Tess finishes her story, and the “essence of things” seems to have been transformed by it. Angel cannot yet comprehend the truth, and asks if Tess is lying or crazy, and why she did not tell him before. Tess begs him to forgive her, as she forgave him for “the same.”
The sharp contrast between Tess's reaction to Angel's confession and Angel to Tess's emphasizes the unfairness of the sexual double standard. He should treat her past as lightly as she did his.
Angel says forgiveness does not even apply here, that Tess is now an entirely different person than he had thought. He laughs hollowly and Tess cries out for mercy, and reveals the depths of her love. Angel repeats that he has not loved her, but another woman he thought was Tess. Tess suddenly comprehends his point of view and is terrified.
Angel's image of Tess comes crashing down, and they both realize how naïve he has been. Tess's love is still mature and deep, but Angel only loved an ideal, and that ideal has now been broken.
Tess sits down and finally takes pity on herself and starts to weep. She asks if they can ever live together now, and Angel says he has not decided yet. Tess despairs and says she will obey like a servant, and not do anything that Angel doesn't command her to. Angel points out how her present self-sacrifice does not fit with her earlier self-preservation, and Tess takes this likes a beaten animal.
Angel can be unkind to her now without feeling bad, as he is freed from passion and sees with the world's condemning eyes (even though he has long prided himself as someone not blinded by the conventions of society). Tess is again compared to an animal, innocent and now broken by a human's cruelty.
Angel cries a single tear. His whole universe has been changed by her confession. He leaves the house to think, and their twin wine glasses stand tragically full. Tess follows him out into the clear night. Angel's figure looks black and ominous, and he crosses a bridge without acknowledging her presence.
Angel's tears are much less sympathetic than Tess's. His distress is mostly caused by his concern for society's opinion of him and his scorn for Tess's own reduced image in his eyes.
Tess follows Angel for a long time. The night clears his mind and he can think logically and coldly about her, as if her spell over him has broken. Tess pleads that her sin was nothing she intended, and it makes no change in her personality or love, but Angel rebuffs her.
Tess follows blindly like a dog and over-pleads her case in her distress. She makes arguments that would again seem logical to Nature's laws, but don't fit with Victorian conventions.
Angel admits that the sin was not her fault, but says Tess does not understand his society and manners. He cannot help but think that her ancestry makes her weak-willed, and it betrays his idea of her as a “new-sprung child of nature.” They walk on in sad silence, and a cottager notices them passing as if in a funeral procession.
Angel is finally conscious of their class difference and how much he values the opinion of polite society. His prejudice against old families is renewed without Tess's pleasant spell over him. He cruelly echoes the idea that she is punished for her ancestors' sins.
Tess offers to drown herself in the river to spare Angel his pain. Angel calls her absurd and says their trouble is more satire than tragedy. He sends her home to bed. Everything about the house is the same, and Tess notices sadly the mistletoe that Angel had hung over the bed as a surprise. She feels empty and dull and soon falls asleep.
Tess falls into dramatics while Angel is coldly unemotional. The mistletoe comes as another reminder of the magical, natural world they had enjoyed just moments earlier. Tess is reinforced in her idea that she does not deserve happiness, and that nothing good can last.
Angel returns later and is both relieved and bitter that Tess is asleep. He almost enters her room, but then looks again at the d'Urberville portraits and their sinister faces strengthen his resolution. His own face his cold, unhappy, and free of passion. Angel feels that Tess's appearance deceived him of her inner self, and she has no advocate in his mind to defend her.
Angel's colder, more impersonal nature takes over. He no longer feels the abundance of life and Nature that he did at Talbothays, but has reverted to his repressed, judgmental, middle-class self. The old, dead d'Urberville women watch the unhappy scene.