of Tess's undoing. Tess sits in a tent with Alec, who's contemplating kissing her. Alec and Tess are equally ignorant of the events their meeting will set in motion: because of their encounter in the tent, Tess's life will be ruined forever.

The tableau described in the passage is notable for contrasting the virginal, natural innocence of Tess's appearance ("roses in her bosom") with Alec's more mature and "modern" tendencies, perhaps symbolized by the "narcotic" smoke in his tent. Alec is like poison for Tess, corrupting her innocence. The passage is also a great example of the narrator's sad, fated tone: he knows exactly what's going to happen to Tess, yet he's powerless to stop it.

Chapter 8 Quotes

He was inexorable, and she sat still, and d'Urberville gave her the kiss of mastery.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield, Alec d'Urberville
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alec "seduces" Tess. Alec is a confident, spoiled young man, used to getting what he wants. He thinks of Tess as a weak, poor, unsure girl--an easy conquest, particularly because both her gender and her class prevent her from achieving any kind of agency against the wealthy male Alec. Hardy conveys Alec's social power and intimidating persona with phrases like "inexorable" and "kiss of mastery."

The kiss of mastery that Alec delivers to Tess might as well be a death-blow, since it prefigures the act of rape to come. Alec will impregnate Tess, setting in motion the events of the novel and eventually leading to Tess's arrest and death. There's a sense of fated-ness to the entire scene: one moment of kissing between Tess and Alec will lead to a lifetime of tragedy.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“It was to be.” There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine's personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother's door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic chapter, Alec rapes Tess. The narrator sadly tries to understand how such a horrible tragedy could have happened--where was it written that a young, innocent girl like Tess would have her life ruined by a man like Alec? The narrator tries to find an explanation, but eventually settles on a fatalistic non-explanation, epitomized by the country people's phrase, "It was to be."

The novel traffics in fate, never more overtly than in this scene: there's a strong sense that everything that happens to Tess has been planned, as if by some indifferent god. Like a Greek tragedy, the universe seems to be punishing Tess for trying to rise above her station by marrying a d'Urberville. And yet even here, Tess is punished unjustly, since it was her family who forced her to go to the d'Urbervilles. There seems to be no justice in the universe, just an indifferent, meaningless fate--and perhaps that's Hardy's point.

Chapter 14 Quotes

She did not look like Sissy to them now, but as a being large, towering, and awful – a divine personage with whom they had nothing in common.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

Months have now passed since Alec raped Tess. Tess has given birth to a child, and now the child is dying. She decides to baptize him, hoping to save him from Hell if he should die. In this scene Tess baptizes the child herself, having been refused by her father (who was supposed to summon a parson), and in the candlelight she seems to truly assume the role of a priestess or divine figure. Her younger siblings watch her, and Tess appears suddenly transfigured, as if becoming a kind of god, a being wholly different from themselves.

Hardy often portrays Tess as a kind of "pagan goddess," or a symbol of innocence and nature, and yet he also contrasts this idea with her individual humanity and personhood. What makes Tess such a fascinating character is that she is both very human and somehow otherworldly or symbolic.

Chapter 18 Quotes

What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!

Related Characters: Angel Clare (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see how Angel Clare sees Tess. He's met Tess before, but it's only here that he really starts to notice her. Although Tess has already had her child and become a soberer, more mature young woman, Angel thinks of her as "fresh and virginal"--he's blind to Tess's past, and assumes that she's entirely innocent. Indeed, he sees her more as an idea or symbol than as a real person.

Angel's interest in Tess suggests a couple things: first, that instead of worshipping a Christian God, he's attracted to a more pagan, mysterious Nature-God, as embodied by Tess. Second, it's crucial to notice that Angel can't see Tess's inner tragedy: although she's already been raped and given birth to a child, Angel doesn't know about it. The reader's knowledge of Tess's past versus Angel's ignorance, creates an ironic tension that's central to the fated, inevitable tone of the novel: we just know that Angel's going to find out about Tess sooner or later.

