Arthur Hopkins's Illustrations for the Monthly Serialisation of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native

Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor, Victorian Web; Faculty of Education, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario

According to Reginald Terry in Victorian Popular Fiction, 1860-80 ,

The growth of illustration in periodicals is . . . part of the pattern of popular fiction, although to what extent it increased readership is a moot point. Certainly it rapidly increased after the great era of wood engraving associated with the forties and fifties . . . . [Both book and magazine] . . . publishers found they could provide pictorial accompaniment to text more cheaply as mass production cut costs. Where in the forties and fifties a publisher might see roughly £120 of the £400 spent on a 30,000 run of a monthly serial going for illustrations, by the sixties his costs were cut by one-third. (27)

In Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy (1981), Arlene M. Jackson notes that in the 1860s and 1870s "The illustrations for Belgravia and other magazines . . . often cost £2-3 per square inch for drawing and engraving" (40). Given the relative costs of illustration versus text, it is perhaps not surprising that in its table of contents Belgravia gave prominence to its "List of Illustrations" (e. g., Vol. 34, iv): "The magazine was proud to announce to its audience that artists such as Fred Barnard, Arthur Hopkins, and R. Caldecott were among its contributors" (Jackson 40). Such illustrators of the realistic school helped the reader suspend disbelief and focussed on dramatic moments in the text, avoiding morally 'unsafe' scenes and issues. Thus, the mimetic illustrations tended to make even so daring a story as The Return of the Native , with its obvious parallels to Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856), acceptable to the broad readership that Hardy had to address if he were to remain a professional writer of prose and turn his back forever on architecture.

Having had his manuscript of The Return of the Native rejected by the prestigious Cornhill , which had carried the pastoral Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874 and which from its inception in 1860 had published such prominent writers Thackeray and Trollope, the even more illustrious Blackwood's and even its rival, Temple Bar , Hardy (wishing to avoid Tinsley's Magazine , which in 1872 had published A Pair of Blue Eyes ) now tried Belgravia, A Magazine of Fashion and Amusement (established in 1866). Dalziel notes

the incongruity of a story about characters described by contemporary reviewers as of "low social position" appearing in a magazine whose pretentious title was intended to attract lower-middle-class readers wishing to move vicariously in fashionable, upper-class society . . . . (86)

Although by 1870 the British reading public by Terry's estimate numbered perhaps 200,000, Hardy had had little success in marketing his early novels until he had serialised Far From the Madding Crowd , which like many other Hardy stories bears striking resemblance in some respects (including bigamy, illegitimacy, and fraud) to the sensation novels of M. E. Braddon (who with her husband, John Maxwell, edited Belgravia ) and James Payne (whose By Prory ran in Belgravia in 1877). However, by 1888 Mudie's Catalogue listed eleven titles of Thomas Hardy, a number of works equal to those of George Meredith‹a respectable showing, though well behind R. Ballantyne's 39 titles. One may well wonder to what extent Hardy's being, as he once remarked to Cornhill editor Leslie Stephen, "a good hand at a serial" (letter, 18 February 1874) helped boost his popularity. Certainly being published in Belgravia , which also brought out in serial such works of Collins as The Haunted Hotel (like The Return of the Native , in 1878), must have led to his popular acceptance as an entertaining as opposed to a merely instructive writer.

And an important part of that appeal to a mass readership must have been the illustrations accompanying the dozen or more serial instalments of novels running in Belgravia . As Meisel observes in Realizations (1983), these monthly illustrations must have "helped immensely to bridge the intervals . . . , and found a use, during the accumulation of monthly parts . . . , as a handy aide-mémoire" (53). The image is far more lasting, in fact, than the momentary impressions of scene and character derived from the initial reading, and may connote more than the text itself denoted. "The collaboration of picture and text in the art of the novel is thus ultimately an attribute of style [i. e., the artist's interpretation of the text], operating as a presence and influence in the language as well as in the narrative organization" (Meisel 56).

These pictorial influences, however, have been weighed by only a handful of Hardy's modern critics, who have experienced his novels in volume rather than magazine format. Even when a modern attempts to experience Hardy as his first nineteenth-century readers would have done, reading the chapters in their original serial groupings and pausing to reflect and anticipate as the magazine reader would have done, without the illustrations that initial reading cannot be recreated. The difference between a part-reading in volume and an authentic serial reading is that the illustrations, published usually as frontispieces (in the case of The Mayor of Casterbridge in The Graphic for the first twenty weeks of 1886) or to face a particular page, condition the reader's response to the text, causing him to compare 'word- picture' to plate. In fact, out of the twelve illustrations for The Return of the Native , eleven are intended to depict specific moments, as the quotations which serve as the picture-titles suggest (the only exception to this rule is the frontispiece for Belgravia ,Volume 35, March 1878, "The reddleman re-reads an old love letter").

Although they set the scene, providing both background details and strong notions about the appearance and behaviours of certain characters, the serial illustrations do not necessarily curtail the imaginative experience. Rather, they fix certain scenes in the mind as benchmarks of the story's action, telegraphing to the reader what one sensitive reader (a graphic artist, whose perception has sometimes in turn been corrected or influenced by that of the writer himself) has felt is memorable in the coming instalment. Then, too, an initial illustration tends to provide the reader with a "realization" (in the sense that Martin Meisel uses the term); that is, the reader, having scene the picture, awaits its arrival in the lines of the text, so that the passage illustrated provides a moment of stasis, of reflection, and possibly even of comparison between the artist's and reader's conceptions the scene. The reader must then mediate between the two images.

