Does He Really Wish Me To?
Walter Paget (1863-1935)
9 inches high by 5.75 inches wide; 20.3 cm high by 15.1 cm wide
Illustrated London News, 3 December 1892, page 709
Scene from Chapter XXVI, "He Makes a Dash for the Last Incarnation" (top of first column, page 710, in Thomas Hardy's The Pursuit of The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament.
The juxtaposition of textual passage illustrated and the plate "'Does he really wish me to?' she asked" means that the serial reader encountered the illustration upon opening The Illustrated London News for 3 December 1892, and had only to peruse the first short page before arriving at the moment realised in the plate. Thus, the placement of the plate continues the sense of apprehension, of an approaching crisis for Jocelyn in his pursuit in this latest incarnation of the Well-Beloved. Previously, Paget has depicted the adolescent governess in costume reminiscent of her grandmother's some forty years earlier; now, he poses and dresses her in the manner of her own mother in youth when, lamp in hand, she answered forty-year-old Jocelyn's knock at her cottage door in Plate 9. These visual echoes help us to understand Jocelyn's perspective, namely that in wooing and winning Avice III he will be compensating both himself and the Goddess of the Isle, Aphrodite, for his failure to marry either her mother or grandmother.
Thoughtfully, as the girl in profile (not engaging us with her eye, but directing her attention to her mother (not, as in the text, towards the floor) as if Jocelyn really wishes to marry her, Jocelyn turns his gaze away from the women and towards the serial readers. "How do we judge him morally?" may be one interpretation of his out-of-frame glance. Then again, he may be asking us to ponder whether he will be successful. The invalid uneasily is turning on her coach of pain as Jocelyn grasps the chair, probably to assist the girl in sitting beside her mother. This apparently considerate gesture (not given in the letter-press) is one of control, for it represents the sculptor's manipulating and directing the girl's will through his relationship with her mother. When Avice III looks "appealingly" at Jocelyn in the moment after that illustrated, we are not entirely clear as to the nature of her appeal, and Hardy by choosing an essentially dramatic or objective narrative perspective at this point refuses to enlighten us as to young Avice's perspective. Will the girl marry to please her mother, or refuse him to assert her own right to choose?
The arrangement is all the more odd in that Jocelyn and Avice III are speaking through the girl's mother rather than to each other about the marriage. Avice II justifies the disproportionate match primarily on economic grounds: "Come, he is a good man and a clever man and a rich man" (710). Artistic engenuity and moral worth aside (Paget can hardly depict those qualities), Jocelyn is certainly a socially respectable and financially attractive bachelor, as his fashionable, double-breasted, knee-length frock coat (not his usual short lounge-suit jacket) implies; his collar and cravat proclaim him a good catch. Paget seems to be attempting to catch the three figures in the precise moment of the girl's asking her mother, before she turns to Jocelyn but still speaks of him in the third person: "He has never quite said so to me" (710). Reading the remainder of page 710 assures us that Jocelyn does indeed achieve his goal of marrying the girl, but by the moment of the second illustration, "She was holding her handkerchief to her eyes, and then he saw that she was weeping silently" (Plate 20, page 711), we realise that he has probably not attained his chief object, to win her love.
Last modified 22 September 2002