Chapter 19 Quotes

He was surprised to find this young woman – who though but a milkmaid had just that touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of her housemates – shaping such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her own native phrases… feelings which might almost have been called those of the age – the ache of modernism.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield, Angel Clare
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

As Angel gets to know Tess better, he comes to realize that she isn't as simple as he'd assumed. Here, Tess tells Angel something about her experience: when she's outside, she has no fears, but indoors, she's frightened. Moreover, she often feels depressed and thinks that the future is fated to be tragic or meaningless. Angel is amazed that Tess can be so pensive and melancholy--he'd thought of her as the stereotypical, cheerful milkmaid.

The passage is very important insofar as it ties Tess's feeling to the overall trends in British society. Tess embraces wide open spaces--the natural vistas that industrialization is gradually destroying. By contrast, she's afraid when she's inside, because closed doors symbolize the claustrophobic "looming" of civilization. Note also that it's Angel, not Tess, who phrases her melancholy as the "ache of modernism." It's Tess who feels the ache, but Angel who articulates it, and ties it in with general social trends. Angel assumes that he is more intelligent and experienced than Tess, but she actually feels what he can only observe.

Because what's the use of learning that I am one of a long row only – finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad, that's all.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker)
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Tess is again talking with Angel Clare about her situation. Tess admits that she feels ignorant and stupid compared to the educated Angel, and Angel tries to comfort Tess by offering to teach her history. Tess demurs, however, and explains that she tries to avoid history altogether: there's no comfort for her in knowing that she comes from a "long line" of ancestors. To accept such an idea would be to accept that, some time in the past, there was a person just like her, whose destiny Tess is just replaying. Furthermore, learning more about the past just makes her feel like her own fate is predetermined and unchangeable.

The passage is counterintuitive because Tess, the embodiment of both the life-force of the English natural world and the lost history of ancient aristocracy, often seemed to symbolize England's nostalgic past. And yet Tess doesn't like to think of herself as a "symbol" of anything: she heroically struggles to be free of fate and destiny (even as it becomes increasingly clear to us that she's fated to have a short, tragic life). The passage also reminds us that Tess doesn't care at all about her ancestry or her relationship to the d'Urbervilles--which makes the fact that her family forced her to visit the d'Urbervilles and claim kinship all the more tragic.

Chapter 24 Quotes

Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at the season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fermentation, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield, Angel Clare
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hardy describes the yearly rituals of harvesting and fermenting. The people of the countryside are picking their crops and fermenting them to produce alcohol and other products. It is, in short, a season of growing and maturation. By the same token, Hardy argues, Tess and Angel's feelings for one another are growing stronger and more lively--it's inevitable, in such a time, that they'd ultimately give in to their desire for one another.

The passage uses extremely vivid, sexual language--"oozing," "warm," "hiss," etc.--to convey the extent of Tess and Angel's growing romance. The narrator again creates a sense of fatedness, suggesting that Tess and Angle have no choice but to fall in love. And yet here, the fatedness that the narrator conveys seems cheerier and more optimistic, rather than tragic. If Tess and Angel's relationship only existed within the world of the fertile Froom Vale (apart from the darkness of the Chase and the d'Urberville's world) all might have ended happily, but because of external forces and Tess's own past, the positive power of nature and love is tragically corrupted.

Chapter 31 Quotes

Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report – as you are, my Tess.

Related Characters: Angel Clare (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Angel and Tess are contemplating their possible future together. Angel is enamored with Tess, and yet Tess insists that she's no match for an educated, intelligent man like Angel. Angel tries to reassure Tess by saying that her natural beauty and instinct is far superior to any training or social convention. In other words, Tess might lack certain manners or knowledge of the rules, but manners and rules are overrated, anyway. (He also assumes that her claims of being less moral than he is are just the qualms of the truly innocent.)

Angel's comments illustrate his free-thinking tendencies, and also his rather condescending view of Tess and life in general. Although he was raised in a severe, religious household, Angel has come to doubt religion altogether. He doesn't have much respect for people who learn the rules; he's more attracted to those like Tess who embody a natural purity and "life force" within them (or at least Angel thinks they do). Angel's beliefs are, perhaps, typical of 19th century Romantics who distrusted order and convention and favored instinct--and thus Hardy acknowledges the power of this worldview while also critiquing it as naive and sometimes dehumanizing.

