The people of Marlott hear about Tess's return, and many of her old friends come by to visit her, as fascinating rumors about Alec's nature have reached even Blakemore. Joan is able to satisfy her pride by implying a “dashing flirtation” to the visitors. After a while Tess cheers up a little, but the next morning is again lonely and depressing. She sees her fate as inexorable and unsympathetic, and often wishes she was dead.
The envious reception and Joan's boasting are especially tragic compared to the reality of Tess's situation. Once the first hopeful night wears away, she is left alone and friendless in a condemning, unsympathetic society, and there is no escape from this fate.
After a few weeks Tess goes back to church, as she likes the singing and chanting. She tries to stay unnoticed, and so goes early and sits in the back. But soon the churchgoers start to look back at her and whisper, and after that Tess does not go to church anymore. She stays in her room most of the time, or walks alone at dusk, shunning other humans. She seems to become a natural part of the gray, bleak scenery, and the weather reflects her emotions.
Tess likes the singing and chanting most, and these have the most in common with ancient pagan religions. This is the first concrete example of people judging Tess negatively for her rape. She learns to avoid people and return to the natural world, where she is most at home. Nature seems to reflect her sadness now as it reflected her purity before.
The narrator points out the unfairness of Tess's plight; she feels herself as guilty, but it is really another who is guilty. She feels like an intruder among the animals, but really she is as innocent as they are. It is not Tess that is in the wrong, but society. To the natural world she has committed no sin.
This is Hardy's explicit critique of the unfairness of Victorian society and the modern world. Tess is still in accord with nature and morality; it is only the arbitrary rules of society that she has broken.