Phase 4, Chapters 25-34
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
Angel visits his family at the parsonage in Emminster to think and to tell his parents about his plans to marry Tess. He finds them at breakfast with his brothers Felix, a village curate, and Cuthbert, a Cambridge dean. They notice that Angel has taken on the crude mannerisms of the farm, and he realizes that they have become frozen intellectually. Angel’s mother gives away the meat puddings Mrs. Crick prepared as a gift and puts the mead in the medicine cabinet because it is too strong to drink.
That evening Angel takes his father into his confidence telling him that he wishes to marry a country woman who will help on the farm he wishes to purchase: “would not a farmer want a wife, and should a farmer’s wife be a drawing-room wax figure, or a woman who understood farming?” (178). Both parents attempt to persuade him to marry their pious neighbor, Mercy Chant, instead. He tells them about Tess and stresses her purity. His father tells him that the funds he had put aside for Angel to attend college can be used instead to purchase land. Before Angel leaves, his father tells him he had a troublesome time attempting to convert a Trantridge man named Alec d’Urberville, and Angel remarks how he himself has no regard for old families.
When Angel returns to the dairy, Tess is waking up from the afternoon nap, required during the long summer working hours. Struck by her beauty, he asks her to marry him. She becomes visibly agitated, tells him that she loves him, but that it’s out of the question for her to marry him: “Oh, Mr. Clare—I cannot be your wife” (194). He dismisses her answer and tells her to take her time but never lets up in persuading her otherwise. Despite her protests, Tess knows that that she cannot ultimately refuse him.
Angel will not take no for an answer because he had no doubts of Tess’s love for him: “he was so godlike in her eyes” (206). She puts him off, however, by telling him that any of the other milkmaids would make him a better wife. She is torn up about her past with Alec d’Urberville and feels ashamed, soiled and simply not good enough for Angel. He believes that she thinks his marriage to a countrywoman would harm his social status.
A local farm man named Jack Dollop, the same man who escaped an aspiring mother-in-law by hiding in the dairy’s churn, marries a local wealthy widow but finds that her wealth evaporated upon her remarriage. All at Talbothays laugh at this tidbit of gossip and side with the despicable Dollop against the scheming widow. But Tess takes the story to heart and worries more and more about sharing her past with Angel.
Mrs. Crick arranges for Tess and Angel to be alone by asking them to deliver the milk in the very early morning. When Angel tells Tess they are passing near the ancestral home of the ancient d’Urbervilles family, she tells him that she herself is a descendent of the noble family. He is pleased and realizes that this will make her much more appealing to his family. Tess finally agrees to his proposal and tells him about her family. After she mentions the village of Marlott, Angel suddenly remembers her and that he did not ask her to be his partner in the May Day dance. Tess says “but you would not dance with me. Oh, I hope that will not be an ill omen to us now” (216).
Tess receives a letter from her mother strongly advising her not to tell her future husband about her past. Throughout the rest of the fall, Tess enjoys Angel’s company but resists setting a wedding date and continues to tell him she is not good enough for him. The Cricks are happy about their engagement but the other dairymaids are dismayed. They cover up their emotions and look at Tess in amazement.
The young couple grows more and more in love and Tess finally agrees to set a date for New Year’s Eve. He is to go to another farm to study the workings of a flour mill which was once the site of one of the d’Urberville’s family’s many houses. Angel surprises Tess with a silk wedding gown and traveling suit and requests a license instead of having the banns read out publicly in the church.
Angel and Tess leave the farm to do some Christmas shopping. They encounter a man from Trantridge who makes disparaging remark about Tess. Angel immediately punches him, and the man apologizes, saying he made a mistake about Tess’s identity. Angel pays his medical expenses. Back at the farm, Tess writes a confessional letter to Angel, telling him of her past and slips it under his door. The following morning, he treats her no differently, and she believes he has forgiven her. However, on the morning of their wedding Tess discovers that she inadvertently slipped the letter under both the door and the carpet and that Angel still knows nothing of her past. She attempts to tell him: “for she you love is not my real self, but one in my image; the one I might have been” (242). But he quiets her and tells her to tell him after they are married. Surrounded by well-wishers from the farm, Tess Durbeyfield marries Angel Clare and asks her new husband to kiss the love-struck milkmaids goodbye. A rooster crows three times before they leave the farm.
