Illustration for George Meredith's The Adventures of Harry Richmond. George du Maurier (1834-1896). The Cornhill Magazine, 1870/1, rpt. in The Memorial Edition of Meredith's works, Vol. IX, Ch. 18, facing p. 208. ©The British Library. All Rights Reserved (shelf mark, 2344.c-d). Photocopy, caption and commentary by Jacqueline Banerjee
No illustration could ever quite do justice to Richmond Roy, the extraordinary father-figure whose presence dominates The Adventures of Harry Richmond. This is because he looms so very large in this Bildungsroman, seen throughout as his son sees him, diminishing only gradually as Harry gains in years and wisdom. The process is far from complete here.
In this scene, Harry and his schoolfellow Gus Temple are ensconced with Richmond in a "long saloon ornamented with stags' horns and instruments of the chase, tusks of boars, spear-staves, boar-knives, and silver horns," in the margravine's "beautiful villa" in the little German principality of Sarkeld (Ch. 18, 203). Their immediate surroundings suggest both Richmond's gentlemanly pretensions, and, more specifically, Harry's long pursuit of his elusive father. He had tracked him down at last after having been abandoned by him in early childhood, when he had been left, through his lessons, playtimes and in bed, mentally "hunting [his] father in an unknown country" (Ch. 5, 51).
Now that Harry's horizons have started to broaden, he can see his father somewhat more clearly. He is beginning to analyse, too, what he finds so affecting in him:
I used as a little fellow to think him larger than he really was, but he was of good size, inclined to be stout; his eyes were grey, rather prominent, and his forehead sloped from arched eyebrows. So conversational were his eyes and brows that he could persuade you to imagine that he was carrying on a dialogue without opening his mouth. His voice was charmingly clear; his laughter confident, fresh, catching, the outburst of his very self, as laughter should be. Other sounds of laughter were like echoes. [Ch. 18, 209]
There is only a touch here of Meredith's hunting symbolism, in the array of pointed implements beside the screen in the backround. But Du Maurier has caught the physical aspects of Richmond's appearance very well. More importantly he has also caught the way he begins to exert all his old charm over his son. The focus is on his relaxed, indolent, supremely assured pose, his fine pair of legs stretched out elegantly so as to occupy more than half the foreground. With his characteristic panache, Richmond handles the guitar like a showman, seeming transported by his own music although he has merely "flipped a string" and is strumming the instrument idly. He is nothing if not a performer. And Harry is the ideal audience. He leans forward as he listens, equally rapt, feeling his old "active belief and vivid delight in his presence" come flooding back. Temple, lounging more casually on the back of Harry's chair, also feels a "growing admiration of him" (Ch.18, 208).
All this comes in the wake of Richmond's latest, most daring piece of showmanship. He had impersonated a statue commissioned at short notice by the margravine in memory of her great ancestor, Prince Albrecht. It was a role in which Richmond had greatly fancied himself: "The wonder of it was my magificent resemblance to the defunct," he tells Harry proudly (Ch. 18, 210). Indeed, he had carried it off triumphantly until his surprise at seeing Harry at the unveiling made him break his pose, dismount from the bronze horse (it was an equestrian statue), and reveal the subterfuge. He is now in disgrace, and must leave forthwith. Since, uniquely among Meredith's novels, this is a first-person narrative, we learn that the moment he goes off to pack, some of his hold over his son loosens: "Strange to say, I lost the links of my familiarity with him when he left us on a short visit to his trunks and portmanteaux, and had to lean on Temple" (Ch. 18, 209). Thus du Maurier has seized on a special moment of rapport which does not last, but gives way to more confused and disturbing feelings. Harry undergoes a sort of deliquescence. As the relationship begins to disintegrate further, Harry must find his own purpose, his own identity, and above all learn to stand on his own two feet.