Troy advanced into the middle

Plate 12 for the December 1874 installment of the Cornhill Magazine serialization of Hardy's novel.

The final full-page plate, captioned "Troy next advanced into the middle of the room, took off his cap" (facing page 641), illustrates the climactic moment in Ch. 53 when Troy, presumed dead for over a year, reappears to claim his wife (and his former identity) and simultaneously frustrate Boldwood's designs: "Troy next advanced into the middle of the room, took off his cap, turned down his coat collar, and looked Boldwood in the face" (p. 655)--the dash in the caption is not textual, but offers a visual and grammatical clue to the narrative significance of what comes next, heightening the suspense as the picture prepares the reader fourteen pages earlier for the climactic elimination of both Troy and Boldwood as Gabriel's romantic rivals in the melodramatic aspect of the novel.

Exemplifying the pastoral aspect, Paterson-Allingham' s initial letter vignette takes us beyond the climatic confrontation of mighty opposites to the tale's dénouément, the secretive wedding of the mistress of Upper Weatherbury Farm and her estate manager, although to learn the identities of those under the umbrellas we shall have to read to the end of the instalment: "Ten minutes later two large umbrellas might have been seen moving from the same door [Bathsheba's], and through the mist along the road to the church. The distance was not more than a hundred yards, and these two sensible persons deemed it unnecessary to drive" (p. 672). The vignette is delightfully ambiguous as the walkers' identities and the nature of the service they are about to attend at the country church in the background, its tombstones implying a funeral rather than a wedding.

Sartorially every inch the gentleman-farmer in the April plate, Boldwood there is tentative and awkward as he chats with Bathsheba, in contrast to rakish appearances of Sergeant Frank Troy in June and August. Barely glimpsed in the July plate, in the August plate Boldwood seethes with anger at Troy's duplicity, though the farmer's enraged face and form are dimly discerned in the background. However, in the climactic December plate, Boldwood -- ironically, as yet unaware of the newcomer's identity despite the fact that others in the room have discovered it -- exudes affability and self-control. Paterson-Allingham has captured the very instant when his extreme jealousy will transform him from host to killer, plunging his fortunes from their zenith to their nadir. Even as he magisterially gestures for the stranger to "drain a Christmas beaker with us " (655), the servant holding the tray and many other members of the company, undoubtedly cued by rumours current in the town, have recognized Troy, and now watch spellbound as he reveals his face to his arch-enemy. Bathsheba at the rear, "her hat and cloak on, ready to go" (654), has paused at the bottom of the staircase, the colour of mourning setting her apart. Her face and form transfixed by the recognition of her husband, she grips the newel-post, but has not yet "sunk down on the lowest stair" (655).

Fashionably dressed in his tailored jacket, a relaxed Boldwood (in the plate as in the text) is standing in front of the fireplace, completely satisfied because he has just extracted from Bathsheba a promise to marry him in less than six years, and she is wearing--for the evening, at least--his engagement ring. Troy is caught in the act of unmasking himself and to deliver that sarcastic, triumphant laugh that will at last trigger Boldwood's recognition and terrible response. The hall, as Hardy's letter-press indicates, is oak-panelled. Above the mantlepiece is "a gun-rack, as is usual in farmhouses, constructed to hold two guns" (656), both firearms being double-barrelled shotguns. In addition to the three principals (Bathsheba, Troy, and Boldwood), the hall contains seven figures, three of whom are definitely females; the woman to the right holding the "beaker" of which Boldwood has spoken is a household servant, perhaps the very one has recently attended Bathsheba, so that Liddy is not depicted, although Hardy indicates she and Bathsheba's manservant are present. Samway, Laban Tall (probably at the left, near the staircase), and William Smallbury have already entered. At Boldwood's foot is a sprig of mistletoe, a large quantity of which, together with ivy and holly, "had been brought from the woods that day, and suspended in the hall." This symbol of seasonal amity will presumably be crushed underfoot as Boldwood attacks Troy. In "a heavy grey overcoat of Noachian cut, with cape and high collar" (p. 647) and travelling cap, Troy is dressed exactly as he was when he left Pennyways at the tavern in Casterbridge. Hardy himself is vague about the number present, merely indicating that at the lower end of the hall is a place "which had been arranged for the workfolk specially" (p. 654); here, just prior to Troy's entrance, a choric group had "conversed in whispers" (p. 654), probably discussing Troy's rumoured re-appearance in the neighbourhood. Even before he has revealed his identity, Troy is the focal point; in "an unearthly silence, all [are] looking towards the new-comer" (p. 655), heightening the reader's expectation of some momentous consequence.

Because not everyone in the room had already recognized Troy, some faces are merely "perplexed" while others stare in wonder. In the centre rear, the grandfather clocks reads nine o'clock, the very hour at which Troy had anticipated he would arrive when, at the close of Ch. 52, he mentions the time as being "Half-past six o'clock" (p. 648). Indeed, so careful has Paterson-Allingham been with the plate's detailing that a careful scrutiny reveals even the tip of Troy's moustache (centre). Boldwood's shadow, halting just behind Troy, subtly connects the rivals, who in the letter-press are so close "that the charge of shot did not spread in the least, but passed like a bullet into [Troy's] body" (p. 656). In the romantic triangle of the three principals in the scene, Troy has been placed at the apex, just right of centre-stage.

