Christian and Damon Dicing: Discussion Questions for Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native

Philip V. Allingham, Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Arthur Hopkins's Seventh Plate for the Belgravia Serialisation of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native (July 1878): "The stakes were won by Wildeve."

Letters from Hardy to Hopkins indicate that the artist had not seen the entire text of the novel, but that, like the public, was seeing it a monthly instalment at a time. Arthur Hopkins (1848-1930) was a pictorial illustrator for Punch, the Illustrated London News, and the Graphic, as well as Belgravia, for which magazine he also illustrated Wilkie Collins. Born and raised a Londoner, Hopkins was living in Kensington when he illustrated The Return of the Native, and so in all likelihood had little knowledge of the countryside and customs of rural Dorset.

A. The dicing scenes between Christian Cantle and Damon Wildeve, and then between Diggory Venn and Wildeve occur in Book Three, Chapters Seven and Eight. What visual clues does Hopkins provide to indicate the precise textual moment he is realizing in the above plate?

B. How does a relatively minor action (Christian's striking his boot on the ground after his initial losses) have serious consequences in the succeeding chapters? How is this chain-of-events related to one of the novel's major themes?

C. Richard G. Lillard in "Irony in Hardy and Conrad" (PMLA 50: 316-322) suggests that "Hardy crystallizes his irony into firmly outlined scenes" (318) such as this one. What is the source of the irony in these dicing scenes? For the complementary dice-games, see pp. 177-185 in the Norton edition of the novel (Book the Third: "The Fascination").

D. According to Richard Corballis in "A Note on Mumming in The Return of the Native" in the fifth Thomas Hardy Year Book (1975), the dice games may be related to the custom whereby, upon entering a house, the mummers would silently engage the occupants in dicing, the dice being loaded in favour of the mummers: "their victory was apparently regarded as a kind of ritual offering to the supernatural powers, designed to ensure future good fortune" (55). Similarly, when Wildeve and Venn play, Venn like the mummers is silent and Wildeve complains repeatedly that the dice are against him. The term "mummery," then thought to be related to the Danish "Momme," signifying "One who wears a mask," might have suggested to Hardy deception, duplicity, and victimization. How are these patterns important in the dice games and elsewhere in the book?

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Last modified 15 September 2003