"'I wish he was mine!' she murmured."
Wal Paget (1863-1935)
lithograph dropped into the letter-press
English Illustrated Magazine (December 1891): 283.
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.]
It may well be supposed that Anna's own feelings had not been quite in accord with these generous expressions; but the mistress’s judgment had ruled, and Anna had acquiesced. "All I want is that niceness you can so well put into your letters, my dear, dear mistress, and that I can't for the life o' me make up out of my own head; though I mean the same thing and feel it exactly when you've written it down!"
When the letter had been sent off, and Edith Harnham was left alone, she would bow herself on the back of her chair and weep.
"I wish it was mine — I wish it was!" she murmured. "Yet how can I say such a wicked thing!" — Chapter 4, p. 284.
Two of Paget's lithographs are individual studies, the second showing a detached and comfortable Charles Raye perusing "the most charming epistle" (280) in his London chambers, and in her respectable, upper-middle-class parlour in Melchester the lonely Edith Harnham, crying in anguish at her writing desk, just having responded to one of Raye's letters: "she would bow herself on the back of her chair and weep" (284), not so much a detached moment as a repeated action over time. In fact, the poses of the two correspondents complement one another in the narrative-pictorial sequence as the companion lithographs underscore their very different reactions to engaging in the long-distance relationship via the penny post. Although initially guileful in his seduction of Anna, he is blissfully ignorant of the true nature of the relationship that he is building through his letter-writing. In contrast to Raye's Jove-like detachment, Edith Harnham is wracked by guilt and longing; indeed, only a careful reading of the accompanying text reveals that the image of the black-clad woman with the serviceable cap is the widow in mourning, and not the young housemaid, so that the reader is as easily misled by appearances as Charles Raye, who, as as lawyer ought to be more careful in trusting to appearances and not interrogating the documents he receives as proof of Anna's worthiness as his wife. Significantly, Hardy revised the impassioned utterance from "'I wish he was mine!' to "'I wish it [that is, the letter she has just posted] was mine!' An alternate interpretation may involve the childless widow's wishing that Anna's unborn baby were hers.
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 11 February 2017