Chapter 32 Quotes

“I don't quite feel easy,” she said to herself. “All this good fortune may be scourged out of me afterwards by a lot of ill. That's how Heaven mostly does.”

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker)
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tess--preparing for a life with Angel Clare--expresses her reluctance to live with Angel. Tess loves Angel, but she senses that her past will come back to haunt her, and that she's not fated to be happy. As she explains here, she thinks that her happiness and good fortune now will eventually give way to even greater sadness and misery later on. In other words, what goes up must come down.

Tess's view of fate is harsh and pessimistic--she seems to think that "Heaven," or fate, generally tends to punish people more than it rewards them. She thinks in the terms of a Greek tragedy, with the protagonist's glory causing his downfall by the end of the play. And she's right, at least within the world of the novel (and much of Hardy's work). Tess seems to sense her fate--she seems to intuit that she isn't ever destined for lasting happiness.

Chapter 33 Quotes

“O my love, why do I love you so!” she whispered there alone; “for she you love is not my real self, but one in my image; the one I might have been!”

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker)
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

As Tess and Angel prepare to settle down together, Tess worries that her past will destroy her relationship with Angel. Tess loves Angel, but she's frightened that Angel doesn't really love her at all--instead, he loves an idealized version of her. Angel thinks of Tess as a beautiful, virginal girl, full of melancholy, lovely thoughts. Tess, however, knows that she's not as innocent or pure as Angel thinks her to be.

By modern standards, it's fair to say that Tess has been overcome with socially-imposed guilt and self-hatred. Alec is responsible for raping her and ruining her life, but Tess (and all of society around her) despises herself for having been raped by Alec. She assumes that she is "impure," and that if Angel knew the truth, he would reject her (as indeed he does). While Tess seems to be referring specifically to her past with Alec here, she is also more broadly accurate concerning Angel's tendencies to idealize and condescend towards her. He loves her, but also doesn't really know her--he loves her as a kind of "nature goddess" who embodies natural purity, innocence, and pagan wisdom.

Chapter 35 Quotes

“I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.”
“But who?”
“Another woman in your shape.”

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker), Angel Clare (speaker)
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tess has revealed to Angel that she had a child (we're not told what, exactly, she tells Angel about her experience with Alec, but we know that Angel knows a lot more about Tess's past than he did before). Angel is disturbed by what he's learned. He's shocked that Tess isn't a virgin (even though he himself has just confessed that he's not a virgin either), and he's surprised that Tess could have kept such a piece of information from him for so long. Angel sums up his feelings by exactly echoing what Tess feared in the previous two chapters: he claims that he doesn't really know Tess at all; he's been in love with an idealized, false version of her.

Angel's claims are harsh but perhaps well-founded. He has idealized Tess by imagining her to be pure and innocent--he hasn't really thought of her as a human being at all. Instead, he's thought of her as a Romantic ideal, to be worshipped but not respected as a person. Thus his rejection of her is cruel and sexist (as he assumes that she has no right or reason to reject him in turn for consensually sleeping with someone else out of wedlock), but it is also somewhat "just" in that it finally reveals the truth about their relationship--that Tess has truly loved Angel for who he is, but that Angel has only loved Tess for who he imagines her to be.

Here was I thinking you a new-sprung child of nature; there were you, the belated seedling of an effete aristocracy!

Related Characters: Angel Clare (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage we see the limits of Angel's love for Tess, and his character in general. Angel has thought of Tess in the most idealistic terms imaginable: he's thought of her as a sweet, innocent "nature goddess," totally separate from both sexual experience and the corruption of England's aristocratic past. Now that he knows the truth about Tess, however, he sees that his "ideal" was a fiction all along (something we had already recognized, obviously). Furthermore, Angel reveals the extent of his hypocrisy and shallowness, as he allows his academic ideals to overcome basic compassion and humanity. He's not only mad that Tess isn't a virgin--he also doesn't like that Tess is tied to the d'Urbervilles, a wealthy, aristocratic family that represents everything Angel hates.

Once again, we see Angel punishing Tess for things beyond her control. She didn't ask to be born a d'Urberville or to be raped by Alec, but Angel nonetheless judges her for her connection to Alec and for her d'Urberville heritage. Just as before, Angel isn't really judging Tess as a human being at all; he just "analyzes" her in social terms. Angel struggles to see Tess for who she really is; he's so accustomed to thinking in terms of class and nature that his impressions of women are almost always distorted.

