She chanced to pause on the bridge near his house to rest herself
15.5 x 11 cm
Scribner's Magazin's 13 (May, 1893): page 601
Illustration for Thomas Hardy's "The Fiddler of the Reels"
[See commentary below]
Scanned image, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham
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Although Arlene M. Jackson (1981) notes that William Hatherell received commissions from such prominent American illustrated magazines as the Century and Scribner's, she does not mention that he had also been responsible for the single illustration accompanying the short story "The Fiddler of the Reels" in the latter New York magazine for 13 May 1893 (pp. 597- 609). William Hatherell's plate captures the moment on page 598 when Car'line Aspent first hears the hypnotic music of the demonic Mop Ollamoor, The Fiddler of the Reels.
The pattern is maintained with a village girl, native of Wessex, partnered with an outlander, for Margery's partner for the evening is a melancholy German baron, Elizabeth Jane's a sensitive Scot, and Car'line's an olive-complexioned, long-haired Gypsy. However, in a sense, Car'line's partner is not a person at all (and certainly not a dancer) but an erotic strain of music, an atavistic impulse that must be satisfied or placated before Car'line Aspent, green and giddy maiden, can be transformed into Mrs. Edward Hipcroft, homemaker and mother. In Hatherell's plate, her partner, unseen, tickles and excites her fancy; perforce, she must yield to instinct (as in a D. H. Lawrence story) and abandon conscious control, the inhibiting intellect, to dance until she exhausts herself, and unconsciously engages in the procreative act. At her second rape, she pays the Rumpelstiltskin price for this social and personal transformation as Mop Ollamoor (not merely "Of the Moor," an agent of nature, but "à l'amour," an agent of the eternal life-force) harvests his crop, her first-born. As in the case of the rape of unsophisticated village girl Tess by urban masher Alec D'Urberville, we have no narrative description of their coupling; rather, as a phallic principle, Mop takes her between a waking and a sleep (to quote Edmund in King Lear), impregnating her and later returning to exact sacrifice.
Hardy's reminiscing narrator begins, as it were, in the present and in medias res, since "Talking of Exhibitions" seems to refer to the 1889 Exhibition in Paris, memorialized by La Tour Eiffel. Hardy's story-telling persona, an "old gentleman," reverts to a time four decades previous, taking us back, like the narrators of The Mayor of Casterbridge and "The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid," to the 1840s and the Wessex of Hardy's youth. The narrator (quite properly, since the tale's title is "The Fiddler of the Reels") begins with the dubious character of the swarthy, gypsyish, and markedly "un-English" (597) Mop Ollamoor and a description of "his power over unsophisticated maidenhood, a power which seemed sometimes to have a touch of the weird and wizardly in it" (597), to which the illustrator has added a mesmerizing influence of children. Although Hardy invokes the textual authority of Under the Greenwood Tree when he has his narrator quote Theophilus ("Lover of God") Dewey, one of the Mellstock church musicians, to deride Mop's repertoire as "devil's tunes" (598), Hardy arranges matters so that Mop exercises his peculiar, other-worldly fascination
by simply fiddling one of the old dance-tunes he almost entirely affected — country jigs , reels, and "Favorite Quick Steps" of the last century — some mutilated remains of which even now [forty years later] reappear as nameless phantoms in new quadrilles [adapted from the French Cotilion and introduced in 1816 to England] and gallops [introduced in 1829] (598)
that are heretical departures from the musical traditions of old Wessex. Once again, Hardy's bias against modernism asserts itself in his discussion of the dance and its music, which in their original possessed an almost atavistic force now much diluted in derivative modes and works. Like Margery, Car'line viscerally falls under the spell of the old dance music, but her "infatuation" with it is so great that it induces in her an "attack" which Hardy's narrator describes as "a species of epileptic fit" (599) in which the victim temporarily loses all control of mind and body. Intoxicated by the fiddle-music, she rides a dangerous whirlwind which releases her elemental self in a riotous celebration of the Dionysian which takes the celebrants outside themselves and violates the normative bounds od day and night. Thus, Mop's dance music seems to be a palpable link with the pre-Christian and pagan fertility traditions of Wessex: Mop "had never, in all likelihood, entered a church at all." The music appeals to some deep, sexual instinct in Car'line which compels her to abandon momentarily her social roles as wife and mother; and, as in so many Hardy stories, the heroine's succumbing to instinct results in catastrophe.
One assumes that Hatherell quite deliberately selected as the subject for his illustration the first time that Car'line Aspent hears the beguiling fiddle music of Mop Ollamoor. Hatherell has correctly read the story as not being about the fiddler himself, but about the influence of the fiddler on the heroine. The word "chanced" (Scribner's Magazine, May 1893: 598) in the caption is one of great significance in most Hardy stories, and no less so here, for chance determines that Car'line falls prey to Mop's fascinating playing in her initial meeting, which occurs not in her own village of Stickleford, but when she is on her way home through Lower Mellstock. He is initially the wolf to her Little Red Riding Hood (we note his beguiling three children in the background). Her second, ill-fated meeting with Mop occurs much later in the story, when she and her husband have returned to their native Wessex. On the first occasion, she loses her maidenhead to the diabolic musician; on the second, she loses her child. Thus, from this brief overview of the role of chance in Car'line Aspent's history, we see that the artist has chosen to illustrate one of the two key "fated" moments, and yet has avoided telegraphing the story's pathetic outcome.
Unfortunately for the purposes of this discussion, the artist has chosen to show the first moments of Mop's spell rather than Car'line engaged in one of the many old dances that the fiddler is accustomed to accompany. His music blights the spring of Car'line's life, signified by the cherry blossoms above her head, and leads to her yielding to the indiscriminate mating instinct signified by the ducks (right). Dancing and music in this story seem to combine to compel an out-of-body experience in the female protagonist, a member of that "unsophisticated maidenhood" (597) whose weak wills are completely subservient to "the weird and wizardly" power of the outlandish itinerant musician who deploys his dance-music as if it were the date-rape drug rohipnol.
The conclusion of Hardy's "The Fiddler of the Reels," a celebration of the pagan life-force that folk-music enables even the "unsophisticated" to access, envisions a geriatric Mop still fiddling and his now middle-aged daughter dancing to his strains as her mother once did, but this scene occurs (in the narrator's imagination) in The New World, a land of second chances and fresh starts: "There. . . they may be performing in some capacity now [i. e., some forty years after the story's close], though he must be an old scamp verging on three-score-and-ten, and she a woman of four-and- forty." However, by "may" Hardy seems to be inviting each reader to enter into this creative process, producing whatever ending he or she wishes to bring closure to Ned's anguish and loss. Although conscientious step-father Ned Hipcroft is alarmed that Mop may be "torturing [the child] to maintain him" his wife is curiously unconcerned. For me, Mop remains the incarnation of paganism, a figure representative of the Dionysian revels of pre-Christian Greece and Italy, and not a real child-exploiter but an immortal figure from the oral traditions of folklore and fairytale.
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Quinn, Marie A. "Thomas Hardy and the Short Story." Budmouth Essays on Thomas Hardy: Papers Presented at the 1975 Summer School. Dorchester: Thomas Hardy Society, 1976. Pp. 74-85.
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Last modified 9 August 2002