The illustration by Robert Barnes discussed below is for the following text: "Lucetta's eyes were straight upon the spectacle of the uncanny revel." This text text is from Part 18, Ch. 39 of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, which appeared in the London Graphic (1 May, 1886): 477.
n many instances, Robert Barnes's style in his Graphic illustrations is simply not up to Thomas Hardy's text in terms of power of association, especially in the depiction of setting. Barnes, aware that his strength lies in his ability to depict people and costume, often avoids scenes requiring movement and action, such as the Skimmington, where he elects not to show the raucous procession but dwells instead upon the somewhat melodramatic expressions on the faces of Elizabeth Jane and Lucetta in the May 1st illustration, "Lucetta's eyes were straight upon the spectacle of the uncanny revel" (477). The revellers, in fact, are directly represented by just two figures, one running so swiftly that he must hold onto his hat (left), and the other holding up a torch (right). The focus of the picture, the women's faces (the highlight presumably resulting from the reflected torches of the revellers off left), reveals the emotional impact on them of this public revelation of Lucetta's prior relationship with Henchard. However, as she was married to Henchard in Jersey in the serial version, the Skimmington here threat-ens Lucetta with exposure of her marriage to Farfrae as bigamous. In contrast to her companion, who is fainting rather than enduring the spectacle, Elizabeth seems almost mesmerized, momentarily frozen after the rapid motion implied by her thrown-back bonnet and upraised hand. The glare of the procession's torches is is further suggested by the shadows which the railings cast on Lucetta and which the rosebush in the foreground casts upon Elizabeth.
The clothing of the women conveys almost as much information as their poses and expressions. Elizabeth is no longer in mourning as she was in the February 20th illustration, but wears the dress depicted in the illustrations for February 27th, March 13th, and March 27th. This visual continuity is repeated in Lucetta's dress, which occurs in the April 17th illustration, implying a contrast between her domestic happiness in her husband's confidence then depicted and her agony at the prospect of losing that confidence in the May 1st illustration. The dresses, the railing and the rosebush are shown in carefully-drawn detail, as opposed to the shadowy street and town clock in the background. These generalized details, however, reveal that Barnes was unfamiliar with Hardy's Dorchester and the real situation of High Place Hall, the clock being one found in such towns as Salisbury and Winchester.
How much of each Barnes illustration is actually justified by Hardy's text and how much is the artist's invention? In the May 1st illustration, "Lucetta's eyes were straight upon the spectacle of the uncanny revel" (477), for example, the chief elements, the fully-drawn figures of the two women, are derived from the text only in so far as Hardy indicates that they are both on the balcony of High Place Hall when the Skimmington ride passes. An examination of the details of the illustration indicates that Barnes carefully studied the relevant scene in Ch. 39, integrating his illustration of Lucetta and Elizabeth Jane here with patterns established by previous renderings of them. Across Corn Street, for example, the town clock previously mentioned shows 8:35 in the evening, and the text suggests that it would have been somewhat after "eight o'clock" (477) that Elizabeth would have arrived, after Lucetta has overheard the exchange between the two housemaids about the identities of the two persons represented by the effigies. That no light reflects upon the women from the interior of the house (right) is consistent with Hardy's mentioning that Lucetta "had not had the candles lighted," the room being illuminated only by firelight. The bonnet tipped back over Elizabeth's shoulders is consistent with her having "breathlessly" (478) addressed Lucetta as she entered the room.
By the time that the pair can see the bacchic procession clearly from the balcony, "the rigid wildness of Lucetta's features" (478) has been succeeded by "a wild laugh as she stepped in" from outside. Barnes has therefore attempted to capture that moment that precedes the laugh and Lucetta's subsequent collapse in an epileptic fit. He shows Elizabeth with her right arm drawn around her companion, her left hand holding Lucetta's right as she attempts "to pull her in." However, the spectacle that Lucetta confronts is either advancing or directly beneath her at that point, and cannot have passed as Barnes' illustration suggests. Furthermore, Hardy nowhere describes the balcony's petalless rose-bush; one wonders if Barnes has added it for mere compositional or decorative effect, or whether he intends it to be a symbol, not so much of the insentience of vegetable life and its lack of awareness of the human condition (a theme Hardy has already established), but of the fruitless issue of Lucetta's marriage to Farfrae. The petalless bush may be intended to foreshadow Lucetta's miscarriage and subsequent death.
For a fuller discussion of the plates for The Mayor of Casterbridge, see the following:
Allingham, Philip. "A Consideration of Robert Barnes' Illustrations for Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge as Serialised in the London Graphic: 2 January-15 May, 1886." Victorian Periodicals Review 28, 1 (Spring 1995): 27-39
Jackson, Arlene. "The Mayor of Casterbridge: Realism and Metaphor."Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981. Pp. 96-104.
Last modified 29 April 2001