In Chapter XVI Tess travels in the month of May from her home of Marlott to Egdon to start her new life as a milkmaid.
In Chapter XVII I learn way more about milking cows then I ever needed to know, which isn’t really all that much. As for Tess, she meets Dairyman Dick (AKA Mister Richard Crick), the owner of the farm. She quickly gets to work milking cows, no rest for the weary here!
We learn that Richard Crick is religious and he does milk some of the more difficult cows himself. He does seem to be a bit reticent at first since Tess obviously hasn’t spent much time outside, but she wins him over. She quickly settles in and is already feeling comfortable in this new life.
There are nearly 100 men and woman on the farm milking cows. When the cows seem to be withholding their milk they will sing, which starts a conversation about who enjoys singing more. Bulls or cows? This naturally gets one of the men to tell a story about a man who was chased by a bull and only got away by singing to the bull.
Of course one man is skeptical of the story, a new milkman who is quite slow, plays a fiddle and is called, “sir.” Tess recognizes his nicer clothing and his breeding before she recognizes him. He’s none other then the man she had seen at the May Day Dance a few years ago, Angel. The one who didn’t dance with her. He doesn’t seem to recognize her now either.
After milking is over the other girls comment that Tess is pretty. But it’s implied they are picking up on much more then beauty, perhaps her natural sexuality?
Off in the dairyhouse, Tess will be sharing a room with 3 other girls. While Tess is drifting off to sleep she overhears one of them talking about Mr. Angel Clare. His father and brothers are parsons. Instead of also being a Parson, he seems to be running around England learning different trades, in this case he’s learning about milking, and we’re left to think there is a reason for this that will be revealed later. The last bit of information we learn about Angel is that he keeps to himself, or at least keeps his distance from the woman.
If the book was written in a different time and had a different purpose, I would wonder if he is gay. I’m kidding.