The phrase that introduces the climactic moment in the letter-press, "There was an unearthly silence" (655), indicates that Hardy, like his illustrator, is working within the conventions of the tableau. Of the three types enumerated by Martin Meisel in Realizations (1983) -- "the discovery at the head of the scene, the midscene tableau, and the final tableau" (261)--the narrative moment selected by Paterson-Allingham for pictorial realisation is of the second variety. Since "The primary effect of the realization is achieved through recognition" the power of the plate depends upon the effectiveness of the plate' s title (drawn directly from the letter-press), composition, and subject-matter in firing the reader's sense of anticipation by creating a miniature proscenium stage filled with recognizable characters at a point of great tension in the plot. The power of this stage-like scene depends not merely upon the Helen Allingham to represent with great precision the most minute of textual details, such as the broken piece of mistletoe at Boldwood's feet, but equally upon the writer to provide "precise external description and verifiable external detail in the text" (268).

Although it was some six years after the publication of Far from the Madding Crowd that the Bancrofts transformed the proscenium arch of London's Haymarket Theatre into an elaborate, gilt picture-frame, the traditions of the tableau as a realisation of precise narrative moments and illustrations from novels adapted for the stage go back at least to the staging of Sir Walter Scott 's The Antiquary (1816). By date that Hardy composed Far from the Madding Crowd , the end-of-scene tableau had long been established as a staple effect of British melodrama, for in addition to creating a stunning visual effect the "freeze-frame" could be terminated by the dropping of the curtain, and thereby facilitated the exit of all the actors at once. In nineteenth-century British comedy as in the melodrama, the tableau was generally reserved for some moment of highly charged dramatic significance, such as the climactic end of the first act of C. H. Hazlewood's adaptation of M. E. Braddon's popular Sensation Novel Aurora Floyd (1863), which juxtaposes "Aurora between her present husband, John, and her blackmailing first husband, the resurrected James, with her virtue under suspicion and her bigamous secret imperiled" (Meisel 45). Thus, one must regard Paterson-Allingham's selection of the public disclosure of the supposedly deceased husband in the presence of his wife and amatory rival as conditioned by both contemporary stage practice and the plot gambit involving bigamy that was a standard feature of the Sensation Novel of the 1860s. At the very beginning of the twelfth and final instalment, the Helen Allingham reveals to the serial reader the moment immediately prior to the novel's melodramatic climax, Boldwood's shooting Troy in a jealous fit, so unexpected given Boldwood's tranquil demeanour in the plate, and then in the initial-letter vignette telegraphs the novel's dénouément, the long-awaited union of the hero and heroine that befits this example of pastoral romance.

Since the reader of the Victorian magazine serial had to cope month by month separation of the story's constituents, the initial illustrations such as those found in The Cornhill were important as a means of countering the discontinuity by referring the reader to previous as well as forthcoming narrative elements, so that, for example, the eleventh plate for Far from the Madding Crowd takes us back to the close of the tenth instalment in The Cornhill (October, 1874), when sailors providentially rescue Frank Troy from perilous seas, and forward to the doctor's account of Troy's apparent drowning and the uncertain status of the heroine as a widow in the eleventh and twelfth instalments. Unlike Mrs. Henry Wood in her vastly popular East Lynne (1861), Hardy does not long tantalize the reader with the possibility that Bathsheba will unwittingly commit bigamy by re-marrying, and the initial-vignette illustration for November undercuts the possibility of a hasty marriage to Boldwood by showing Bathsheba patiently waiting. Already The Cornhill's editor, Leslie Stephen, had had to caution the novelist about treating Fanny Robin's seduction and pregnancy "gingerly" as he had received complaints from three respectable ladies about an improper passage already published in the pages of The Cornhill in January. One assumes that he did not want Far from the Madding Crowd to veer dangerously in the direction of the so-called Bigamy Novel, and that, accordingly, he advised both novelist and illustrator to avoid creating any scene that smacked of that impropriety.

As we have seen, Paterson-Allingham in the twelfth plate has utilized the language of the theatre, what Meisel terms "pictorial dramaturgy" (64) in her "collaboration of narrative and pictorial in fiction" (64). The chief ingredients of the plates for a serial novel were "variety, vividness, and memorability; and a pictorialism associated with the art of effect" (64). Thus, although a number of the Paterson plates seem to be mere character studies upon initial inspection, many prior to that for December incorporate melodramatic elements, such as Bathsheba's rescuing Oak (January), Troy's placing the heroine in danger with his demonstration of skill with the sabre (June), and a (seemingly) single Bathsheba's sexually propositioning Troy (August). These more Sensational plates remind us that the context for the early fiction of Hardy, especially Desperate Remedies (1871), is the work of Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade, which as much as the work of Charles Dickens had conditioned the Victorian reading public to expect fiction to be organized into localized scenes, as in the case of Collins's No Name (1862), "each developing or achieving a seemingly fixed configuration as a situation" (Meisel 66). Such a narrative-pictorial organisation is evident in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (1859), whose plates crowded with detail created startling recognitions for purchasers of the monthly parts through reiteration of characters such as Darnay and Carton and incidents involving mob and trial scenes, thereby bridging the discontinuities inherent in the serial medium. As Meisel notes, certain characters in a novel will, by virtue of their forms and personalities, tend to generate striking and memorable poses. Such a character is the adventuress Becky Sharp in W. M. Thackeray's Vanity Fair, whose every appearance in the accompanying plates produces a pronounced effect upon the reader. Such characters in Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd are Sergeant Frank Troy and Farmer Boldwood, whose appearances in the pictorial sequence of plates and vignettes generate much greater reader interest than do those of Gabriel Oak, the nominal hero of the pastoral romance and certainly one of its two informing consciousnesses.

Last modified 12 December 2001