Walter Paget's extensive program of serial illustration for the story when it appeared in The Illustrated London News in the autumn of 1892 contained a number of lithographs that showed the Portland Island backdrop effectively, notably The sea roared and splashed now as it did when they first visited it together as children (8 October, p. 427), "I am very, very sorry!" Jocelyn exclaimed." (5 November, p. 577), Pearston stopped and examined the cause of discomfiture (26 November, p. 673), and He pushed the skiff down the slope, floated it, and jumped into it without an oar (17 December, p. 774). However, the slightly mysterious island with its pagan notions of love enduring into the railway age remains very much a seascape backdrop for the artist-protagonist and the successive women named "Avis" whom he loves in Paget's lithographs. Here, in an engraving of Portland Bill specifically sanctioned by Thomas Hardy, the reader encounters an atmospheric and stormy image of the island immediately prior to encountering its textual description. 8.6 x 12.4 cm, framed, in Hardy's revised version of the tale entitled The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament, volume seventeen of the Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, in eighteen volumes (1895-1897), essentially last volume until Macmillan, which had inherited the project, added an eighteenth volume in 1912, whose frontispiece is not an elegant engraving by the young Scottish illustrator Henry Macbeth-Raeburn (1840-1947, but a photograph by Hermann Lea of Mai-Dun Castle (1913). [Title-page]
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Text on facing page and title-page
The "Isle" of the Story Drawn on the spot.
"The singular peninsula once an island, and still called such . . . said to have been the ancient Vindilia, and the Home of the Slingers." — Pages 3, 4.
'One shape of many names' — P. B. Shelley.
A person who differed from the local wayfarers was climbing the steep road which leads through the sea-skirted townlet definable as the Street of Wells, and forms a pass into that Gibraltar of Wessex, the singular peninsula once an island, and still called such, that stretches out like the head of a bird into the English Channel. It is connected with the mainland by a long thin neck of pebbles 'cast up by rages of the se,' and unparalleled in its kind in Europe.
The pedestrian was what he looked like — a young man from London and the cities of the Continent. Nobody could see at present that his urbanism sat upon him only as a garment. He was just recollecting with something of self-reproach that a whole three years and eight months had flown since he paid his last visit to his father at this lonely rock of his birthplace, the intervening time having been spent amid many contrasting societies, peoples, manners, and scenes.
What had seemed usual in the isle when he lived there always looked quaint and odd after his later impressions. More than ever the spot seemed what it was said once to have been, the ancient Vindilia Island, and the Home of the Slingers. The towering rock, the houses above houses, one man's doorstep rising behind his neighbour's chimney, the gardens hung up by one edge to the sky, the vegetables growing on apparently almost vertical planes, the unity of the whole island as a solid and single block of limestone four miles long, were no longer familiar and commonplace ideas. All now stood dazzlingly unique and white against the tinted sea, and the sun flashed on infinitely stratified walls of oolite, with a distinctiveness that called the eyes to it as strongly as any spectacle he had beheld afar.
After a laborious clamber he reached the top, and walked along the plateau towards the eastern village. The time being about two o'clock, in the middle of the summer season, the road was glaring and dusty, and drawing near to his father's house he sat down in the sun. — I. "A Supposititious Presentment of Her," p. 2-3.
