Henry Macbeth-Raeburn's frontispiece Corvsgate Castle is based on the actual Corfe Castle, situated on the Dorset coast, between Swanage and Wareham ("Anglebury," where the novel opens). In the equivalent serial illustration from the Cornhill Magazine, illustrator George Du Maurier does not even show the mediaeval fortress as part of the English Channel backdrop to So Ethelberta went, for the November 1875 instalment. Although highly picturesque, the illustration is not of a site that figures prominently in the novel, since the London "upstairs/downstairs" scenes are balanced against those in the more exotic Rouen, and the Wessex scenes in "Melchester" (Salisbury)and especially at nearby "Knollsea" (Swanage). Perhaps the strongest illustration in the series, however, is a tempestuous seascape, All Before Them Was a Sheet of Whiteness, for the April 1876 instalment. The Macmillan Edition of the Wessex Novels replaced the present illustration with a photograph, so that it appeared only in the simultaneous Harper and Brothers' edition and the Osgood, McIlvaine edition, both 1896. 8.6 cm high by 12.4 cm wide, framed, in Hardy's The Hand of Ethelberta, volume ten of the Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, in seventeen volumes (1895-1897).

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Passages Illustrated

The towers of the notable ruin to be visited rose out of the furthermost shoulder of the upland as she advanced, its site being the slope and crest of a smoothly nibbled mount at the toe of the ridge she had followed. When observing the previous uncertainty of the weather on this side Ethelberta had been led to doubt if the meeting would be held here to-day, and she was now strengthened in her opinion that it would not by the total absence of human figures amid the ruins, though the time of appointment was past. This disposed of another question which had perplexed her: where to find a stable for the ass during the meeting, for she had scarcely liked the idea of facing the whole body of lords and gentlemen upon the animal's back. She now decided to retain her seat, ride round the ruin, and go home again, without troubling further about the movements of the Association or acquaintance with the members composing it.

Accordingly Ethelberta crossed the bridge over the moat, and rode under the first archway into the outer ward. As she had expected, not a soul was here. The arrow-slits, portcullis-grooves, and staircases met her eye as familiar friends, for in her childhood she had once paid a visit to the spot. Ascending the green incline and through another arch into the second ward, she still pressed on, till at last the ass was unable to clamber an inch further. Here she dismounted, and tying him to a stone which projected like a fang from a raw edge of wall, performed the remainder of the ascent on foot. Once among the towers above, she became so interested in the windy corridors, mildewed dungeons, and the tribe of daws peering invidiously upon her from overhead, that she forgot the flight of time. — Chapter 31, "Knollsea — A Lofty Down — A Ruined Castle," p. 274.

Text associated with the Half-Title and Title-Pages

Thomas Hardy's Works
The Wessex Novels
Volume X.
The Hand of Ethelberta
The "Corvsgate Castle"
of the Story"
Drawn on the spot

"The tower of the notable ruin
​ rose . . . as she advanced, its
​ site being the slope and crest
of a smoothly nibbled mount."
— [Ch. 31, "Knollsea — A Lofty Down — A Ruined Castle"] Page 274.

Commentary

Of all the novels of Thomas Hardy, The Hand of Ethelberta is certainly the joker in the pack.Like so much that is better known in Hardy's work, it fascinates by its very strangeness. Among much that may seem clumsy or fumbling, there are flashes of amazing insight and poetic delicacy. One of these is when the heroine, on her donkey, travels along the ridge of land that bisects the 'Isle' of Purbeck. On one side the landscape is black, menacing; on the other, smiling and sunny. The heroine, at a deep crisis in her life, is totally one with the contradictions of weather. The picture evoked is as haunting as anything in the more famous novels. — Robert Gittings, "Introduction," p. 15.

The "Corvsgate" Castle of Hardy's Wessex, at which Ethelberta attends a meeting of the Imperial Archaeological Association, is in fact the noble ruin of Corfe Castle, a twelfth-century donjon and curtain wall; the Gloriette in the inner ward and the west bailey both date from the reign of King John. The picturesqueness of the ruin is largely the result of damage done principally during the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century. Here Ethelberta struggles to keep up appearances, dissociating herself from the rented donkey when she encounters the wealthy and aristocratic society members who have recently arrived in their carriages, especially her suitors, Neigh and Lord Mountclere. Although Macmillan Wessex Edition subsequently replaced the engraved frontispiece with a photograph of the ruined castle, the Hermann Lea black-and-white photograph does not convey Ethelberta Chickerell's impression of the place, which is both redolent with happy childhood memories and adult anxieties resulting from The heroine's trying to "pass" as a lady when she is the child of a butler. The engraving embodies Ethelberta's impressions of the mediaeval site, its shadows of the future complementing the sunnier areas of childhood association.

Bibliography

Hardy, Thomas. The Hand of Ethelberta. Illustrated by George Du Maurier. Cornhill Magazine. July 1875 — May 1876.

Hardy, Thomas. The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters. Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Ten in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine; 1896.

Hardy, Thomas. The Hand of Ethelberta: A Comedy in Chapters. Introduction by Robert Gittings. The New Wessex Edition. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1975.

Jackson, Arlene M. "The Minor Novels." Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981. Pp. 120-129.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.

Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Macmillan, 1968.

Purdy, Richard L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954, rpt. 1978.

Robinson, Denys K. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy.Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1984.

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

Turner, Paul. The Life of Thomas Hardy. A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Vann, J. Don. "The Hand of Ethelberta in Good Words, July 1875—May 1876." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Page 83.

Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.


Last modified 1 February 2017