In chapter XLIV Tess goes to visits Angel’s family and finds his brothers talking bad about Tess and Angel, she chickens out visiting with his parents and walks home. On the way she see’s a local preacher, the converted Alec d’Urberville.
In chapter XLV we start Phase 6 – The Convert
I think this is my favorite chapter; maybe it was because I read it outside on a warm sunny day, or maybe I’m starting to “get” Hardy, either way, I enjoyed it.
This chapter has more description of Alec than we got when we met him earlier in the story. We find out that Tess never heard from Alec after she left Trantridge; however, she never contacted him either. At first she’s paralyzed with fear; he was the same man, just dressed to look like a preacher. She describes him as being transfigured, but not reformed:
The lip-shapes that had meant seductiveness were now made to express supplication; the glow on the cheek that yesterday could be translated as riotousness was evangelized to-day into the splendor of pious rhetoric; animalism had become fanaticism; Paganism Paulinism; the bold rolling eye that had flashed upon her form in the old time with such mastery now beamed with the rude energy of a theolatry that was almost ferocious. Those black angularities which his face had used to put on when his wishes were thwarted now did duty in picturing the incorrigible back-slider who insists upon turning attain to his wallowing in the mire.
Tess tries to leave before Alec see’s her, but it’s too late. I always felt that in spite of Alec’s appalling behavior that he actually did like Tess; his reaction confirms this. He is more affected by seeing her than she was of seeing him.
His fire, the tumultuous ring of his eloquence, seemed to go out of him. His lip struggled and trembled under the words that lay upon it; but deliver them it could not as long as she faced him.
She walks away, quickly. She’s pissed; her husband scorns her for her faults, and now Alec is a preacher – that’s bullshit! But she has also realized that no matter how hard she tried to put the whole thing behind her, it was still there, and I don’t think just because she had the opportunity to run into Alec. The poor girl needs to forgive herself.
Tess continues down Long-Ash Lane and Alec follows her. She realizes it, but doesn’t acknowledge it until he says, “Tess!” he repeated. “It is I –Alec d’Urverville.” No shit! Nice to see men in 1800’s literature are idiots too. She does manage to acknowledge him and tell him she wished he hadn’t followed her.
Alec tells Tess that his sole mission is to repent to the woman that he had so grievously wronged, her. “No amount of contempt that you can pour on me, Tess, will equal what I have poured upon myself.”
Alec then goes to tell her about the parson of Emminster who changed him. Of course, it didn’t work at first, but after his mother died it started to sink in. He started his ministries in the north of England and as his confidence has built up he has begun to move into areas where he used to live, where people who knew him can confront him. It’s implied that Alec always intended to seek out Tess and make amends.
Tess doesn’t buy it; she’s pissed that Alec thinks he can ruin her life and then one day decide he was wrong, become a preacher and all is right with the world. I’m with her on that one, but not for the same reason that she is. To her, if Angel doesn’t believe she’s changed or forgive her, then how can she give Alec that courtesy?
Then Alec gets mad at her and tells her to stop looking at him like that; however, I think it was he was looking at her and remembering he was a boob man. I think he’s still more trying to reform, then actually reformed.
Eventually, they reach “Cross-In-Hand,” the complete opposite of a place where you would find lovers, a good place for Alec to go on his own way. The place is marked with a sinister relic, because that’s how Hardy like’s to tell us bad shit is going to happen.
Here, Alec mentions that he needs time alone, to get his strength back. It seems she has taken a toll on him. Oh, and how did your English improve so much? She just tells him she learned from her troubles, that she had his baby and it died.
I do actually feel bad for Alec at this moment. I do think he if had known he would have done things differently, not that I think Tess would have married him anyway. But he didn’t have the chance to make things right by her and the baby.
But that opportunity passed and Tess tells him, no, I don’t want to see you again. Before Alec leaves Tess he asks her to promise on the cross (the bad omen relic) that she will never tempt him with her charms or ways. Ok, there went all of my sympathy. Tess agrees, mostly to get rid of him.
Alec is so rattled that he pulls out a letter from Mr. Clare to center himself; meanwhile Tess heads back to the farm.
On her way, she runs into a young couple fooling around. It’s Izz with a man she knew from Talbothays who came to inquire about her. Well doesn’t Izz get around with the men!