In the September instalment of Far From the Madding Crowd in The Cornhill, Hardy establishes the significance of the workhouse as a symbol of personal and moral failure by Bathsheba's remarking in Chapter 30 that, under all the anxiety that Troy and Boldwood are putting her through, she expects to die "quite young" as a "friendless" pauper "in the Union" (p. 4). This passage prepares us for the agonizing journey and death of Troy's belovéd, Fanny Robin, in the September instalment, which alerts us to her plight immediately through the main plate, which shows the little seamstress (readily distinguished from Bathsheba by her hair colour) slumped beneath a haystack and through the initial vignette. This latter drawing is a visual complement to Hardy's descriptions of the Casterbridge Workhouse at the close of Chapter 40, as Fanny, near death, arrives there, and at the beginning of Chapter 42, when Joseph Poorgrass appears driving Bathsheba's smartly painted wagon to collect Fanny's body for burial.
A connection that nineteenth-century serial readers probably made but which the subsequent volume readers are unlikely to have made is the pauper's fate (as signified by the opening plate and vignette) that may attend the woman whose husband is as addicted to racecourse betting as Frank Troy is. Indeed, the question of her husband's requisitions for ready cash has already become an irritant to the marriage as potent as Bathsheba's jealousy over the lock of blonde hair that Frank keeps in his watchcase. The September illustration is, in a sense, a direct result of August's, in which Frank has submerged his genuine feeling for Fanny in the sense of power that his relationship with the wealthy and malleable Bathsheba confers. The Helen Allingham in womanly fellow feeling depicts in the June through September sequence the course of the twin romances of Frank Troy and their consequences, from Bathsheba's initial fascination with the Sergeant's sword-play through her anguish that she may be the cause of his suffering at a rival's hand and her seeking comfort in his masculine embrace while his first love, abandoned at the church on her wedding day, languishes in despair and poverty.
The details of clothing, so evident in other scenes with other characters, are absent here to good effect. Mrs. Allingham fills her engraving frame with haystack, wooden fences, farmyard, and tall tress as background, making the slumped, pathetic figure of Fanny seem like a bundle of discarded clothing. (Jackson 80)
Since the text establishes that "the penumbre" of an overcast night has rendered all about her indistinct owing to an absence of moon and stars, Paterson's clear delineation of objects at twilight is something of a cheat, but the highly textured backdrop reinforces the social isolation of the abandoned woman uncomforted in the illustration by the luminosity of distant Casterbridge, whose "weak, soft glow" dimly illuminates the scene and gives the solitary walker a sense of destination. The vignette depicts the workhouse more cheerfully than Hardy' s letter-press, omitting the dramatic moment when Fanny raises herself with a final effort to engage the bell-pull, for surely in her upright posture the erect female figure to the left of the portal can hardly be Fanny. According to Martin Ray, in the Victorian Ordnance Survey map of Dorchester and South Dorset (began about 1800, occasionally revised up till about 1886) "The most prominent feature of Dorchester would seem to be the Union Workhouse" so that it must have been a landmark easily seen from a distance, and therefore one to which even the semi-delirious Fanny could direct her steps.
Throughout the sequence of twelve full-page illustrations and initial-letter vignettes Paterson tends to focus on Bathsheba and her lovers; moreover, seven plates involve just two characters each, three depicting the principals in group contexts (February, May, and December). Thus, the full-scale plate of Fanny Robin is unique in the series since it is a study of a lone individual. Furthermore, although eight vignettes (January, March, April, May, June, August, October and November) involve individual characters active, alert, and often working, only September's vignette so steeply subordinates the human figure to an external object. Indeed, one may take the subject of the September vignette as the institution of the workhouse, which seems to loom so large in the minds of both Fanny Robin and Bathsheba, who, despite their social differences, are at first objects of Frank Troy's fickle affections and ultimately victims of his obdurate pride.
Last modified 14 October 2002