HomeLiterature Study GuidesTess Of The DUrbervillesPhase The Sixth Chapters 50 52 Summary

Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles | Phase the Sixth, Chapters 50–52 : The Convert | Summary

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Summary

Phase the Sixth, Chapter 50

Tess tends her parents' farm; her father's "illness" is implied to be the same as ever: drink and laziness. Joan begins to recover, and Alec appears again offering help. Alec comes in disguise and helps Tess in the field. He compares himself to the serpent in the garden and Tess to Eve. Even now Alec pursues her. He asks if she will join her husband, and when she exclaims she has "no husband," Alec says she has a friend. He tells her he has tender feelings for her and would take care of her, adding if her mother dies, the children will need help because her father will not do much. He offers such help, which Tess refuses.

Alec is frustrated and retreats. At the same time Liza-Lu comes to tell Tess the news Jack Durbeyfield has just died from an existing heart condition. Joan, however, has improved and is out of danger.

Phase the Sixth, Chapter 51

Joan has taken rooms in Kingsbere, for they have lost the house in part because of Tess's being "fallen." When Alec learns this, again he offers to take care of Tess, her mother, and her siblings by housing them at his home in Trantridge where there is room and where he will place the children in a good school. Tess is unsure, asking herself, "How do I know that you would do all this?" Alec offers a guarantee in writing. Tess is wavering, and Alec suggests she tell her mother and let her decide. He also finishes the story Angel began about the d'Urberville coach: an ancestor of Tess's abducted a beautiful young woman; in her attempt to escape one of them killed the other—Alec can't remember which. Should a genuine d'Urberville—Alec points out this doesn't apply to him—hear the sound of the phantom coach, it is a bad omen.

Ultimately Tess still refuses. She pulls the bar holding up the window when he reaches for her, and in doing so drops the window so that his arm is caught between the stone and the casement. She tells him she will not come and that she has money at her father-in-law's if she asks for it.

After he departs Tess's self-imposed docility and discipline crack, and she writes an angry letter to Angel asking why he has treated her "so monstrously" and stressing she can "never, never forgive you." In the letter she voices the injustice he has inflicted on her.

Phase the Sixth, Chapter 52

The Durbeyfields set out for Kingsbere and on their way see Marian and Izz. The girls tell Tess that Alec looked for her but they didn't tell him where she was. Tess lets them know he has found her and, in reply to their questions, she tells them Angel has not come back.

When the Durbeyfields arrive at the outskirts of Kingsbere, there are no rooms. They shelter at the d'Urberville tomb, although Alec again offers to look after Joan and the children. In her despair Tess laments she is "on the wrong side" of the tomb.

Meanwhile Izz and Marian write to Angel, telling him that she is in danger from "an Enemy in the shape of a Friend," and that Angel's neglect of her puts her in an impossible position.

Analysis

Tess, by this point, has faced crisis after crisis. The combination of her poverty and the injustices she has endured has led her to a point at which she is overwhelmed and weakened. Still, though, she refuses Alec's offers of help, with their clear implications. Despite these offers, which would ease Tess's situation as well as her family's, her moral code and pride prevent her from giving in to him. That she doesn't mention his offers to Joan further supports her resolve.

Alec disguises himself to work next to her, but this gesture is not for Tess's benefit. He uses the opportunity to tempt her once again. He even goes so far as to compare himself to Satan in Eden. It is not surprising Tess is tempted. She is greatly weakened, but she continues to implore him to do right. Conversely, Alec is the one who tempts, whereas Tess is now the one who is tempted.

When her father dies Tess is even more vulnerable, and she goes so far as to ask how she could believe Alec's offers are trustworthy, for it is obvious to her he is not. Despite this wavering Tess still does not accept his offer. When he touches her she recoils and strengthens her resolve.

By all standards of Victorian morality—aside from the loss of her virginity—Tess is a paragon of virtue. She withstands every challenge to her purity and strives to live a moral life beyond any reasonable modern reader's expectation. Hardy's use of the family poverty as part of Tess's temptation drives the point home: she succeeds even where another sympathetic heroine might fail. This extreme refusal to break her virtue is necessary to show even after she has been deemed "fallen" by society, has had no refuge in religion or love or family, and has been judged harshly and unjustly by friends, family, and spouse, she is a "pure woman."

But her purity no longer extends to unending self-castigation. Despite her efforts to protect his good name, Angel has treated her unjustly, and she finally expresses this to him. Her letter reflects a new direction, and her anger confirms she cannot remain as she has been. Foreshadowing Tess's future is Alec's relating the story of the d'Urberville coach—a bad omen indeed.

When her siblings are left sleeping at the family tomb, however, she sees no other paths to follow. She has endured privation when it was only she, but now she has the full weight of her family's safety and care. At this point Tess wishes for death.

Much like the rape and the birth of her child, Tess's acceptance of the bargain offered by Alec—care of her family in exchange for giving of herself—is not shown on the page. These three events, the hardest of Tess's experiences, occur between lines, or between sections. It is as though Hardy wants to protect the reader from the worst of what befalls Tess; we see only the fallout, not the tragic event itself.

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