Something was wrong with her foot

"Something was wrong with her foot" by Arthur Hopkins Plate 1. Belgravia, A Magazine of Fashion and Amusement (September 1878): 9. Vol. 36, to face page 273; 6.375 inches wide by 4.3125 inches high. Image scan, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]

Text illustrated

Sam and the brandy soon arrived, and it was administered by the light of the lantern; after which she became sufficiently conscious to signify by signs that something was wrong with her foot . Olly Dowden at length understood her meaning, and examined the foot indicated. It was swollen and red. Even as they watched the red began to assume a more livid colour, in the midst of which appeared a scarlet speck, smaller than a pea, and it was found to consist of a drop of blood, which rose above the smooth flesh of her ankle in a hemisphere.

Arthur Hopkins by virtue of his thoroughly urban background was probably unfamiliar with the Dorset countryside in which Hardy set his tale, which may partly explain his preference for figures over landscape. Reid credits him as being "a good draughtsman with a strong dramatic sense, to which is added a sense of character" (269), all three elements present in his Giotto-like portrayal of the death of Clym's mother on the heath, "Something was wrong with her foot," in the September, 1878, instalment. The composition is reminiscent of Giotto's "The Funeral of St. Francis" in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce, Florence (1315-20) and of his earlier "Lamentation over the Dead Christ" in the Arena Chapel Padua (1305), both of which Hopkins as a student at the Royal Academy would have studied. Although Hopkins does not employ Giotto's device of juxtaposing the face of the living against that of the dead beloved, contrasting grief-stricken and questioning intensity and the corpse's bland expression, he does make the head of Mrs. Yeobright the centre and focal point of the composition. Hopkins' filling of the left and right registers is also similar to Giotto's practice in "Lamentation over the Dead Christ," so that the viewer's eye moves from the right back to centre, and from the left back to centre in order to follow the gazes of the onlookers.

Whereas Giotto's left register contains six figures (three on the outside--two standing, one seated; three towards the centre--one bent over, one on bended knee, and one seated), Hopkins' contains four figures (three standing males, and a female on her knees above the recumbent figure). The right registers of both contain four principal figures: two of Giotto's four are standing, one is seated with his back towards the viewer, and one (presumably Mary) has her face bent right above Christ's, whose head is slightly raised; three of Hopkins' figures are standing (one, his back towards the viewer, is probably Clym, the anxiety on his face left to the viewer's imagination), and the other (probably Sam) is poised above the body, holding the picture's available source of light, a lantern (as indicated by the text). The centre of each composition depends upon a triangle for stability and monumentality--Giotto has created a triangle (slightly right of centre) from the heads of Mary and Christ (right) and the heads of three mourners (left), while Hopkins' triangle is formed by the heads and shoulders of the male and female figures (Sam and Olly Dowden) and the recumbent body of Mrs. Yeobright.

In order to imbue his illustration with Giotto's classic solemnity Hopkins has had to make certain adjustments to Hardy's scene as given in the text. Whereas, for example, Hardy indicates only six persons in attendance on Mrs. Yeobright, Hopkins has eight--the two women mentioned by Hardy (Olly Dowden and Susan Nunsuch) and six men (Hardy mentions the presence of only Sam, Fairway, Clym, and Grandfer Cantle, Humphrey at that moment being aboard Fairway's pony, heading for the nearest doctor). Furthermore, Hardy indicates that Mrs. Yeobright has been laid out on a pile of dry ferns in a "lonely shed" (36: 272) which is "entirely open on one side," and not on at least three (allowing for the theatrical illusion of the fourth wall) as in Hopkins' illustration, which shows Mrs. Yeobright's head pillowed by sacks, so that it is slightly raised, as in Giotto's lamentation scenes. (The open out-building Hopkins may have borrowed from Giotto's and other Italian Renaissance renderings of Christ's nativity in an open-walled stable.) Despite the dawning sky in the background of Hopkins' picture, Hardy indicates that it is still dark when Sam administers the brandy by the light of the lantern and Olly examines the foot.

The aura of the holy in the picture prepares the reader for Clym's virtual canonisation of his dead mother, his feelings of guilt, and his desire to blame both himself and Eustacia for her death. Hopkins' sense of the community as chorus is well reflected, both here and in the opening illustration of the bonfire on the heath. However, Hopkins' onlookers seem relatively detached and prosaic compared to Giotto's, wracked by paroxysms of grief; the source of the difference in reaction being partly the heath-dwellers' sense of resignation, and partly that Mrs. Yeobright is still alive. The nineteenth-century graphic designer has well assimilated the structure, if not the rampant emotionalism, of the fourteenth-century Florentine master.

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Last modified 5 December 2000