Going the Rounds
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Illustration for Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree, p. 33
See below for passage illustrated and commentary
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Image scan, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham
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Shortly after ten o'clock the singing-boys arrived at the tranter's house, which was invariably the place of meeting, and preparations were made for the start. The older men and musicians wore thick coats, with stiff perpendicular collars, and coloured handkerchiefs wound round and round the neck till the end came to hand, over all which they just showed their ears and noses, like people looking over a wall. The remainder, stalwart ruddy men and boys, were dressed mainly in snow-white smock-frocks, embroidered upon the shoulders and breasts in ornamental forms of hearts, diamonds, and zigzags. The cider-mug was emptied for the ninth time, the music-books were arranged, and the pieces finally decided upon. The boys in the mean time put the old horn-lanterns in order, cut candles into shirt lengths to fit the lanterns; and a thin fleece of snow having fallen since the early part of the evening, those who had no leggings went to the stable and wound wisps of hay round their ankles to keep the insidious flakes from the interior of their boots. . . . .
Just before the clock struck twelve they lighted the lanterns and started. The moon, in her third quarter, had risen since the snowstorm; but the dense accumulation of snow-cloud weakened her power to a faint twilight which was rather pervasive of the landscape than traceable to the sky. The breeze had gone down, and the rustle of their feet and tones of their speech echoed with an alert rebound from every post, boundary-stone, and ancient wall they passed. [Part the First, "Winter," Chapter 4, "Going the Rounds," p. 33-34]
Since the "Upper Mellstock" of the story is in fact the Higher Bockhampton of Hardy's youth, descriptions of the novel's locales are specific to a degree rarely paralleled elsewhere in English literature, but only several of Knight's illustrations reflect the sense of the place that permeates the book. In this respect the most effective of the sixteen illustrations is that describing Keeper Day's cottage in Yellowham ("Yalbury") Wood, which matches photographs of the actual house and its environs. The generalised woodland scene, with snow in the foreground and deciduous trees bare of leaves, frames the village choir of numbers more substantial than Hardy suggests, admirably representing the close relationship between the denizens of Mellstock and the surrounding countryside — however, the scene is hardly site-specific as the plate showing the gamekeeper's cottage is. Although the action occurs within three miles of a significant town, Dorchester (the "Casterbridge" of Hardy's novels and short stories), the characters are such as one would have found in a nineteenth-century Dorset village, and rarely does an urban note intrude. For example, Hardy initiates the romantic plot and the village quire plots almost simultaneously as he has the village cobbler, Mr. Penny, introduce the subject of Fancy Day's footwear in conversation with the other musicians in the third chapter, "The Assembled Choir." As they imbibe home-made cider and prepare for the night's performances, they discuss the recently-returned young school-teacher.
Presumably, although Knight has specifically included the moon, the scene represents the choir's passing the outskirts of a wooded park near the main village about 2:00 A. M.
Originally published by Tinsley in June 1872 the volume was not intended as "Christmas Book" — obviously the idea occurred to Tinsley in 1875 as a way of marketing the book that was not originally ascribed to Hardy, and which might capitalise on his new-found popularity as the author of the recently published Far From the Madding Crowd. Thus, the opening scenes of Christmas-tide carolling and making the rounds of the various farms and estates surrounding "Mellstock" (Higher Bockhampton) for after-performance refreshments would not have been construed in quite the same way in the two-volume edition of June 1872 as they would in the single-volume, illustrated edition of December 1875.
Hardy, Thomas. Under The Greenwood Tree. A Rural Painting of the Dutch School (1870). Il. R. Knight. London: Chatto and Windus, 1878.
Hardy, Thomas. Under The Greenwood Tree, or, The Mellstock Quire — A Rural Painting of the Dutch School (1872). Ed. Anna Winchcombe. Houndmills, Basingstoke, and London: Macmillan Education, 1978. [All citations from the 1878 Chatto and Windus edition have been checked against this following readily available paperback edition.]
Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.
Purdy, Richard Little. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1954, rpt. 1965.
Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 2002.
Last modified 25 June 2014