Literature Study GuidesTess Of The DUrbervillesPhase The Seventh Chapters 55 56 Summary

Tess of the d'Urbervilles | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d'Urbervilles | Phase the Seventh, Chapters 55–56 : Fulfilment | Summary



Phase the Seventh, Chapter 55

Angel is surprised when he finds Tess in a wealthy area of Sandbourne, a resort town on the English Channel. When he finds out where she lives, he assumes she must be a servant in one of the lodging houses; when her landlady answers the door and he realizes she is a tenant, he tells himself she must have gotten hold of and sold the diamond jewelry. But Tess, when he sees her, is richly dressed and beautiful; her hands are no longer rosy from hard work. She is cold toward him and tells him "it is too late." He asks whether she rejects him because of his health, and tells her he has come for her, adding his parents will welcome her. She continues to insist he is too late; when she wrote to him begging for him to return, he did not come. Alec, she finally reveals, won her back to him by convincing her that Angel had abandoned her forever. Angel, stunned, does not even notice when she leaves the room, and he somehow finds himself walking down the street.

Phase the Seventh, Chapter 56

The chapter introduces Mrs. Brooks, the landlady to Mr. and Mrs. d'Urberville, who is intrigued enough by her tenant's guest to go listen through the lock after Angel leaves. She hears Tess wailing in despair, accusing Alec of depriving her of her husband forever, and frantic that Angel, who is clearly in poor health, will die from the shock.

Mrs. Brooks observes Tess depart and then resumes sewing. When she leans back in her chair, she sees a giant red heart in the white of her ceiling. She touches it and thinks it is blood. Unwilling to go into the room, she retrieves a workman from the street and lets him into the rooms. The man returns to report a gentleman has been stabbed in bed. Numerous people, including a surgeon, are summoned. The report is the wound is small but to the heart—and fatal.


For all of her stalwart adherence to morality, Tess has made a devil's bargain. She has sold herself for the good of her family. She has also given way to Alec's vision of the world, not to her own, and Angel's return, which shows her she would have been right to be patient and faithful, shatters her. Readers can weigh the motivations for her final acts. The author establishes the possibility that murder is indeed part of her heritage—the d'Urberville coach exists because one of her noble ancestors either committed a murder or was murdered in it. The color symbolism of the heart-shaped blood stain on the white ceiling echoes Tess's red ribbon and white dress and the white rooster with the red comb who crowed in the afternoon: omens of disastrous events: rape, abandonment, and murder.

The author also reinforces the theme of fate in determining events in Tess's life. No matter what she does, trouble falls in her path. At the moment when her father learned of the family's heritage and went to the pub to celebrate, the wheels of Tess's fate were set in motion. No matter how she tries to resist sin and be virtuous, she is powerless. Men treat her badly, events conspire to put her in situations in which she has no intentions to be in, and her docility and pride prevent her from determining her own course.

Readers might infer the censure of a society that judges her for being "fallen" even though she has not chosen to sin and has made it impossible for her to overcome the consequences of that judgment; this reading determines the novel as fatalistic. Readers might believe, instead, the burden of poverty and lack of support systems—resulting from the fractured family, religious judgment, spousal abandonment, or some combination thereof—mean she has run out of options; this reading determines the novel as a work of social realism. Hardy does not offer a simple answer to why Tess becomes a murderer. What he has provided are multiple reasons that could have led to this tragic situation.

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