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Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Summary

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Phase II: "Maiden No More," Chapter Fourteen Summary Page 1

  • It's now August, and the sun is just coming up, casting a red glow on everything in the country.
  • The sun makes the reaping machine (a cross-shaped machine used to gather grain) appear even redder than it is.
  • The reaper moves around the edge of the field, slowly moving inward as it cuts the grain.
  • All the animals that live in the field are forced into an ever-shrinking area, until the last square yards are cut down by the reaper, and the animals are beaten to death by the workers.
  • The female workers follow the machine, tying up the wheat into bundles as it falls from the machine.
  • One of the women in the group of workers draws the particular attention of onlookers, because, unlike the others, she seems completely intent on what she's doing.
  • When she stands up between tying bundles, one can see her face – she's a good-looking young woman.
  • It's Tess, of course – the same, but not the same, as she was before.
  • The whole group takes a break for breakfast, and then continues to work as before.
  • After a while, Tess sees a group of children approaching the field. One of them is carrying a baby, and another is carrying some lunch.
  • The other workers pause in their labor to go sit under the tree and eat. Tess is one of the last to stop.
  • Tess's sister hands her the baby and runs off to play with the other children.
  • Tess looks around with some embarrassment, and then begins to nurse the child.
  • After the baby has had enough, Tess plays with it absent-mindedly, and then starts kissing it passionately.
  • Her fellow workers discuss her actions among themselves – some say that she loves the baby, though she pretends not to, and others remark that she'll get used to being an unwed mother in time.
  • After the birth of the baby, Tess realized that, by secluding herself, she was only making herself miserable – the opinions of the rest of the world didn't matter much.
  • So she got herself this job with the harvesters, because she wanted to do something that would make her relatively independent.
  • Her friends are happy to see her out of doors again, and their friendliness and cheerfulness are contagious.
  • But then when she gets home, she learns that her baby, which was already kind of weak and sickly, has gotten sick and might not make it.
  • Tess is horrified – of course she wants her baby to live.
  • But what makes her even more horrified is the thought that her baby hasn't been baptized.
  • She takes what she'd been taught about baptism and salvation very literally and very seriously, so this is a matter of great concern to her. From what she's been taught, she believes that, if her baby dies without being baptized, it will go to hell.
  • She asks her father to send for the parson, but he's drunk, and tells her that she's shamed their family honor enough, and that he doesn't want a parson snooping around their house.
  • So Jack Durbeyfield locks the house and goes to bed.
  • Tess goes to bed, too, but she's terribly upset.
  • She prays to God to have pity on the baby.
  • Suddenly she has a thought: what if she baptizes it herself? Perhaps that would be just the same.
  • So she wakes the other children to witness the ceremony.
  • She names the infant "Sorrow," and recites the part of the baptismal service that goes, "Sorrow, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (14.48).
  • The children pipe up with "Amen!" when called upon to do so, as Tess goes on with the rest of the service that she has memorized.
  • The baby, Sorrow, dies in the early hours of the morning.
  • Tess starts to worry about its soul again – will her service count? Will she be allowed to bury the child in the holy ground at the church, or will she have to bury it in the woods somewhere?
  • She goes to the parson to ask.
  • She first asks if her baptismal service will "count" with God – if it will keep the baby from burning in hell.
  • He assures her that her service will get the job done.
  • So then she asks if he'll give the baby a Christian burial at the church, and he feels trapped. He says that he can't for reasons of Church politics.
  • She then asks, with some passion, whether it will be the same (from God's point of view) if she buries the baby herself in the churchyard.
  • He reassures her that it would be the same.
  • So Tess gathers some flowers and makes a wooden cross, tips the sexton (the guy who holds the key to the churchyard), and buries her baby in the dead of night.

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