The graphic artist therefore was not merely complementing the work of the novelist, but was acting as co-presenter and interpreter. The collaborative project of an illustrated, serialised story required personal harmony and aesthetic agreement between the two. Whereas much is known about the relationships between certain nineteenth-century collaborative pairs‹for example, between Dickens and his illustrators (particularly Leech, Cruikshank, and the inimitable 'Phiz', Hablot K. Browne) from The Pilgrim Edition of Dickens' collected correspondence‹little is known about the connections between Hardy and his serial illustrators, owing to the limited number of Hardy's letters that have survived. However, the record of each artist's work affords certain clues about the relationship, as in the Christmas mumming scene, which Arthur Hopkins illustrated operating on certain cues that Hardy had provided. In the absence of information that would reveal the extent of collaboration between an illustrator and a novelist, one is forced to examine the relationships between the text (as published serially) and the accompanying pictures, just as the Victorian readers of such magazines as The Belgravia and The Graphic would.

At the time of his brief collaboration with Hardy, Hopkins (1848-1930) was living at Notting Hill. In 1875 he had exhibited his first painting, "The Mowers," at The Royal Academy; there followed "The Call to Supper" (1876), "The Quay," and "The Plough" (1877). "Though still a relative newcomer at the time when Chatto and Windus first commissioned work from him in 1877, he had already established a reputation through his contributions to such leading periodicals as the Cornhill, Good Words , the Graphic , and the Illustrated London News " (Dalziel 88). An admirer of John Everett Millais, Hopkins possessed both the dramatic flair predilection for depicting scenes from country life that the illustrations for Hardy's novel would require. Jackson asserts that "he was not personally selected by Hardy but received the commission by virtue of his position as staff illustrator for Belgravia " (40). Since Hopkins has only one plate in volume 34 of Belgravia prior to the start of the Hardy novel, he was likely working on projects for other publications earlier in 1877. It is possible that the work he showed in 1878, "The Apple Loft," is related to his April, 1878, illustration for The Return of The Native , in which he depicts a melancholy Thomasin in just such a location. Hardy wrote Hopkins that he thought that illustration particularly good.

The letters from Thomas Hardy to Hopkins in his capacity as Belgravia 's illustrator (8 and 20 February, 1878; see The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy , I: 52-5) reveal that the artist was not familiar with the entire text of The Return of the Native, but was having to work with one instalment at a time. Hardy thus felt it necessary to explain to the artist the main threads of the plot and the relationships between the principal characters, and to provide sketches of a mummer's clothing and staff, which the artist subsequently employed to revise the May illustration, to which Hardy's second letter reacts. "I am glad to receive a letter from you," Hardy wrote Hopkins on February 8th, "for it is more satisfactory when artist & author are in correspondence" ( Letters I: 52). Consequently, even if Hopkins was hardly playing Phiz to Hardy's Boz, the two were in a collaborative relationship, although undoubtedly one arranged not by themselves, but by the co-editors of Belgravia .

The Illustrations in Detail

Works Consulted

Dalziel, Pamela. "Anxieties of Representation: The Serial Illustrations of Hardy's The Return of the Native." Nineteenth-Century Literature 51, 1 (June, 1996): 84-110.

Graves, Algernon. The Royal Academy of Art, A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904 . London: Henry Graves and George Bell, 1905. Rpt. Kingsmead Reprints, 1970. Vol. 2.

Hardy, Thomas. The Return of the Native. Belgravia (London) vols. 34-37. Rpt. in Norton Critical Editions, ed. James Gindin. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969.

Houfe, Simon. The Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists 1800-1914 . Woodbridge, Suffolk: Baron and Antique Collectors' Club, 1978.

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

Mallalieu, H. L. The Dictionary of British Watercolour Artists up to 1920 . 2nd ed.Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1986. Vol. 1--The Text.

Meisel, Martin. Realizations: Narrative, Pictorial, and Theatrical Arts in Nineteenth-Century England . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Nodelman, Perry. First Words About Pictures . Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Purdy, Richard Little, and Millgate, Michael, eds. The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy . Oxford: Clarendon, 1978. Vol. 1 (1840-1892).

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of The Sixties . London: Faber and Gwyer, 1928. Rpt. as Illustrators of the Eighteen Sixties (New York: Dover, 1975) 269.

Samuels, Peggy and Harold. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West . Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1976.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Hardy . London: Bloomsbury, 1994.

Terry, Reginald C. Victorian Popular Fiction 1860-80 . London: Macmillan, 1983.

Waters, Grant M. Dictionary of British Artists Working 1900-1950 . Eastbourne: Eastbourne Fine Art, 1975.

Who Was Who . London: Adam and Charles Black, 1941. Vol. 3 (1929-1940) 662.

Wood, Christopher. Dictionary of Victorian Painters . Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1978. 2nd ed.


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Last modified 28 November 2004