Study Guide

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Twenty-One

By Thomas Hardy

Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Twenty-One

  • One day there's a crisis at the dairy: they can't make the butter come (we're no experts, but apparently if you churn cream long enough, it turns into butter). The churn goes around and around, but the cream just goes swish, swish, and doesn't thicken into butter.
  • Everyone is paralyzed—their livelihood at the farm depends on their ability to sell butter in London.
  • Dairyman Crick is almost ready to call on a local conjuror for some magical spell or charm to make the butter come.
  • Mrs. Crick has another idea. Perhaps, she suggests, someone in the house is in love? She's heard that that can cause it.
  • But Dairyman Crick remembers the story his wife is referring to. It wasn't because someone was in love, it's because a girl had been seduced, and her lover had hidden himself in the huge churn to hide from the girl's mother, who was understandably angry.
  • It's really a funny story—the girl's mother starts turning the churn, which paddles the young man inside repeatedly.
  • But Tess doesn't think it's very funny—it reminds her too much of her own history.
  • She starts to escape outside, and just then they hear the sound of the cream turning to butter, so no one notices that she's upset.
  • That night, she goes to bed early, and is dozing when the other three girls (Marian, Izz, and Retty) come up to go to bed.
  • They think she's asleep, so they speak softly amongst themselves about how much they're all in love with Angel.
  • They know he's more interested in Tess, though, but they're too generous and fair to hold it against her.
  • Tess blushes, but doesn't say anything, and the other three go to bed and cry themselves to sleep.
  • They all wonder whether Angel might marry a dairywoman instead of a fine lady, since a dairywoman would make a better farmer's wife.
  • Tess knows that Angel does prefer her to her friends, but has to ask herself whether she has any moral right to try to keep him to herself, when she doesn't feel that she can allow any man to marry her.