"It is mine," she said.
Wal Paget (1863-1935)
lithograph dropped into the letter-press
English Illustrated Magazine (December 1891): 277.
Thomas Hardy's "On the Western Circuit," later collected in Life's Little Ironies
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
To return now to the moment at which Anna, at Melchester, had received Raye's letter.
It had been put into her own hand by the postman on his morning rounds. She flushed down to her neck on receipt of it, and turned it over and over. "It is mine?" she said.
"Why, yes, can't you see it is?" said the postman, smiling as he guessed the nature of the document and the cause of the confusion.
"O yes, of course!" replied Anna, looking at the letter, forcedly tittering, and blushing still more.
Her look of embarrassment did not leave her with the postman's departure. She opened the envelope, kissed its contents, put away the letter in her pocket, and remained musing till her eyes filled with tears. — Chapter 4, p. 281.
The initiating incident in the correspondence which leads to the plot complications is not Raye's walking out with the maid, Anna, but his writing her a letter. Initially, the postman is incredulous that a mere illiterate housemaid should be receiving an envelop postmarked "London." Despite her pivotal position in the love triangle, Paget has shown Anna just this once in his sequence, perhaps in order to avoid the issue of her pregnancy, which is never actually mentioned in the periodical text, although perhaps hinted at in the widow's regarding wanting Raye for herself as "a wicked thing" (284), a self-castigation that makes more sense if his physical intimacy with Anna has resulted in a condition that necessitates marriage. Rather, Paget focuses on the lawyer, shown twice, and the wine-merchant's widow, not a married woman placed in a morally compromising position as in the revised text, and in pronounced mourning.
Throughout the narrative-pictorial sequence embedded in the letter-press, one has a sense of misappropriation, of a character's laying claim (as with Ella's appropriation of "The mantle of Elijah" — the dead poet's mackintosh, and the verses pencilled on the wall that Ella appropriates in "An Imaginative Woman," 1894) to something or someone not properly his or hers. The first plate in Paget's sequence, "'It is mine,' she said" on page 277 in the magazine, anticipating the passage realised, is also habitual in that it depicts Anna's meeting the postman to claim correspondence that comes in answer to letters she herself has not and, indeed, cannot have written. Paget shows the letter-carrier making an interrogative gesture, as if he is incredulous that an envelop bearing a postmark from the metropolis could possibly be directed to a mere illiterate servant-girl from a remote village on the Salisbury Plain. Curiously, the layout artist has inserted the vignetted illustration out of sequence: although it realizes a moment early in the fourth part (bottom, p. 281), it is juxtaposed against the textual moment of Raye's watching Anna and Anna's watching Raye on the merry-go-round at the outset of the story. Thus, the periodical's version of the story telegraphs the correspondence aspect of the plot well before the pair begin to exchange letters. When the readers encounter this initial illustration, they are not aware that Anna is actual incapable of indicting an intelligible piece of prose, since (as Hardy remarks) ever since her husband's death Edith Harnham has been "taking the trouble to educate" (276) her young maid.
Additional Resources on Hardy's Short Stories
Brady, Kristin. The Short Stories of Thomas Hardy. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982.
Cassis, A. F. "A Note on the Structure of Thomas Hardy's Short Stories." Colby Library Quarterly 10 (1974): 287-296.
Gilmartin, Sophie, and Rod Mengham. Thomas Hardy's Shorter Fiction: A Critical Study. Edinburgh: Edinburgh U. P., 2007.
Hardy, Thomas. Life's Little Ironies, A Set of Tales, with Some Colloquial Sketches Entitled "A Few Crusted Characters". Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Fourteen in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, 1894, rpt. 1896.
Hardy, Thomas. "On the Western Circuit." The English Illustrated Magazine. December 1891, pages 275-288.
Jackson, Arlene M. Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981.
Johnson, Trevor. "Illustrated Versions of Hardy's Works: A Checklist, 1872-1992." Thomas Hardy Journal 9, 3 (October, 1993): 32-46.
Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.
Page, Norman. "Hardy Short Stories: A Reconsideration." Studies in Short Fiction 11, 1 (Winter, 1974): 75-84.
Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Macmillan, 1968.
Purdy, Richard L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954, rpt. 1978.
Quinn, Marie A. "Thomas Hardy and the Short Story." Budmouth Essays on Thomas Hardy: Papers Presented at the 1975 Summer School (Dorchester: Thomas Hardy Society, 1976), pp. 74-85.
Ray, Martin. Chapter 22, "'On the Western Circuit'." Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997. Pp. 201-217.
Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.
Last modified 17 March 2018