Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Summary and Analysis of Phase 2, Chapters 12-15

Phase Two: Maiden No More

Chapter Twelve:

On a Sunday morning in late October, several weeks after the night ride in The Chase, Tess travels home. Ascending the road, she sees Alec d'Urberville, who has been looking for her. He asks why she is slipping away, for nobody wished to hinder her leaving. She vows never to come back. When he asks why she is crying, she says that she sees the village where she was born, and wishes she had not been born at all. Tess tells Alec that she did not come to Trantridge for him, and that she hates herself for her weakness; her eyes were a little dazed by him, she explains. Alec admits that he is a bad fellow, but vows not to be unkind to her again. He attempts to kiss her once more, but she insists that she has never loved him. He tells her that she is being absurd. He asks her to come back to him, but once again she refuses. After Alec finally leaves her, Tess sees a man carrying a tin pot of red paint. He paints a quote from the Bible on a stile: "Thy, Damnation, Slumbereth Not." She asks if he believes what he paints, and he replies quite adamantly that he does. She asks him to suppose that one's sin is not of one's own seeking, but he says that he cannot split hairs on that question. He tells her that if she wants edification, she should speak to Mr. Clare of Emminster, who will preach today. Tess reaches home and says that she is staying for a long holiday. Tess admits to her mother what occurred, and she scolds Tess for not getting Alec to marry her. Tess asks her mother why she did not warn her about the danger that men pose.


Hardy continues to leave many of the details of Tess's seduction ambiguous by allowing a certain space of time to pass between the night at The Chase and Tess' return to Marlott several weeks later. Both Tess and Alec, however, indicate that their sexual encounter was to some degree consensual. Most importantly, Tess admits that her "eyes were a little dazed" by Alec and that the event was a moment of weakness. This is the first concrete indication that Tess realizes her capability for sexuality; previously unaware of others' sexual designs for her and disdainful of the lust exhibited by others, Tess now admits that she too was capable of some degree of lust for Alec. This is significant as a development of Tess's sexual attitudes and as an indication of her inherent self-criticism. She finds herself to blame for Alec's seduction of her, rather than accusing him of treachery.

The encounter between Tess and the sign painter introduces the theme of forgiveness that will pervade the novel. Tess wonders whether or not what she has done may be forgiven, and seems to find the answer that she cannot in Christian teaching. The encounter also introduces the character of Reverend Clare, whose son appeared during an early chapter and will play a large part in future chapters.

Joan Durbeyfield's reprimand of her daughter for being seduced by Alec d'Urberville is ironic, for it is she who promoted the idea of a romantic attachment between Tess and Alec. When Tess submitted to Alec, she essentially followed her mother's orders, yet now faces her family's scorn.

Chapter Thirteen:

Tess Durbeyfield's return to Marlott became the subject of gossip. In the course of several weeks Tess revived sufficiently to get to church. When she goes to church, she notices others around her staring at her and whispering; she knows what their whispers concern and feels that she cannot come to church anymore. The only exercise that Tess takes is after dark when she can be alone. She perceives herself as a figure of Guilt introducing into the haunts of Innocence.


Tess's return to Marlott becomes the subject of gossip in the town precisely because it is such a stunning reversal of fortune for the girl. Although she left to claim kinship with a noble family, she returns to Marlott in a lower social standing than before, unmarried yet pregnant with Alec d'Urberville's child. The weight of this disdain for Tess as well as her own personal guilt lead her to shrink from society, finding refuge only in the natural habitat around her. Hardy makes clear that Tess feels herself a sinner for what occurred to her and that her personal pain and regret outweigh any social opposition she may face.

Chapter Fourteen:

On a hot August afternoon, the sun beats down on Marlott while men and women work in the corn fields. Among the women is Tess, whom the other women watch carefully. At intervals she rests, for she has been somewhat changed. After a long seclusion she had decided to undertake outdoor work during the busiest season of the year. When she finishes her labor, during lunch her sister brings Tess's child to her so that she may breastfeed it. A nearby woman observes that Tess is fond of her child, although she might pretend to hate it. Tess had come to bear herself with dignity and to resolve not to wallow in her own self-pity. However, as her sorrows over bearing an illegitimate child fade away, a fresh sorrow arises. The baby takes ill. When Tess returns home after work, she finds that the baby had taken ill. Tess realizes that the baby has not been baptized. Tess begs her father to send for the parson, but he refuses out of pride. Tess goes to bed, but the infant's breathing grows more difficult and Tess prays for pity. Tess finally decides to baptize the infant herself: she gives it the name Sorrow. As she baptizes Sorrow, Tess appears to her siblings as a large, towering, divine personage. When Tess awakes the next morning, she finds that Sorrow has died. Tess wonders whether if it were doctrinally sufficient to secure a Christian burial for the child. She asks the new parson, and he agrees that Sorrow had been properly baptized, but he refuses to give a Christian burial out of community reasons. She tells him not to speak to her as saint to sinner, but as person to person. Finally he agrees that the burial will be the same.


Hardy once again shifts the narrative forward to bypass momentous events in Tess's life; skipping nearly a year in Tess's life, the story picks up after Tess has given birth to the illegitimate child borne of her one encounter with Alec d'Urberville. This child is the living representation of her sin: during the first part of the chapter it exists only as a symbol and not as an actual person, receiving a name only before its death. Even the name that Tess gives her infant child, Sorrow, represents the aftermath of her sin. Nevertheless, if Sorrow represents Tess's guilt over her weakness with Alec d'Urberville, Tess's reaction to her child is significant. At first Tess claims to detest the child, yet grows accustomed to it as a part of her, accepting this sin as inherent in her with a profound sense of self-loathing. However, once the child is near death Tess accepts it fully by insisting on its baptism. By confronting her sin and naming it, Tess essentially allows Sorrow to die peacefully.

The baptism of Sorrow is a pivotal event for Tess in which she moves from a simplistic child to, as her siblings see her, a "towering, divine personage." By baptizing her child, Tess also rejects the social structure around her that perceives the mother as an outcast, performing the ceremony that marks the acceptance of her child into society without the public declaration of the church. The baptism of Sorrow is thus a baptism for Tess as well, marking a new sense of self and self-worth that she has lacked. This can further be seen in the confrontation with the parson that follows: the once demure Tess demands that Sorrow be given a Christian burial, despite the objection of the parson.

Chapter Fifteen:

Tess began to note the passing of anniversaries, such as her first arrival at Trantridge and the fateful night at The Chase. Almost suddenly Tess changed from a simple girl to a complex woman. Her eyes grow larger and more eloquent. She wonders if chastity, once lost, is always lost and waits for a new departure. She vows that there will be no more talk of d'Urberville castles, and prepares to go to the Talbothays dairy.


Hardy makes explicit in this chapter what he implied earlier, elucidating the transformative events that moved Tess from a timid girl to a strong and courageous woman. Her rebirth during the baptism of Sorrow is followed by Tess's decision to leave Marlott for a place in which she may start her life anew. However, at this point Hardy introduces one of the most important themes of the novel: the question of the extent to which sins may be forgiven. In this instance, the question is given explicitly: can Tess regain her chastity after one indiscretion? Although Tess herself appears as evidence that purity may be regained, this question will provide significant thematic material throughout the novel.