Tess and Angel stay their first night as man and wife in the shoddy old d’Urberville mansion, where portraits of earlier d’Urberville women spook Tess. Angel, who is pleased to have a wife of noble lineage, notices that despite the terrifying countenances of the framed women, they bear a resemblance to his new wife. A package arrives from Angel’s father. It contains diamond heirloom jewelry for a shocked Tess who looks more brilliant than the diamonds to her admiring new husband after she puts them on. However, almost immediately a man arrives late with their luggage and explains he was delayed by the suicide of Retty the milkmaid. Marian, another lovelorn milkmaid has also taken to drink. The newlyweds attempt to shake off the disastrous news, and Angel confesses to Tess about an earlier sexual indiscretion with a stranger. Deeply relieved, Tess finally confesses her own past to Angel without flinching, safe in the knowledge that he will forgive her because her “crime” with Alec d’Urberville is “just the same” (254).
Angel’s family doesn’t know what to make of their son’s choice for a wife. Despite the rationality behind his decision—a farm woman is worth more to him than one familiar with the niceties of upper-class Victorian society— they, especially his mother, are snobs and worry about their social standing and their position in the church. They immediately characterize Tess as low class and suggest Angel marry Mercy Chance instead. In addition, they are appalled that Angel’s manners have deteriorated during the time he has spent away. Perhaps he has been contaminated by Tess who is sure to lower their social standing in the eyes of their neighbors. Both of Angel’s brothers have entered the church and are also displeased with his choice of a common woman. Intellectuals, they are emotionally frozen.
While Angel seems removed from his family, such training has also worked its way deep into his psyche and this will become increasing apparent. Is he saying one thing—that he totally accepts and loves Tess despite her lack of social and financial standing—or is he also a snob and a hypocrite? He has given up the church to live a more humble existence on the land, but his actions in the future bear watching. Consider that although Angel has earlier claimed to dislike ancient families, he is happy to learn of Tess’s lineage and prompts her to use d’Urberville instead of Durbeyfield: “he could take her on a visit to his parents and impart the knowledge while triumphantly producing her as worthy of such an ancient line” (238).
In short, Angel, like Tess, is not what he seems. Tess idealizes him entirely and sees him as a pagan god wandering around in the fertile fields—a man of Nature in search of a natural woman: “It seemed natural enough to him now that Tess was again in sight to choose a mate from unrestrained Nature and not from the abodes of Art” (198). But, Tess takes on Angel’s gestures and mimics his words and thus becomes less of what he makes her out to be, or indeed what he says he wants her to be.
In the Victorian era, women’s sexuality was denied, and they took on the role of Angel of the House, above men spiritually, and the moral guide of their children. A true lady merely tolerated sex for procreation. Tess’s denial of Angel’s advances makes Tess appear even more pure: “I know you to be the most honest, most spotless creature that ever lived” (202). However, Angel fails to see Tess as a living breathing human, and when anyone is placed this high, down is the only direction they can move.
While Tess does make several attempts to tell Angel the truth about her past, in fairness she chooses not to tell him out of fear that she will lose him. Yes, writing him the letter and attempting to tell him immediately before the wedding count as sincere efforts, but in reality, she held back the truth and married him: “I can’t bear to let anyone have him but me! Yet it is a wrong to him, and may kill him when he knows!” (204). Tess uses her mother’s advice to justify her actions and chooses not to risk losing Angel. To Tess’s credit, however, she decides to tell her new husband the truth, even though at this point she could have continued to withhold it.