Chapter 40 Quotes

Because nobody could love ‘ee more than Tess did! …She would have laid down her life for ‘ee. I could do no more.

Related Characters: Izz Huett (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield, Angel Clare
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

In his anger, disappointment, and despair Angel has spontaneously decided to travel to Brazil, and as he leaves he impulsively asks a local woman named Izz Huett (who was a friend of Tess's, and who also had strong feelings for Angel) to come with him. Angel asks Izz if she loves him more than Tess, but Izz--despite her love for Angel, and her crushing disappointment that he chose Tess--cannot affirm this falsehood. She confesses that Tess loved Angel purely and absolutely: Tess would gladly have sacrificed her life for Angel.

The passage shows Izz's loyalty to Tess, in spite of the fact that they're "competing" for Angel's affections. Furthermore, Izz's Biblical choice of phrasing ("laid down her life") suggests the religious, even Christian, quality of Tess's personality. Like Christ, Tess is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of other people--in other words, she's as generous and selfless as Angel is selfish.

Chapter 45 Quotes

This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments – far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me – by your charms or ways.

Related Characters: Alec d'Urberville (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Tess accidentally encounters Alec, years after their last encounter. After this initial encounter, Alec and Tess walk to a mysterious place that is at once both pagan and Christian. They arrive at "Cross-in-Hand," a stone which has been in the wilderness for ages, but which supposedly used to hold a Christian cross. Alec asks Tess to put her hand on the stone and swear that she'll never "tempt" him again.

The passage is important because it shows the depths of Alec's hypocrisy. Even though it was Alec who raped Tess, Alec clearly blames Tess for "tempting" him to rape her. (This echoes society's cruel, sexist stance on the incident as well.) The pagan/Christian symbolism of the scene reinforces Tess's mystic status in the novel (and in the minds of the two main male characters): she's both a Christ-figure and a pagan nature-goddess, an innocent martyr and victim of the sins of others.

Chapter 47 Quotes

What a grand revenge you have taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you. Four years after, you find me a Christian enthusiast; you then work upon me, perhaps to my complete perdition!

Related Characters: Alec d'Urberville (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Tess meets with Alec once again. Alec has briefly converted to Christianity and worked as a preacher, but when he reunites with Tess, he gives up religion altogether so he can pursue her again. Outrageously, Alec blames Tess for tempting him away from Christianity: he blames her for taking her "revenge" on him.

Alec, the most hypocritical character in the novel, is a weak, spoiled man, without the drive or principle to focus on any religion or ideology other than his own desires. And yet instead of blaming himself for his lust and laziness, he takes out his anger on Tess herself, again simultaneously idealizing and dehumanizing her. On an individual level, we easily see how cruel, unjust, and absurd Alec is being, and this allows Hardy to show how equally cruel, unjust, and absurd is society's condemnation of Tess.

Whip me, crush me; you need not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim – that's the law!

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker), Alec d'Urberville
Page Number: 332
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Tess is both active and passive--rebelling against her victimization and accepting it. Tess has met with Alec, who accuses her of tempting him away from the clergy and seducing him. Furious with Alec's hypocrisy, Tess slaps him, and then--seeing the fury in Alec's face--dares Alec to beat her and treat her like a "victim." Her outburst shows that she's fully aware of both Alec's sinfulness and of his power to get away with being sinful: she recognizes that he treats other people like objects, to be enjoyed and then discarded--and no one condemns him for it, because he's wealthy and male.

In the past, Tess has shown signs of blaming herself for her own misfortune. (This is understandable, as it's how society as a whole views her condition.) And yet in her despair Tess seems to have reached greater clarity, as she bitterly and sarcastically suggests that Alec is responsible for her downfall, but because of her fate there's nothing she can do about it. In such a way, the passage foreshadows the end of the novel, in which Tess will truly take justice into her own hands.

Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife you are mine!

