On the Cliffs
James Abbott Pasquier
Tinsley's Magazine, Vol. XI, chapters VI-VIII, p. 60
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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"On the Cliffs" is a condensed version of "they both followed an irregular path, which ultimately terminated upon a flat ledge passing round the face of a huge blue-black rock at a height about midway between the sea and the topmost verge" from serial chapter VIII (the last of three in the October 1872 instalment). Eleven sea-birds rather than the "three or four score" of the letter-press wheel and circle about the right-hand margin, but it is Elfride rather than they which engage Stephen Smith's attention in Pasquier's second plate. The danger of the cliff-side path is subtly suggested by the tiny sail in the lower-right-hand corner. The unseen beach and the English Channel lie far below the young couple, but, leading the way, Elfride seems quite unconcerned about the dizzying height as she coquettishly tosses her head and glances back at her companion.
Although she is still unsure about the depth of his amorous protestations (a doubt created by the as-yet-unexplained "shadow phenomenon" at Endelstow House in Ch. VI), Elfride in both plate and letter-press seems elated by the conviction that she is "ruling a heart with absolute despotism for the first time in her life" (Ch. VII). With the callow, admiring youth here she is supremely self-confident and in control, commanding Stephen as she did her pony Pansy as they traversed the fields to the sea-cliffs. Her loose ringlets suggest her freedom from decorum, and we note the couple are unaccompanied by a chaperone.
At the boundary of the fields nearest the sea she expressed a wish to dismount. The horse was tied to a post, and they both followed an irregular path, which ultimately terminated upon a flat ledge passing round the face of the huge blue-black rock at a height about midway between the sea and the topmost verge. There, far beneath and before them, lay the everlasting stretch of ocean; there, upon detached rocks, were white screaming gulls, seeming everintending to settle, and yet always passing on. Right and left ranked the toothed and zigzag line of storm-torn heights, forming the series which culminated in the one beneath their feet. [Ch. VII]
While the open sky highlights Elfride's form, Stephen's is framed by the "tempting alcove"; behind him, presumably, is the natural seat which Hardy describes. Pasquier has depicted Elfride in a fashionable "riding-habit" (Ch. VII), complete with gloves and riding-crop, details given in the text, but gives no indication of the "very favourite darling" earrings that motivate her conduct here and later with Knight. As in the third plate, Stephen wears a business suit (thus Pasquier distinguishes him from Knight, who as a lawyer wears a frock-coat even when bird-watching in plate six). Given no description of Stephen's clothing by Hardy, Pasquier has equipped the cliff-stroller out of his own imagination: the walking stick and the binoculars in their leather case are probable, but the tropical pith-helmet is overdone, especially considering that he is unlikely to have brought such an article with him from London or borrowed one from the parsonage.
This is one of the few plates (the other being the sixth) that particularize the Cornish setting, and Jackson has noted "a remarkable resemblance . . . between [the first two] views of Elfride Swancourt and the available pictures of the young Miss Gifford" (Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy, 32), his fiancée in Cornwall, suggesting that Hardy provided a sketch upon which Pasquier based this illustration.
Last modified 20 June 2003