Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Chapter 39 - Summary

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      Three weeks after the marriage Clare could be seen moving all alone towards the parsonage of his father. During these weeks he had led a varied and unsettled life. He tried to use his agricultural plans as though nothing unusual had happened. But his heart was troubled all the same. He became weary and anxious. He wondered if he had treated Tess unfairly. He ate without knowing that he ate, and drank without tasting. And yet he felt that in every scheme that he made there was a hidden and strong desire of having Tess as a dear possession. In his wanderings, he had noted that the Empire of Brazil offered land on exceptionally advantageous terms. Then Brazil had one more advantage. Tess could finally join him there and perhaps the conventions in that country would not be so operative as to make life with her seem impracticable. With this view, he was returning to Emminster to tell his plan to his parents, and to make the best explanation he could make of arriving without Tess. Clare had given his parents no warning of his visit, and his arrival stirred the atmosphere of the Vicarage. His father and mother were in the drawing-room but neither of his brothers was now at home. Angel entered closing the door behind him. “But—where’s your wife, dear Angel?” cried his mother. He explained that he had left her at her mother’s and come here to tell them that he was going to Brazil. The explanation didn’t convince the parents. His mother assured him that there was no irritation in their minds against him for this marriage, and they were very eager to meet his wife. They felt it that he had not brought her. It seemed strange to them. They wondered what had happened. He pointed out-by way of explanation that it would be inadvisable for him to take her on his first journey to Brazil, so she would remain, at her mother’s till she came back. “And I shall not see her before you start?” inquired her mother. He was afraid they would not. A hastily prepared supper was brought in, and Clare told his parents more details about his plans. His mother’s disappointment at not seeing the bride still remained with her. She watched her son as he ate. “Cannot you describe her? I am sure she is very pretty, Angel.” Then she began describing Tess’s beauty and figure imaginatively, her information mainly based on what Angel had said earlier about Tess. When the time came for the chapter from the Bible, his father suggested that they should read the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs in praise of a virtuous wife. A lump rose in Clare’s throat. When the chapter was over, his mother added, “well I wish I could have seen her, Angel. Since she is pure and chaste she would have been refined enough for me. Clare could bear this no longer. His eyes were full of tears. He quickly said good-night to his sincere and simple parents and hurriedly entered his own chamber. His mother followed him, and tapped at his door. Clare opened it to discover her standing outside with anxious eyes. Realizing that her son was not quite his self, she said, “Now, my son, I know it is that—I know it is about her! Have you quarreled in these three weeks”? “We have not exactly quarreled,” he said “But we have had a difference.”— With the mother’s instinct, she asked him that she would be pure. She is spotless! he replied; and felt that if it had sent him to eternal hell there and then that he would have told that lie. “Then never mind the rest. After all, there are few purer things in nature than an unsullied country-maid,” his mother added. As he sat brooding over the situation, he felt angry with his poor wife for causing a situation in which he was compelled to practice falsehood on his parents. But at the same time in considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, her real qualities.

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