Is The Resemblance Strong?

"Is The Resemblance Strong?" by George Du Maurier for Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1880). "To arouse Paula's romantic interest in him through her fascination with the history of the de Stancys and their castle, Captain de Stancy impersonates his cavalier ancestor, Sir Edward, who committed suicide out of unrequited love."

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Although he liked Du Maurier's first two drawings, Harper's London agent, R. R. Bowker, noted in his journal as early as 30 July, 1880, Du Maurier's failing artistic powers (occasioned by his having sight in only one eye), and by 10 December, 1880, was concerned that the later drawing for A Laodicean were proving disappointing. The cause of the decline in quality after the early plates, conjectures Jackson, probably lies in the fact that during his extended illness (23 October, 1880, through April, 1881) "Du Maurier was without Hardy's minute points, for half the drawings" (51); certainly, the plates produced after the sixth ("Is The Resemblance Strong?") are much inferior to those early illustrations for which Hardy furnished Du Maurier with sketches and suggestions.

Despite Hardy's insistence that she embodies the "modern spirit," the fair Puritan, Paula, is, at one level, in love with the past (especially the middle ages) and fascinated by those with an aristocratic lineage, as she reveals when in the long gallery, "walking towards the portraits on the wall, she flippantly asked one of those cavaliers to oblige her fancy for company [in the absence of Charlotte and George] by stepping down from his frame" (Book III, Ch. 2). In fact, this passage foreshadows Captain William de Stancy, in the guise of Sir Edward de Stancy, "who had lived just before the Civil Wars" (Book III, Ch. 1), doing just that. He dons his romantic forebear's breastplate to test the likeness, for łthe de Stancys were a family on whom the hall-mark of membership was deeply stamped. . . " -- "hallmark" suggesting a guarantee of quality, of authenticity, or figuratively of moral worth (highly ironic when applied to that illegitimate scion of the de Stancys, William Dare). Hardy indicates that Captain de Stancy bears "a very traceable likeness" to Sir Edward, and provides a distinctive mole on the cheek as a visual connection that Du Maurier has taken up, adding an equally distinctive though not attractive beaked nose. In the plate, Charlotte is on the left while Paula stands to the right, fully appreciating the similarity. "Going then and placing himself in front of a low-hanging painting near the original [Du Maurier logically places the original immediately above de Stancy], so as to be enclosed by the frame while covering the figure, arranging the sword as in the one above, and setting the light that it might fall in the right, he recalled" (Book III, Ch. 2) Charlotte and Paula to witness the effect.

Stage-manager and actor both, Captain de Stancy completes the impersonation of the figure in the portrait by reciting a text left to posterity by Sir Edward (having committed the poem to memory "with true wooer's instinct" that very morning) before pretending to fall on his sword, Sir Edward's final act of unrequited love that Captain de Stancy simulates in order to fire Paula's romantic fervour, as Charlotte has unconsciously suggested his Pater-like effusions on the family paintings would. Paula experiences what we as readers experience at this moment because Hardy has developed the situation from frivolous suggestion through anticipation to realisation largely through her consciousness. Captain de Stancy asks, "Is the resemblance strong?" and we, Paul and reader, answer, "Yes." However, Hardy also has us experience the scene from de Stancy's perspective, for he has prepared himself for the realisation of the picture by studying notes on the family's history and the subjects of the paintings so that he can present his interpretation to Paula. Like the portraits for Paula, de Stancy is something of an enigma for the reader. First, Hardy, in Sensation Novelist fashion, withholds from us de Stancy's motivation for protecting Dare from the law in Chapter Four of Book Two, then reveals the answer shortly before solving in Chapter Five an earlier mystery, namely the lettering that Havill glimpsed tattooed on Dare's chest. De Stancy does not seem to be succumbing to a mere extortionist's machinations in writing Dare a cheque and in pursuing Paula romantically, for although at times exasperated by Dare, de Stancy seems as genuine in his concern for Dare as in his infatuation with Paula. However, the reader finds de Stancy a "Laodicean" in his moral ambivalence, for his conscience pricks him even while he substitutes Somerset's photograph of Dare for that of another young man to thwart the constable in identifying Dare as the trespasser. His concern for Dare and not mere cupidity forces de Stancy into duplicity, and the source of the concern, as we subsequently learn, is paternal.

Usually in the remaining stages of his narrative-pictorial sequence Du Maurier fails simply because he fails to tell the tale. Although a competent cartoonist and book-illustrator, Du Maurier failed to grasp the unique demands of serial illustration. His tendency to depict social interaction action rather than scenes between two characters led him away from moments of crisis in the plot and of significant character revelation. In plate six, however, Du Maurier has posted the sign "important moment ahead" at the beginning of the instalment, and then fulfilled his commitment as pictorial narrator to the reader. In the long gallery of de Stancy Castle he has not gone beyond the moment, alerting the reader to an important event that will transpire in the instalment, then snatching away the essential suspense, as he did in plate three ("What an Escape!"). Du Maurier all too often seems to miss the mark because his caption does not interact with and inform a reading of the plate -- in plate three, for example, the caption and not the plate is the signifier, since the plate's figures are without emotion and the moment of escape from the train is not shown. The serial illustrator must not merely complement the text, he must enhance it by setting up expectations in the reader's mind. The poses and juxtapositions of figures and elements of the setting must be so laden with meaning that they remain fixed in the reader's mind, impelling the reader forward through the text until the moment telegraphed visually is realized simultaneously in the two media, when the reader has the opportunity to mediate between the plate and the text to ponder the significance of the moment.

Last modified 11 May 2001