Richard Little Purdy notes that The Well-Beloved (1897) was one of four volumes issued after the series was essentially complete with volume 16, Under the Greenwood Tree, which had appeared in September 1896. In the 1912-31 Wessex Edition issued by Macmillan, which eventually ran to twenty-four volumes, Hardy placed the story under the heading "II. Romances and Fantasies." Issued in 1912, The Well-Beloved was volume thirteen. The Osgood, McIlvaine edition of 1897 was the novel's first volume publication. The frontispiece, according to R. L. Purdy, was separately printed: "The whole format is uniform with the 16 volumes already published of Osgood, McIlvaine's edition of the Wessex Novels" (92), the date of publication being 16 March 1897, the price being the same as the other sixteen volumes, 6s. The new preface, dated January 1897, reflects both the fantastic nature of the narrative and "the rocky coign of England" in which it is set, and thus Hardy, ever with the eye of an architect, prepares the reader, who has just seen Henry Macbeth-Raeburn's engraved frontispiece of the moody "isle," for the opening scenes:
The peninsula, carved by Time out of a single stone, whereon most of the are laid, has been for centuries immemorial the home of a curious and almost distinctive people, cherishing strange beliefs and singular customs, now for the most part obsolescent. Fancies, like certain soft-wooded plants which cannot bear the silent inland frosts, but thrive by the sea in the roughest of weather, seem to grow up naturally here, in particular amongst those natives who have no active concern in the labours of the 'Isle.' Hence it is a spot apt to generate a type of personage like the character imperfectly sketched in these pages — a native of natives — whom some may choose to call a fatantast (if they honour him with their consideration so far), but whom others may see only as one that gave objective continuity and a name to a delicate dream which in a vaguer form is more or less common to all men, and is by no means new to Platonic philosophers.
To those who know the rocky coign of England here depicted — overlooking the great Channel Highway with all its suggestiveness, and standing out so far into mid-sea that touches of the Gulf Stream soften the air till [v/vi] February — it is matter of surprise that the place has not been more frequently chosen as the retreat of artists and poets in search of inspiration — for at least a month or two in the year, the tempestuous rather than the fine seasons by preference. To be sure, one nook therein is the retreat, at their country's expense, of other geniuses from a distance; but their presence is hardly discoverable. Yet perhaps it is as well that the artistic visitors do not come, or no more would be heard of little freehold houses being bought and sold there for a couple of hundred pounds — built of solid stone, and dating from the sixteenth century and earlier, with mullions, copings, and corbels complete. These transactions, by the way, are carried out and covenanted, or were till lately, in the parish church, in the face of the congregation, such being the ancient custom of the Isle.
The present is the first publication of this tale in an independent form; and a few chapters have been rewritten since it was issued in the periodical press [The Illustrated London News, a curious vehicle for serial "fiction"] in 1892. T. H. January 1897.
What one sees in the engraving is a flat-topped island with sharp cliffs of the Dover variety, and waves breaking gently from a tranquil sea to the right of the pebble causeway (West Bay or Deadman's Bay), to the left of which is the less agitated water of Portland Harbour. In the foreground one may discern sea-scoured stones amidst the washed-up kelp on Pebble Bank, with a suggestion of sunlight illuminating the centre of the composition, which merely awaits the arrival of the actors of Hardy's somewhat improbable "romance." The "Isle" of the Hardy novella is, in fact, a peninsula connected to the port of Weymouth ("Budmouth") to the east by a road bridge. At Maiden Castle, just west of Dorset, the Celtic defenders had assembled a vast store of Chesil Beach pebbles for the purpose of pelting their attackers, suggesting some sort of trading arrangement between Durnovaria (the ancient Dorchester) and Vindilia in pre-Roman times. Hardy's "Gibraltar of Wessex" or "The Isle of the Slingers" appears briefly in The Hand of Ethelberta, The Trumpet-Major, and The Dynasts.
Relevant illustrations of "The Isle of the Slingers" (1892 and 1912)
From the original serial illustrations for Hardy's novella: left, The sea roared and splashed now as it did when they first visited it together as children (The Illustrated London News, 8 October 1892); right, Pearston stopped and examined the cause of discomfiture (26 November 1892). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Above: He pushed the skiff down the slope, floated it, and jumped into it without an oar (The Illustrated London News, 17 December 1892). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Above: The Isle of the Slingers (Hermann Lea's Frontispiece for Vol. XIII, the Macmillan Wessex Novels, 1912). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
- Thomas Hardy and Magazine Fiction, 1870-1900
- A new book on Hardy and book illustration by Philip Allingham
- Book Illustration in the Victorian Period: Great Britain and America
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Last modified 4 February 2017