Related Characters: Alec d'Urberville (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 332
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alec d'Urberville again asserts his dominance over Tess. Alec has raped Tess before, and here, he shouts to Tess that he'll "master" her again. As he did years before, Alec again tries to get Tess to love him voluntarily, and when she won't, he abuses his power over and tries to force her to become "his."

Alec is complex and human, yet also the most villainous character in the novel. On one level, he's the very embodiment of England's new social elite--heartless and entitled, insensitive to nature and innocent joy, and generally obsessed with power and "mastery." Alec speaks as if he has control over his own destiny and the destiny of other people, and his class and gender support him in this--but he's also deluded, as there is still one last way Tess can wrest his power away from him (even if it means her own death as well).

Chapter 52 Quotes

The old order changeth. The little finger of the sham d'Urbervilles can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath…

Related Characters: Alec d'Urberville (speaker), Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 364
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tess discovers Alec d'Urberville among the tombs of her ancient d'Urberville ancestors. Alec points out that his own family isn't actually related to the d'Urbervilles at all: they've just taken the name to give themselves more social prestige. But although Alec is a "sham d'Urberville," he actually has more money and social control than the real d'Urbervilles, who long ago lost their fortune and died off.

The passage conveys the changing order of the world. The old noble families of England are dying out, Hardy suggests, to be replaced by "new money" families that merely pretend to be old and prestigious. The social changes that make such pretensions possible include industrialization: the Industrial Revolution created a new class of wealthy businessmen without any ancestral connection to Britain's past. Because they had no such connection, they simply made one up. Thus, Alec's observations symbolize the changing economic landscape of his country. Yet Hardy doesn't idealize the landed aristocracy of the past--he merely shows how money and power continue to corrupt even in this new, supposedly more democratic age. The fact the Alec has money (and is a man) is enough to ensure that he has almost total control over Tess.

Chapter 58 Quotes

“It is as it should be,” she murmured. “Angel, I am almost glad – yes, glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much. I have had enough; and now I shall not live for you to despise me!”

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield (speaker), Angel Clare
Page Number: 396
Explanation and Analysis:

Tess has murdered Alec and fled with Angel, but Angel hasn't yet been entirely sure that Tess really committed the crime she's confessed to. In this scene, Tess falls asleep at Stonehenge, as Alec watches the monument become surrounded by policemen. Tess wakes with the sun, and sadly tells Angel that she's glad that she'll be punished for her crime. As she explains, all happiness is fleeting. Even if she'd found a way to live with Angel again and start a normal life with him, her happiness would eventually have given way to tragedy, somehow--he surely would have come to "despise" her.

Tess's speech indicates that she's finally given in to the power of destiny. Previously, Tess tried to carve out freedom for herself, but in the end, she seems to accept that she has no real control over her own life. Tess's happiness--a happiness deeply rooted in the glory of nature and the outdoors--is doomed to die (just as England's natural beauty is doomed to be replaced with factories). One could say that Tess embodies the Romantic ideal, the principle that all glory and happiness is fleeting, even if the struggle to achieve such happiness is heroic. Tess has briefly and gloriously (if violently) asserted her will and humanity by killing her rapist and oppressor, but social and divine forces eventually catch up with her, and she cannot escape her tragic fate.

Chapter 59 Quotes

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the d'Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing.

Related Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Page Number: 398
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel comes to an end, Hardy it as his most ironic and scathing. Hardy describes how Tess is executed for the crime of murdering Alec d'Urberville--an act of asserting her agency and humanity over her rapist and oppressor. Instead of receiving sympathy, or society examining its own flaws (which drove her to such a fate), Tess is treated as a villain and a criminal. Hardy here gives us a sense for the cosmic scope of Tess's tragedy; a cruel god or meaningless fate (the vague "President of the Immortals") has been toying with her, and now she's finally gotten her punishment, a punishment we know she didn't really deserve.

The final sentence of the passage conveys the sublime indifference of the universe. The d'Urberville family has been shown to symbolize the glory of England's ancestral past. And yet here, Hardy suggests the impotence of all human tradition--what was once all-important seems utterly meaningless in the modern era, and is powerless to save Tess from destruction or affect the present at all. The dominance of modernity over the past is finally clear: the power of the d'Urbervilles, alongside England's pagan, natural beauty, is gone.

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