Literature Study GuidesTess Of The DUrbervillesPhase The Seventh Chapters 57 59 Summary

Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Phase the Seventh, Chapters 57–59 : Fulfilment | Summary

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Summary

Phase the Seventh, Chapter 57

Angel, in shock, goes to his hotel, where he receives a note informing him his brother Cuthbert will marry Mercy Chant. After Angel leaves the hotel and the town, Tess overtakes him.

Tess has killed Alec. She feared she would do it when she struck him with her glove some time ago. Alec has wronged her, and she says he's wronged Angel through her. She continues to explain she was obliged to go to Alec only because Angel left her. Now she forgives Angel all the same. Angel has a mixed reaction. On one hand he is horrified by her actions, but on the other he is awed she did so for love of him. He promises not to desert her and to protect her. They go away together, although it is clear that neither imagines that a permanent escape or a life together will be possible. They are simply taking a short interlude of time together, before the worst happens.

Phase the Seventh, Chapter 58

For five days Angel and Tess are together; they shelter in a vacant house, which is visited occasionally by a caretaker. They realize that it's time to move on; Angel momentarily conceives the desperate notion of escaping by ship, but Tess knows her life is almost over. Looking for a place to rest, they end up at Stonehenge, and although Angel points out they could be visible for miles, Tess wants to stay. She refers to herself as a heathen, and stretches out on a stone Angel thinks is an altar.

During this time she asks him to look after her sister, Liza-Lu, when she is gone. When he agrees she asks him to marry Liza-Lu, saying she has the best of Tess without the bad. He points out that marrying his sister-in-law is technically illegal, but she tells him that many people do it anyway. When Tess asks if he thinks they'll meet again after death, he does not answer.

Then she sleeps, and while she is asleep the authorities come. Angel implores them to let her finish sleeping in peace. When she wakes she says she is ready, that happiness could not have lasted, and they take Tess.

Phase the Seventh, Chapter 59

Angel and Liza-Lu are walking hand in hand out of Wintoncester, the capital city of Wessex. A black flag is raised over an ugly building, indicating that an execution has been carried out, and the narrator notes that "'Justice' was done." The pair sink down to the ground, overcome, but ultimately rise up and walk on, holding hands.

Analysis

Tess's nap on the altar at Stonehenge is an arresting image: the idea seems to be that this young woman, who has been pushed toward a violent act by desperate circumstances, is about to be sacrificed to the Victorian gods of social propriety, classism, and misogyny. Although Tess has committed murder voluntarily, the reader knows enough to see that empathy is called for, since Tess has been burdened by poverty, oppressed by a sin not of her own doing, and pushed to submit to the priorities of others. To punish only the final act of murder, and none of Tess's wrongdoers along the way, cannot be "justice."

Does this excuse murder? Hardy does not imply lack of responsibility. Tess has a few brief days of happiness, but she does not escape to a different life where she and Angel can build a future. To do so would be out of character, for Tess accepts responsibility even for wrongs done to her, in which she herself has had no part. Angel believes a future may exist for them away from England, but much like his ignorance about the reality of poverty and the powerlessness of women, his belief is misguided and innocent. Tess does not expect to find the future he proposes; if she did she would not ask him to marry her sister, and she makes no concerted effort to hide from the authorities.

What Tess seems to find, to some degree, is peace. She has made it as Angel once said—if the man whom Angel believed to be more her husband by right of taking her virginity were dead, things would be different. Tess caused that to be true. They are able to be truly man and wife—by everyone's definition—for a few brief days. In the same way that Hardy has shielded the reader from some of the most difficult moments of Tess's life—the physical rape, the birth of the child, the final surrender to Alec—he now reveals nothing about Tess's execution, although she would almost certainly have been hanged.

The final chapter incorporates elements of the pastoral as well, as Angel and Liza-Lu, outside the walls of the city where the execution takes place, surrounded by yews and evergreens, are able to bend down to the earth in prayer.

The novel also sets forth the likelihood that Angel will provide for Tess's family; he is with Liza-Lu, who resembles Tess in looks and character, although she is "slighter"—Hardy famously hints that Tess is full figured and large bosomed, features associated with sexuality. It appears that Angel may have regained his faith, as he kneels in prayer when Tess dies. Although Hardy does not offer a happy ending, he does set things in order for the surviving characters.

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