A Perplexing Sight
James Abbott Pasquier
Tinsley's Magazine, Vol. XI, chapters I-V, p. 43
Illustration for Thomas Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes
11.4 cm wide and approximately 17.6 cm high
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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First Instalment: September (Vol. XI, chapters I-V) [p. 43]: "A Perplexing Sight" is a direct quotation from serial chapter V (the last of five in the September 1872 instalment). All other captions are presumably by Pasquier.
A tantalizing reference to a "Sketch enclosed for plate in case you wish to proceed with it at once" in the letter of 27 July 1872 from Hardy to his publisher, William Tinsley, prompted Arlene M. Jackson to speculate that the novelist supplied sketches other than those for the September and October instalments (the latter mentioned in a letter to Tinsley from the St. Juliot Rectory, Boscastle, dated 30 August) involving the St. Juliot setting and the characters since the first six plates seem stronger in both respects than the remaining five:
The visual power of the first five, possibly six, of the plates contrasted to the flatness of the later ones lends support to Richard Purdy's suggestion [in Thomas Hardy A Bibliographical Study, 1954, pp. 9-10] that Hardy sent more than just the two early sketches as a guide to his illustrator. [Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy, p. 73]
The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, Vol. One: 1840-1892 establish only that Hardy provided sketches for the first two parts, and do not indicate either that Hardy collaborated with the artist or that the pair even corresponded. The architectural elements in the first illustration and the cliff-side pathway in the second are probably the chief contributions of the novelist to the program of illustration.
However, Hardy's singling out these episodes, both of which occur late in their respective instalments, suggests that he was ware of the suspense-building possibilities of illustrations in serial magazine fiction and that from the start of his career as a professional writer he had a strong instinctive sense of which scenes from his letter-press would make interesting plates that reveal the chief characters through their actions. Stephen's mysterious tryst at Lord Luxellian's with the shadowing woman, for example, makes the reader (as well as Elfride) ponder what the young man is hiding and why, and anticipate that his conduct will be explained in the subsequent instalment (which, of course, the serial reader must take steps to purchase). That the woman on the shade does not constitute a previous romantic attachment is clarified only when Stephen visits his parents' cottage at the end of Ch. VII, and the inevitable confession that the "lady" around whom Stephen had placed her cloak at Endelstow House is his mother occurs only in the closing pages of the second instalment. Thus, Hardy's choice of subject for the September plate demonstrates that he had intuitively hit upon Wilkie Collins's formula for successful fiction: "Make 'em, make 'em cry, make 'em wait."
In the September instalment, Stephen, Elfride, and Rev. Swancourt have driven over to Endelstow so that the parson can locate and forward to Lord Luxellian in London some important papers that the local aristocrat had intended to take with him but had inadvertently forgotten to pack. This mysterious tryst depicted in the plate (supplementing the enigma of Stephen's rather peculiar Latin pronunciation) is depicted at the opening of the September edition of Tinsley's Monthly Magazine, but is not textually realized until the last page of that instalment. Thus, Hardy leaves the reader for the better part of two episodes of this "Romance " wondering about the development of a triangle involving the fanciful heroine, the handsome young architect, and another female. Those familiar with the story will recall that Stephen Smith, agent of a London architect named Walter Hewby (whose offices are located at Percy-place, Charing-Cross) in order to effect architectural studies of the dilapidated St. Agnes's Church with a view to providing cost estimates for its restoration (all details suggestive of the novelist's March 1870 visit to St. Juliot, Cornwall, where he met his future wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, sister-in-law of the rector, Caddell Holder). Strangely, when Elfride confronts him about what she has seen at Endelstow, Stephen denies even knowing anybody at the country house, despite the fact that he already knew prior to the visit that the Luxellian mansion contained "a few good pictures."
Pasquier has highlighted the perplexity of the Hardy's heroine in order to heighten the air of mystery surrounding the handsome visitor. The artist through this plate creates sympathy for Elfride's awkward position by implying that she is falling in love with a young man already involved in an affair. The plate's depiction of Elfride as fashionably dressed and attractive would have enabled young female London readers to identify with her, although she is a provincial unfamiliar with the social life of the metropolis. Although her coiffure is not in the style of London, she is dressed in the fashion of the 1860s, the story's opening date being given by a letter from Stephen's employer (February 1864) to Reverend Swancourt. Although Hardy specifies her luxuriant, flowing tresses (compare Elfride in plate one to early photographs of Emma Hardy), her umbrella and fur muff, on the other hand, are not mentioned in the letter-press. Nor does Hardy describe the stone balustrade that separates Elfride from the background shrubbery and the wing of the mansion.
As in a stage scene, Elfride has entered left and looks right at the silhouettes on the shade, reinforcing the story's theatrical qualities and melodramatic plotting. Pasquier has rendered her "perplexity" (we note that this is the only caption based on a direct quotation, suggesting that the wording of the caption, too, may have been Hardy's idea) subtly rather than overtly, but has cast the scene in such shadow as to imply an early evening rather than late afternoon setting. That her response to the scene is the subject and her character the focal point Pasquier makes plain: we do not have a clear depiction of Stephen until the second instalment, and, whereas she is prominent in ten of the eleven plates in the series, (discounting his titillating shadow in the initial illustration) Stephen appears in only four while his rival, Knight, is in five. In his emphasis on Elfride Pasquier appears to be presenting an interpretation of the novel's focus that is the opposite of that given by Arthur Amos:
The first thing we notice about the styory is that each of the characters is given equal weight. we side with Elfride, Stephen, and Knight equally; thus it is virtually impossible to takeany one of these characters to be the novel's protagonist. 
Since Pasquier's illustrations must be regarded as having at least some authorial sanction, we can assume that his emphasis on Stephen's responses and feelings early in the novel, on Henry Knight's ignorance of Elfride's "sexual history" in the latter part of the novel, and on the artist's consistently depicting Elfride as the central character throughout the novel reflects not merely Hardy's intention but also the common reading of the novel as being largely Elfride's story when A Pair of Blue Eyes (the title clearly referring to her and not her suitors) appeared in serial.
Amos, Arthur K. "Accident and Fate: The Possibility of Action in Pair of Blue Eyes." English Literature in Transition (1880-1920) 15 (1972) : 158-167.
Last modified 17 July 2003