Cistercians are a religious order of Roman Catholic monks and nuns. The first monastery was founded in the 11th century and the order spread throughout Europe over the next 100 years. Traditionally, Cistercians were self-sufficient, supporting themselves by working the land and rearing their own cattle.
In the 19th century, divorce laws were very restrictive. At the time that Hardy was writing, a man would have had to prove his wife had been unfaithful in order to secure a divorce. As Tess's affair with Alec happened before she and Angel got married, it would not be grounds for divorce.
Nevertheless, men had it easier than women when it came to divorce laws. While infidelity was sufficient grounds for a husband to divorce his wife, it did not allow a woman to divorce her husband. A husband had to have committed incest, bigamy or cruelty, or to have deserted his wife, for the courts to grant her a legal separation.
But Samson has one secret weakness. If his hair is ever cut, he will lose all his strength. When he marries a Philistine woman, Delilah, Samson falls victim to her charms and reveals his secret. While he sleeps, Delilah cuts his hair and hands Samson over to his enemies.
Angel Clare has rewritten poet Robert Browning's lines: "God's in his heaven/All's right with the world!" The lines come from Browning's 1841 dramatic poem Pippa Passes, which the poet intended to be the first of a series of similar pieces and which focuses on a young innocent girl who passes through a corrupt society, influencing the reprobates she meets for good.
As well as the famous lines which Angel misquotes, the poem is remembered for an embarrassing mistake near the end, where Browning writes: "Then, owls and bats, cowls and twats,/Monks and nuns, in a cloister's moods". It seems that Browning mistook the word "twat" to mean a nun's headdress, which goes to show there's hope for us all.
Jan van Beers (1852-1927) was a Belgian painter and the son of a poet of the same name. His poised studies often have a sardonic edge, suggesting that there is more going on beneath the surface than meets the eye.