Phase 3, Chapters 16-24
Phase the Third: The Rally
At the age of twenty, with new-found optimism, Tess leaves Marlott in a hired cart for Stourcastle to work at Talbothays Dairy in the Valley of the Great Dairies. Feeling “akin” to the area, she learns that it is in Kingsmere that the d’Urberville’s originated and that their bones remain entombed in the local church. She dismisses any thoughts of grandeur (120).
Life at Talbothays Dairy is good and Tess blossoms. Dairyman Crick and his wife treat their workers well and Tess jumps right into the work of milking cows. The workers, who sleep upstairs in dormitories, are welcoming, and Tess recognizes one as the young man at the May Day dance in Marlott who failed to choose her for his partner.
Twenty-six-year-old Mr. Angel Clare, the handsome and well-educated son of a prominent Wessex clergyman, fails to heed his father’s wishes to join the church like his two older brothers, chooses instead to become a gentleman farmer and hopes to farm in America: “he [was] quite the gentleman born” (133). He is at the Dairy to learn. He plays a harp. Tess shies away from him, believing that she is impure and not good enough for him.
Clare favors Tess over any of the other dairymaids. In the garden at sunset, he plays his harp and asks her to join him. She tells him of her negative views on life, which perplexes and saddens him. Avoiding her own background, she listens as he tells her about himself, his philosophical viewpoints. He offers to become her teacher.
Tess is finally happy. She is in love with Angel. They walk together in misty fields. To Clare, Tess is a pagan goddess, indeed the very “essence of woman,” but she insists that she is nothing more than an ordinary woman.
One day the butter fails to solidify and the superstitious Mrs. Crick declares that someone must be in love. Mr. Crick insists that the churn was damaged after a former worker, who “deceived” a local girl and got her pregnant, hid in the churn from the girl’s angry mother. The others laugh but Tess is horrified and doesn’t understand how the others fail to see the sadness in the situation. She leaves the barn and the butter begins to solidify, to everyone’s relief.
The Cricks receive a letter from a customer complaining about a foul taste in the butter, a “twang,” as he calls it. Mr. Crick determines that some of the cows wandered outside the fence and ate wild garlic. The workers attempt to find the culprit weed. Tess praises the other milkmaids to Angel, particularly Izz and Retty, but Angel loves Tess. All the milkmaids toss and turn in romantic dreams of Angel Clare.
One Sunday morning, all the milkmaids set out for the Mellstock Church but are stopped by flooding waters. Clare comes to their rescue by offering to carry each across the flooded road. Each girl is ecstatic and hopes he will steal a kiss, but Clare leaves Tess for last and walks slowly, holding her tenderly. The good-spirited girls realize he loves Tess and there is nothing they can do to attract him. She decides to see less of him but can’t help watching from afar. One night in their dormitory bedroom they all, except for Tess, confess their love for Angel and sadly insist that he loves only Tess. She tells them that she has decided never to marry.
One late summer afternoon, while they milk the cows in the field, Angel can stand his anxiety surrounding Tess no more and jumps up and takes her in his arms. For a moment, she accepts his embrace with delight but then pulls away. To her amazement, he confesses his love for her. They return to work as if nothing happened.
As the title of the section, “Phase the Third: The Rally,” implies, Tess indeed rallies and leaves depression behind, for a while at least. However, she resists happiness as if she feels she doesn’t deserve it. At Talbothays Dairy, surrounded by cows and milk, and singing dairymen, the life force is strong and “the invincible instinct toward self-delight” invades her being. She is intoxicated by the lush fertile landscape which Hardy goes to great lengths to describe. Indeed, the pastoral setting metaphorically represents Eden, containing Eve in the form of Tess and Angel as Adam. Although she never expected it, she finds happiness and falls in love with Angel Clare although, in her self-deprecating manner, she thinks the other young women are more deserving. Despite her attempt “to live a repressed life…she little divined the strength of her own vitality” (145). The young woman fits perfectly into the Dairy. It’s as if she belongs there and in a sense she does, since her noble family has roots in this soil. The green fertile landscape has a calming effect on her troubled soul and belies the sadness she finds within.
The summer weather mimics the burgeoning relationship between Tess and Clare. Clare has mentioned that a country girl, instead of a lady, would suit him much better for a wife because he plans on immigrating and starting a farm. As the days grow hotter so too does their passion, until one particularly hot August afternoon, Clare loses control, embraces Tess and tells her he loves her. But, although she shares his feelings, she has learned from the past and puts the brakes on, so to speak. On the surface, Tess and Clare seems well suited to each other. He has gone against his father’s wishes by choosing his own career as a gentleman farmer. Similarly, Tess has left her parents, whose advice she doesn’t respect, and set out on her own, something extremely rare for women during this era. But as the novel progresses, Clare will change; he is not what he appears. In addition, like the garlic-tinged butter, their relationship is tainted because Clare doesn’t know the truth about Tess. From the beginning, he thinks of her as a virgin: “what a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is” and, ironically, he even calls her “maidy” (140). In this regard, Tess is like Clare; not what she seems. No doubt Hardy will continue his literary hypothesis—that despite her virtue, Tess is a helpless victim and that fate controls her life.
Hardy contrasts the fair-haired heavenly Angel with the dark-haired devilish Alec d’Urberville. While Alec forces himself on Tess, Clare is caring and careful and subsequently feels ashamed of his passionate behavior after embracing her. Unlike Alec, he courts Tess and treats her as if it were she who was the Angel. Tess on the other hand stands in comparison with the other dairymaids: nervous Izz, red-haired Retty and plump Marian who pale in beauty, delicacy and intelligence when compared to Tess. All four girls love Angel, but he focuses solely on Tess.