Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Task Thirteen

“Angel–is she a young woman whose history will bear INVESTIGATION?”
With a mother’s instinct Mrs. Clare had put her finger on the kind of trouble that would cause such a disquiet as seemed to agitate her son.
“She is SPOTLESS!” he replied; and he felt that if it had sent him to eternal hell there and then he would have told that lie. ”

This is an odd exchange. Angel has rejected Tess, but then defends her to his mother. In the eyes of society, Tess is not “spotless” at all, and it is this which has separated the couple. It seems possible that Angel is defending Tess, but is it not also possible that he was trying to save face in front of his parents? Note also the imagery of being “spotless” – the idea of the white being ruined by colour emerges again. Tess’s purity is a key theme to the novel.

NOBODY could love ‘ee more than Tess did! . . . She would have LAID down her life for ‘ee. I could do no more.”

Izz Huett, when asked if she loved Angel more than Tess, understands that Tess’s love for Angel was all-consuming. There is a hint of foreshadowing here, as Tess does come to lay down her life.

“Under the trees several PHEASANTS lay about, their rich plumage DABBLED with blood; some were dead, some feebly twitching a wing, some staring up at the sky, some pulsating quickly, some contorted, some stretched out—all of them WRITHING in agony except the fortunate ones whose tortures had ended during the night by the inability of nature to bear more.

Two points to note here: first, the recurrence of the innocent being “dabbled with blood”, as though the weak are fated to suffer painfully. Second, there is a clear symbolism at work here: Tess is the wounded bird, and she understands that the only way to escape suffering is through death. Thus, when she kills them, the reader understands clearly how the novel must end.

“Poor DARLINGS —to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours!” she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the birds TENDERLY.”

This develops the last point – even though it is a paradox to kill something “tenderly”, it is the only good thing to do.