"Hands Were Loosening His Neckerchief" by Helen Patterson Allingham, an illustration for Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd Cornhill Magazine (February 1874), Plate 1 [Decorative initial "W" for this chapter]. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. ]
Since the opening chapter describes young Farmer Oak but since the opening vignette and plate also show a young woman, the reader reasonably assumes that the two will meet in the accompanying letter-press. The plate's caption "Hands Were Loosening His Neckerchief" and the youth's comatose condition suggest that the young woman is responding to a medical emergency, although, in spite of her overturned pail (which is apparently full in the vignette, suggesting that the plate is illustrating an incident later than that illustrated by the vignette), the woman's demeanour betrays neither inner turmoil nor panic. That the interior of Oak's hut is the backdrop in the plate is confirmed by the presence in Chapter 2 of "the small stove, where a can of milk was simmering" (p. 8). The darkness beyond the door implies that Oak has succumbed to some malady during the hours of the night, when help is less likely to appear. The precise nature of the affliction is not delineated, forcing the reader to wait to learn the cause until the plate's moment is realised in the letter-press. Hardy defers that realisation by introducing the young woman and her aunt, who are up in the middle of the night attending to their cow Daisy and her new-born calf.
As Gabriel has not yet been able "to get a distinct view of her countenance" (p. 10), the reader is in the position to judge whether Bathsheba's beauty (as Paterson has interpreted it) is worthy of the shepherd's interest; however, neither the plate nor the vignette suggests her strength of character, so clearly implied by her determination to ride the horse using a man's saddle (which posture foreshadows her later becoming her own estate-manager). In short, the artist has failed to communicate Bathsheba's adolescent independence and mirthful teasing so evident in the proposal scene, but has admirably captured the girl's classic facial features in the plate and her "graceful" (p. 9) deportment and "bright air and manner" (p. 12) in the vignette. Both Hardy's narrator (reading Gabriel's thoughts at the bottom of page 3) and turn-pike keeper describe Bathsheba as "handsome" rather than "pretty" (the adjective which Troy uses in Ch. 41 to describe Fanny Robin), but both imply that the heroine is immature, the former by terming her a "girl" and the latter a "maid." In the accompanying illustrations, she is dressed in the high-necked fashion Hardy describes as appropriate to a modest country-raised young woman of respectable, middle-class origins; furthermore, Paterson's visuals establish her "graceful and proportionate figure" (p. 12), although she appears thinner in the vignette. The plate conveys the tenderness of her manner and fineness of her skin, but displaces mirth with solemnity in depicting her solicitousness.
Last modified 12 July 2007