Literature Study GuidesTess Of The DUrbervillesPhase The First Chapters 1 3 Summary

Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Phase the First, Chapters 1–3 : The Maiden | Summary

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Summary

Phase the First, Chapter 1

Jack Durbeyfield, drunk and walking home, meets Parson Tringham along the road. The parson greets him as "Sir John." When asked why, Parson Tringham reveals his discovery: the Durbeyfields are the last living descendants of the "ancient and knightly family of the d'Urbervilles." After conversing and learning no property still exists, Jack decides to act like a member of his class and sends for a carriage to take him home.

Phase the First, Chapter 2

Tess Durbeyfield is one of the members of the "walking club" out for May Day; the red ribbon in her hair distinguishes her from the other young women who wear white dresses for the event. When the women see Tess's father in a carriage, they tease her. Tess stands up to them, and the matter is dropped. The women reach the green where dancing will take place and where the village men will soon arrive, as it is the end of the workday. Among the men are three brothers: Angel, Felix, and Cuthbert Clare—middle-class young men, higher in rank than the villagers, who are passing through the town. Angel stays briefly to join the women in the dance. Although he does not dance with Tess, he notices her as he is leaving, and finds her "so modest, so expressive ... he felt he had acted stupidly." However, he dismisses the subject from his mind, although Tess does not, and she is less interested in dancing afterward.

Phase the First, Chapter 3

Tess remains with the other women on the green until dusk, thinking of Angel. When she returns, her mother is doing the wash, having postponed it for days, and rocking the baby. Joan Durbeyfield tells Tess about the discovery of their noble ancestry; Tess asks, "Will it do us any good, mother?" She learns her father, who is to take the beehives to market, is not in the best of health and is at the public house "to get up his strength." Her mother goes to fetch him. Tess removes the fortune-telling book her mother was consulting for Joan doesn't want it in the house overnight. When Joan does not return from the pub, Tess sends her brother Abraham after them. He also does not return, so Tess locks up the house, leaving Liza-Lu, Hope, Modesty, and the baby home while she goes to the pub after them.

Analysis

The novel starts by introducing the remaining members of a once great, noble family whose property and heritage have been lost or obscured over time. John, usually called Jack, Durbeyfield is drunk, lazy, and conniving; he has a brood of children but makes little effort to provide for them. Joan Durbeyfield, his wife, is a simple woman. She supports her husband's many excuses and fancies, even as she does the wash and takes care of many children. At this point she seems easygoing, to the point of laziness, and would rather be out drinking with her husband than attending to her family. She also is superstitious, as evidenced by her consulting a fortune-telling book and fear of leaving it in the house.

At her first appearance in the story Tess Durbeyfield is wearing a white dress, like the other women, and "a red ribbon in her hair ... the only one of the white company who could boast of such a pronounced adornment." The combination of the red ribbon and white dress introduces the color symbols of white and red; Tess's white dress represents her purity, whereas the touch of red in her hair represents a hint of sexuality.

Clearly Tess, the eldest of the children, is the exceptional member in the "shiftless house of Durbeyfield." She is practical, more educated than those around her, and looks to the care of the family while her parents are at the pub. Tess is only 16 and certainly the most responsible member of the family.

This section of the book introduces Angel Clare and his brothers, showing the rigid and righteous Cuthbert and the more easygoing, spirited Angel as foils—at this point. Angel and Tess notice one another, but their meeting is a chance encounter. He is passing through Marlott, and he does not ask Tess to dance. When Tess encounters him later in the story, this first meeting will be something she remembers in the sense that if only a small thing had happened differently here, how everything else would have changed for her.

Tess's remembrance addresses the theme of fate—that their meeting is predetermined, that their brief connection will be lasting. Indeed the narrator reveals their reactions to the meeting, which foreshadow the course of their lives. Events that echo these sentiments and that will determine the course of their lives will fall into place in a chain of circumstances leading to their unhappy destinies. It's worth noting at the outset that Tess's fate turns on a series of small, random moments, each of which leads her further down an unhappy path.

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