Three weeks after Susan’s funeral, Henchard and Elizabeth-Jane are sitting before the fire in the evening. Henchard asks about Richard Newson’s kindness as a father and whether or not Elizabeth-Jane could have cared as much for Henchard should he have been her real father. Elizabeth-Jane says she cannot imagine anyone else as her father, but her real father. Henchard decides to confess the truth, and tells Elizabeth-Jane that he is her biological father, and that shame alone prevented him or Susan from confessing this. He, however, withholds the details of him selling Susan at the fair, saying only that the pair had thought each other dead.
Henchard’s decision to confess the truth of her parentage to Elizabeth-Jane is spontaneous. In the moment, he witnesses her love and care for Newson, the man she believes to be her father, and he wants to inspire her to care for him in that way. Despite this confession, Henchard still withholds the secret of the true crime: his act of selling Susan.
Once the truth of this story has been impressed upon Elizabeth-Jane, she begins to cry. Henchard, in distress, vows he’ll do anything to make Elizabeth-Jane happy, so long as she’ll look on him as her true father. Henchard says he’ll leave her and give her time to trust him. He says that he was the one who named her Elizabeth-Jane, and that she should now take his surname, despite her mother having been against it while she lived.
Elizabeth-Jane’s reaction to this news is to cry. She is clearly distressed to learn the truth. Henchard's desperation to earn her love as a daughter is revealed as he pleads with her. He also reminds her about taking his name. This gesture reflects Henchard’s desire to fully claim Elizabeth-Jane as his, his daughter, his creation.
Elizabeth-Jane remains alone that evening, weeping for her mother and for Richard Newson to whom she feels she is doing some wrong. Henchard, meanwhile, goes upstairs to find some papers to prove Elizabeth-Jane’s parentage to her. He uncovers the letter addressed to him by Susan before her death. Supposing the restriction “not to be opened til Elizabeth-Jane’s wedding day” to be a passing fancy of Susan’s, Henchard opens the letter.
Elizabeth-Jane’s tears are not due to dislike of Henchard. Her sense that she is doing Newson some wrong reflects her deep emotional connection to the man who raised her. Henchard uncovers the note from Susan, but never suspects her of hiding anything, and so he opens it willingly.
Susan’s final letter reveals that Elizabeth-Jane is not, in fact, the Elizabeth-Jane whom Henchard fathered. Her first daughter with Henchard died three months after the pair was sold to Richard Newson, and the living Elizabeth-Jane is Susan’s daughter with Newson, whom she named after the dead baby, and who helped her recover from the loss of her first child.
Henchard is upset and sits aimlessly in the room for a couple hours. He realizes that Susan’s stubbornness about changing Elizabeth-Jane’s last name is now explained. Eventually, he steals into Elizabeth-Jane’s room as she sleep and sees the marks of Richard Newson in her face and lighter coloring than Henchard’s own.
Henchard understands the real reason Susan didn’t want Elizabeth-Jane’s name changed. Now that he knows the truth, it seems obvious. The marks of Newson in Elizabeth-Jane’s face had been in front of his eyes this whole time.
Henchard’s is furious at the irony of the situation: that he would not have found Susan’s letter had he not revealed what he thought to be the truth of Elizabeth-Jane’s parentage to her, and that in claiming her as his daughter, he had directly learned that she is not. Henchard walks through the gloomy evening out past the location of the gallows where public executions are held. He feels that the situation of the night and his surroundings too closely mirrors his personal situation and his bitter disappointment.
The irony of the situation is clear to Henchard and to the reader. The secret had been concealed from the reader too, but, in retrospect, both the reader and Henchard can see the many clues pointing to the truth. Henchard is aware of another literary device: the setting as a reflection of mood. The protagonist, as well as the reader, notices how the natural world mirrors human emotion.
Henchard decides as the next day dawns that he will not tell Elizabeth-Jane of the letter. Elizabeth-Jane greets him lovingly that morning, telling him that she has thought over the matter, and realized that despite Newson’s kindness to her, this is not the same as being one’s true father. She embraces Henchard and he feels that this moment, which he had waited for so long, is now miserable and pointless, as he had only re-married Susan to reconnect with his daughter. The whole scheme has turned out to mean nothing to Henchard, as Elizabeth-Jane is not truly his daughter.
Elizabeth-Jane has come to terms with the information Henchard told her just as Henchard has become aware that it is false. When Elizabeth-Jane embraces him as her father, Henchard can only focus on the ways the whole situation has been ruined. If Elizabeth-Jane is not his biological daughter, it seems she means nothing to him, despite the care he has given her. She is not truly his.