Study Guide

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Three

By Thomas Hardy

Phase I: "The Maiden," Chapter Three

  • Tess takes some time to dismiss the strange young man from her mind. Other men want to dance with her, but she's not in the mood anymore.
  • After the stranger is out of sight, she's able to shake off her melancholy and dance again.
  • She dances for a while, but she remembers her father's strange behavior, and gets worried, so she hurries home.
  • She finds her mother at home with her younger siblings.
  • Joan Durbeyfield, Tess's mother, is singing and rocking the baby's cradle with one foot, while balancing on the other foot and washing clothes in a tub (multitasking is not a recent phenomenon).
  • Mrs. Durbeyfield, the narrator tells us, has a knack for putting off her household work until the last minute, which makes it seem much harder and more of a pain than it needs to be. Sound like a familiar habit, anyone?
  • Tess feels bad that she was out having fun all afternoon while her mother was at home doing the wash (even though the wash should have been done several days earlier), so she offers to rock the baby or to help with the wash, after changing out of her best gown.
  • Tess's mother is described as aging (she has, after all, given birth to nine children, seven of whom have survived infancy), but still fresh and pretty.
  • Tess's mother explains to Tess about the discovery of their aristocratic family, and that he had taken the carriage home because of that, and not because he'd been drinking.
  • Tess asks if the news will do them any good, and her mother says that great things might come of it.
  • Tess then asks where her father is. Her mother avoids the question, telling Tess what the doctor had said about Jack Durbeyfield's heart. Apparently his heart is weakened and could go at any time.
  • Tess is alarmed by the news, but asks again where her father is.
  • Her mother admits that Jack Durbeyfield is at Rolliver's—a nearby pub—to "get up his strength for his journey to-morrow with that load of beehives," even though he'll have to be leaving before 1 a.m. to get the hives delivered on time (3.27).
  • Tess is dismayed that her father would be so irresponsible, and that her mother must have agreed to his going.
  • Her mother says that she didn't agree, but had to wait for Tess to come back to take care of the younger children while she went to fetch him back.
  • Tess offers to go, but Mrs. Durbeyfield insists on going herself.
  • The narrator informs us that Mrs. Durbeyfield enjoys "fetching her husband from Rolliver's," and that it's one of the few bits of fun she has still in her married life. At Rolliver's, she can pretend that she isn't responsible for seven children back home, and she can be as irresponsible as her husband.
  • On her way out the door, she asks Tess to take the Complete Fortune-Teller to the outhouse. (The Complete Fortune-Teller is just what it sounds like: a fortune-telling book that Mrs. Durbeyfield consults from time to time. She has a superstitious fear of having it stay in the house overnight, which is why she asks Tess to take it to the outhouse.)
  • Tess wonders what her mother was consulting in the Complete Fortune-Teller, and guesses that it has something to do with the news about their family. She doesn't guess that it was how the news about their family would affect her in particular.
  • Tess finishes doing the laundry, with help from her nine-year-old brother, Abraham, and her twelve-year-old sister, Eliza-Louisa (called "'Liza-Lu"), and put the youngest ones to bed.
  • 'Liza-Lu is the next oldest sibling, but there's a four year difference between her and Tess (two siblings had died in infancy between them). So the age difference makes Tess a kind of foster mother to her younger siblings when their mother is away.
  • After 'Liza-Lu and Abraham there are two more girls, then a three-year-old boy, and then the one-year-old baby, making for a total of seven living children, besides the two that had died. That's a lot of children.
  • Time goes by, and neither of her parents returns. Tess knows that her mother just wanted to join Jack Durbeyfield at the pub for a bit of fun, and that she never intended to fetch him right back.
  • So Tess sends Abraham out to bring both parents home.
  • But half an hour passed, and Abraham doesn't return, either.
  • Tess realizes she must go herself.
  • She locks up the house, and hurries down the "dark and crooked lane" towards Rolliver's.