"Farfrae was footing a quaint little dance with Elizabeth Jane" by Robert Barnes. Plate 7, Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge, which appeared in The Graphic, 13 February 1886
Note the careful detailing in this illustration — for example, Farfrae's elegant white trousers with "inset straps" — very much in vogue in the early 1840s, as Vanda Foster indicates in her discussion of an 1842 portrait in A Visual History of Costume.
Barnes excelled at juvenile figures, as is evident in his rendering of Elizabeth-Jane: scarce eighteen, she is very fetching in both face and figure, as one might expect from reading Hardy's novel, although her head seems to suggest little of the intellectual striving with which Hardy invests her. Even if Barnes' The Mayor of Casterbridge illustrations do reveal a certain absence of imagination, his women here do not run to the "bovine type of beauty" for which Reid criticizes Barnes. The illustrations reveal that Barnes was very much at home in the rural, working-class idiom, as in this scene Farfrae and Elizabeth are surrounded by those local characters that appear in the background elsewhere in his illustrated programme for the novel, as in Hardy's text.
Let us now examine the illustration in relation to Hardy's text. The moment illustrated is significant in that Farfrae's popularity as the active and inventive young foreigner who has cleaned up Henchard's grain and provided an ingeniously hung pavilion tent for a dance to celebrate "a national event" (perhaps Queen Victoria's wedding in February 1840) prompts Henchard to give him notice just afterward. In the romantic aspect of the novel's plot, the scene connects Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane in the public mind. Henchard's entertainments -- involving agricultural feats of skill, a free public tea and dance (le thé dansant was introduced in 1845) -- have failed because of six hours of unexpected rain. Mr. and Mrs. Henchard and their daughter wander over to the West Walk to investigate Farfrae's alternative, "undercover" entertainment.
First, in Hardy's text we see the young Scot in the character of a nimble-footed, kilted dancer of the Highland Fling, a performance suggestive of mating rituals in the animal kingdom. Since Farfrae has developed the persona of a "usually sedate," sober businessman, we like the crowd and Henchard (whose perspective the plate gives us) are surprised to witness him "flinging himself about and spinning to the tune." While Henchard is prompted to laugh at the alteration that the music has effected in his manager, the female spectators are lost in "immense admiration." Now a new dance, presumably a figure in which the crowd can join, is proposed; "Donald . . . disappear[s] for a time to return in his natural garments. . . ." although he has his choice of partners, by the time we spot Farfrae again he is
footing a quaint little dance with Elizabeth-Jane -- an old country thing, the only one she knew, and though he considerably toned down his movements to suit her demurer gait, the pattern of the shining nails in the soles of his boots became familiar to the eyes of ever bystander. The tune had enticed her into it; being a tune of a busy, vaulting, leaping sort -- some low notes on the silver string of each fiddle, then a skipping on the small, like running up and down ladders -- "Miss M'Leod of Ayr" was its name, so Mr. Farfrae had said, and that it was very popular in his own country.
Henchard discharges Farfrae in a fit of pique occasioned by by-standers' remarks about how the manager has bested the master, then feels remorse, and finally concern that Farfrae has taken this notice seriously -- the same emotional pattern we witnessed years before in the furmity vendor's tent at Weydon-Priors. At the suggestion of "a nodding acquaintance" Elizabeth-Jane misinterprets Henchard's anger as originating in her public dancing: "As the Mayor's step-daughter, she learnt, she had not been quite in her place in treading a measure amid such a mixed throng as filled the dancing pavilion."
The aftermath of the dance scene, then, marks a change in the relationships between Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae, and between Farfrae and Henchard; publicly, Elizabeth-Jane and Farfrae are seen in a new light -- she as a young socialite, he as an enterprising and dashing figure out of the romances of Sir Walter Scott. How well does Barnes convey the significance of the moment he has so wisely chosen to illustrate?
although the illumination provided by the gas-jet seems a little fanciful, the pavement beneath the dancers' feet and the canvas tarpaulins draped a few feet above their heads show that the artist has attempted to realize the text's word-picture. Since a row of bonneted women (many of them eying Farfrae enviously) flanks Elizabeth-Jane and since the woman at the top (right) is holding her skirt in preparation for taking her turn, we can assume that Barnes has stationed us on the male side of the country dance known as "Miss McLeod's Reel," which was usually footed to the tune of the same name. Hardy designates the tune "Miss M'Leod of Ayr," perhaps to imply that the tune and dance originated in Ayreshire, the home of Scotland's national poet, Robbie Burns. In The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, Florence Emily Hardy records that this olds dance tune was one of her husband's favourites when he was a child, fixing the date for the action of the novel to the 1840s. She describes it as "an old Scotch tune to which Burns may have danced" (18). Thus, since this choice of music is presumably Farfrae's, it further establishes his Romantic nature.
Top hats and workmen's caps behind Farfrae imply that there is a line of male dancers going off the frame. Presumably, Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane have already come down centre, and are now in the process of turning as a couple on four beats before dividing and yielding the top to another set of partners. The dark dresses, buxom figures, and full faces of the female chorus are in sharp contrast to Elizabeth-Jane's white, diaphanous dress (connecting her visually to Farfrae in his immaculate white trousers); Barnes heightens the contrast by making her thin-necked and long-faced, and by giving her no bonnet. The details of Farfrae's formal dress -- swallow-tail, cut-away coat, vest, top hat, and stirrup-pants -- are all perfectly consistent with the period evoked by the novel. While Farfrae seems careful and controlled in the precision of his movements, Elizabeth-Jane seems abstracted or withdrawn, almost dancing within herself. Thus, while the caption focuses on her partner (as is the case in the printed text), the artist is focussing on the novel's heroine, who possesses a pensive visage in contrast to her elegant dress and complementary Indian shawl, an imported commodity indicative of the wearer's social standing. although, like Margery, Elizabeth-Jane is a new-comer to such fashion, she carries herself easily and without embarrassment, but lets Farfrae take the initiative.
Last modified 28 July 2001