The Collier illustrations for The Trumpet-Major do not convey the numinous sense of place that, for example, the larger-scale plates of Barnes for The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), of Hopkins for The Return of the Native(1878), and of Herkomer and his team for Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891) conjure up: the unsullied presence of pre-industrial Wessex; the brooding enigma of Egdon Heath behind the Hardys' cottage; the cornlands, fields, and streams of Hardy's youth. The short-grassed eminence on which Anne sits as the Victory sails into history is nothing in natural power when compared to the untamed furze that Clem Yeobright futilely hacks away at in The Return of the Native. However, Collier is aware of the importance of providing a credible natural backdrop (which Hardy gradually transformed through revision into his celebrated Wessex), as his devoting several plates exclusively to scenery reveals. Although assuredly his chief interest is the figures of the story, four plates are unpopulated, notably, plate one depicts the mill and its natural setting; plate twenty-five the region around Overcombe in small-scale vignette; and plate twenty- eight the bridge under which Bob hides from the press gang. Of the series, more than half (seventeen) are set outdoors. However, in only a few does the natural backdrop make a significant contribution to the scene.
Of these, five stand out; these in order of the significance of their natural backdrops are plate 21("‘With a desperate sigh she ran on again.' Page 506."), plate 27 ("‘They proceeded with their burden at a slow pace to the lower garden gate.' Page 653."), plate 14 ("Her head fell back upon Bob's shoulder" at the top of p. 332), plate 10 ("Anne and the Trumpet-major were left standing by the gate" at the top of p. 256), and plate 9 ("He replied . . . across the gooseberry bushes, or through the tall rows of flowering peas" at the top of p. 156). In contrast to nature's being another character in the preëminent Wessex novels, in Collier's plates all too often nature is one-dimensional theatrical backdrop, as in plate 22 ("Ha, young madam! Now you are caught!"), in which the right hand register is occupied by a sketchy seascape: above the horizon line, patchy, broken clouds; below, stick-ships on a lined-in sea; in the foreground, a few blades of grass and several boulders. This backdrop contributes nothing to the picture, whereas the backdrop in plate 31("Are you never going to turn round?") provides a contrast to the figures, and one senses that the artist took some pains to put specific plant species such as heatherbells into the picture. Although nature is not the subject here, Collier uses it as a more than mere backdrop because the characters are interacting with and within it, as in plate 18 ("Bob . . . set himself to paint the summer-house which Anne frequented").
However, the natural backdrop occupies much of plate 21 ("‘With a desperate sigh she ran on again.' Page 506."), facing p. 506. Since Collier has devoted a full page to this scene and since it is juxtaposed against the text it illustrates, one assumes that the artist felt this was a significant moment in the narrative‹it certainly is a moment of imminent danger to Anne's virtue, if not her physical safety, as the amorous yeoman is about to catch her. Festus's intentions are kept ambivalent; for example, his attacking the cottage door with his sabre implies both a physical and a sexual threat. Although the caption suggests the artist is attempting to capture the moment when Anne has resumed her flight after endeavouring to dislodge the plank across the stream (extreme bottom left) that bisects the meadow track to Overcombe from "the Royal watering-place" ("Weymouth" in serial; "Budmouth" in volume). In fact, however, the plank seems to be in the water, suggesting that Festus has just fallen into the stream. Hardy has actually given Collier little to go on: the hedgerow, the path, the grassy field, the meadow "divided down the middle by a brook about six feet" (506), and the narrow plank serving as a bridge are mentioned, but not elaborated upon. Collier has supplied two planks, low grass, a bordering copse, the horizon line of the downs (with fields separated by a stone wall and a line of trees), and (to contrast Anne's bonneted head and pale dress, just left of centre) a pair of oaks. Before one even reads the accompanying text, the reader is alerted to the fact that Anne will be pursued; the artist leaves the outcome in doubt to sustain the suspense, but misses an admirable opportunity for physical humour by not depicting the furious Festus drenched from head to foot. In the somewhat theatrical backdrop Collier places no sign of habitation, so that the paucity of possible assistance reinforces the danger in which Anne's attempted escape has placed her. Although Festus may be the big, bad wolf (or Bluebeard) to Anne's Little Red Ridinghood, in the absence of a providential saviour the damsel in distress must rescue herself. Thus, plates 21 and 27 complement the textual narrative by doing much to render Anne a sympathetic character, despite her vacillations about which of the Loveday brothers to marry.
In plate 27, Matilda (in the lead and without a hat, as the text indicates, despite the fact that her shoes do not appear to be dust-covered) and Anne (who specifically "put on her hat" (653) as she left the mill) struggle to carry the unconscious Bob to safety before the press gang returns. By substituting Matilda for the maid as Anne's accomplice Hardy rehabilitates her character after her earlier deception and superficiality, for it is she who in desperation has walked all the way from Weymouth to save Bob, and it is she who initiates the scheme to carry off the bench. The natural scene again has some of the flatness of a stage backdrop, reinforced by the completely flat foreground intended to represent the road (although at the moment captioned the trio are still in the garden). In contrast to Matilda's determination to move her former fiancé in safety, Anne seems to be hesitating. The slight backward tilt of her head and body imply that she has just heard the press-gang approaching. Because of the narrative moment selected for visual realization Collier cannot utilize some of the textual clues regarding the scene, for the little field of corn, "a few scrubby bushes overhanging a little stream" (654), and the bridge are mentioned as lying ahead of their present location. Although Anne to search for Bob, whom Collier has costumed exactly as in the text, although we do not see the such elements of his fashionable costume depicted in plate 24 (p. 585) as the shirt frill, muslin neckcloth, and "the mirror-like buttons of his coat" (653). Nor has Collier depicted "bushes of broom, laurel, and yew" (653), although he has supplied a wheel-rutted path behind Anne (the garden-gate swung open behind her), a hedgerow, thatched building (presumably the mill, but also suggestive of grandmother's cottage in Perrault's tale), and a clouded sky suggestive of "the cold light of morning" (653). The vertical trees emphasize Anne's leaning back, while the angle of the vegetation behind Matilda accentuate her forward movement.
Last modified 27 July 2001