Bannerhead for Hardy's The Pursuit of The Well-Beloved

Bannerhead for Hardy's The Pursuit of The Well-Beloved. by Walter Paget (1863-1935) from the Illustrated London News, 8 October 1892, page 457 (3.5 inches high by 9 inches wide). Scan courtesy of Trinity College Library, University of Toronto. Caption and commentary by Philip V. Allingham.

Commentary

edetail of plate 1

Thomas Hardy published The Well-Beloved as volume seventeen in the Osgood-McIlvaine "Wessex Novels" format on 16 March 1897. This volume represents a substantially revised version of the text that ran serially with twenty-four illustrations and a running bannerhead in The Illustrated London News from 8 October through 17 December 1892 in twelve parts of three folio pages each. Significantly, Hardy, who shortened the title from the original The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved, considerably revised the opening and the closing of the serial text (see Purdy, pp. 93-94). In no volume edition to date have the serial illustrations by Walter Paget appeared. Were they to do so, modern readers would still miss the full intention of the bannerhead since the word "Pursuit" no longer figures in the title. Nor would such readers be likely to make the initial connection between Walter Paget's kneeling figure of Jocelyn Pearston and the blind, groping pursuer of the bannerhead on page 425 of the ILN since modern editions do not drop illustration into text, and could not reproduce the effect of the large-scale plates on the folio-size pages of The Illustrated London News.

The decorative headpiece was the same for each instalment, and depicted a blindfolded male figure reaching out toward three beautiful but elusive women, all four figures draped in the costuming of ancient Greece. The headpiece thus reflects the pursuit of the ideal, the frustration of the quest, and possibly even the ironic possibilities of Hardy's serial text. [Jackson, 58].

Bannerhead detail

Only one figure is in fact clothed: the blindfolded, winged, male pursuer whose partially unwrapped toga appears to impede his progress as he reaches forward; the five women (each with different hair colours) appear to be wearing nothing. In keeping with the word "sketch," all we see is the women's heads and the back, shoulder, and arm of the darkest-haired young woman to the left, closest to the word. The nudity not only celebrates the Greek emphasis on physical beauty but also implies the sexual nature of Jocelyn's "Pursuit." Although the title to the right proclaims one "Well-Beloved," the females immediately beneath the word indicate that for the Eros-winged pursuer there will be a number of "beloveds," and that their responses to his reaching for them will vary from pride (the centre figure, probably Marcia), to deceit (the left-hand figure, possibly Avice II), to cold-shouldered rejection (the right-hand figure -- Nichola Pine-Avon?). The only re-iterations of the classical forms of the bannerhead occur in plates 6 and 14, both set in the sculptor's studio; nevertheless, since Pearston's figure occurs in all but one of the twenty-four large-scale illustrations, the serial reader would have easily connected the blindfolded male of the bannerhead and the story's protagonist.

The pursuer's being blindfolded, his being encumbered by his toga, his blindly groping towards the group in the background, and his wings are all remarkable. That the pursuer is impeded by his toga virilis may imply that a sense of adult responsibility and practicality would prevent the pursuit of the phantasma. The titles of the three "parts" ("A Young Man of Twenty," "A Young Man of Forty," and "A Young Man of Fifty-Nine") all point to Jocelyn's preternatural ability to remain young in both body and spirit through his personal and artistic devotion to the quest for the "Well-Beloved." In this, Hardy's protagonist reminds us of such other fin de siècle eternal youths as Barrie's Peter Pan (1904) and, more ominously, Wilde's Dorian Grey (1891). Jocelyn, too, is a boy who resists emotional maturity and avoids long-term commitments for an adolescent and self-centered pursuit of youthful beauty.

A devotee and communicator of physical perfection, a sculptor, Jocelyn attempts to capture and preserve female beauty without respect for female personality; thus, he exemplifies the male attempt to expropriate and control the desired outward feminine form, which he then commodifies to win commissions, fame, and social status. Jane Thomas interprets Hardy's novella as a deliberate subversion of the Ovidian myth of Pygmalion because Hardy, actuated by notions of the New Woman, has the various beloveds assert "Galatea's right to a fully independent existence" (xx). However, the wings with which Paget has equipped his bannerhead characterisation of Jocelyn imply more than erotic desire, speed (the ephemeral nature of his infatuations), and ascent (from being the native of a rugged and remote island to being a sophisticated cosmopolite able to mix with the best elements of society); the wings also recall the prideful fall of Ovid's Icarus. "The legend of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and plunged into the sea, offers a symbolic warning against the hubris that leads us to ignore our own limitations" (Beidermann 39). Despite warnings from his father, Icarus forgot "To fly midway. . . [between] thick saltwater, And . . . the flames of heaven" (Ovid VIII: 221). Not borne down by the cares of maturity, especially of home and family, Jocelyn has pursued his well-beloved on the wings of imagination. At the abrupt cessation of his wild career through the social and artistic heavens, Jocelyn finds himself suddenly aged and impotent after his ordeal in an open boat in The Race on the English Channel. Appropriately, a crash and a concussion terminate his suicidal voyage, subduing his imaginative faculty while enhancing his intellectual capacity — and precipitating the reunion with his aged wife Marcia. He may have been suffering up to that piont in the story from what Dr. Henry A. Murray, terms

an "Icarus complex." The disposition to isolate one's self on a higher plane, while attracting the admiration of others, is not an infrequent pattern of motivation. . . . If individuals of this type are attracted less to the opposite sex than to their own, it is chiefly because they are animated by self-love;therein they are akin to another prototype; they are narcissists. In their autistic fantasies they fly, and their chief anxiety is the dread of falling. [Levin 159]

Appropriately, the only permanent human relationship that Jocelyn cultivates is his friendship with the painter George Somers; and rather than being attracted to a whole woman, the sculptor is attracted to beautiful pieces of the female anatomy.

Through the poses and juxtapositions of the figures and in particular through the blindfold, toga, and wings of the pursuer Paget implants the key aspects of the cautionary tale subliminally in the reader's mind even before he begins to read the letter-press, into which on two of the three pages of each instalment there is a large-scale picture, often partially vignetted and therefore fused to the text, which compels the reader to re-evaluate his interpretation of the figures on the bannerhead in its eleven successive repetitions. Although Hardy's published correspondence is silent on the subject of his involvement in Paget's programme of illustration, one may speculate as to his having offered suggestions (since he had visited the site of the story, Portland Island, in 1890), especially for the highly thematic and allegorical bannerhead.

References

Beidermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. Trans. James Hulbert. New York & Oxford: Facts on File, 1992.

Hardy, Thomas. The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved. The Illustrated London News, 8 October--17 December, 1892. Pp. 426-775.

Jackson, Arlene M. Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981.

Levin, Harry. The Overreacher. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.

Ovid. The Metamorphoses, trans. Horace Gregory. New York and Scarborough, Ontario: Viking, 1960.

Page, Norman. "Hardy's Forgotten Illustrators." Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Vol. 77, no. 4: 454-463.

Purdy, Richard L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.

Thomas, Jane. "Introduction." Thomas Hardy's The Well-Beloved with The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892). Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 2000. Pp. ix- xxvii.


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