Paula Decides

But, My Dear Lady, You Promised [Paula Decides Against Being Baptised in Her Father's Church]. by George Du Maurier for Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1880). Plate 1 Thomas Hardy's A Laodicean.

The programme of illustration for A Laodicean lacks the interesting initial-letter vignettes of the type Du Maurier provided The Cornhill for The Hand of Ethelberta in 1876. Whereas the focal character in the text of the 1876 novel was clearly the heroine, Ethelberta Petherwin (neée Chickerel), the chief consciousness that informs the narrative of the 1881 novel is that of architect and poet George Somerset, obviously well fitted to be the subject of Hardy's limited omniscient point of view (although he does enter the consciousnesses of other characters, notably Paula, and therefore the overall point of view is omniscient). The first plate in the series, "But, My Dear Lady, You Promised" (p. 295), illustrating George Somerset's first encounter with the novel's heroine, faces the passage it complements, so that in both media simultaneously the reader meets the dramatic moment of Paula Power's refusal to be baptized. Although the reader perceives the scene in the second chapter from the perspective of Somerset, introduced in the first chapter (the ‘Laodicean’ architect and poet George Somerset, standing behind the congregation, stage left, in the illustration), the viewer surveys the drama as if through the fourth wall in a theatrical production. Du Maurier has correctly identified the story's first moment of crisis and its initiating incident; as indicated by Hardy's narrator, this moment is of deep significance in Somerset's life -- "he could not tell in after years (when he had good reason to think of the subject)" --but has shifted the narrative perspective from limited omniscient to dramatic. Somerset is backgrounded; the black-clad minister and the white-robed hold centre stage. Jackson attributes the woodenness of the scene to Hardy's instructions, which Du Maurier had actually requested so that he could execute this drawing before he went away on his summer holiday. Paula's rigidity in the baptism scene, however, is appropriate to her mental immobility.

While Hardy describes Paula's hair as "too abundant for convenience in tying" only in plate six does Du Maurier anything approaching such plenitude in the heroine's coiffure. To render her "emphatically a modern type of maidenhood" Du Maurier has given her a relatively short hair- style to reveal her forehead. On the other hand, the rural chorus of dissenters the artist has admirably captured in the various postures and expressions of the "respectably dressed working people, whose faces and forms were worn and contorted by years of dreary toil." The realism of the portraiture even extends to the "ascetically cut back" whiskers of the Baptist minister. Du Maurier's distant figure of George Somerset, at whose shoulder we stand in the text, somewhat resembles Thomas Hardy himself in his early forties, though elsewhere in the pictorial programme the resemblance is not so clear. Du Maurier has attempted to realize the moment when, on the very brink of the pool, Paula, repressing her distress at failing to obey her late father's wishes, refuses to participate in the rite of adult immersion. The plate's Paula seems doubtful rather than conflicted, its minister attentive rather than "astonished" or upset. As Arlene Jackson notes, Du Maurier tended to favour group scenes such as this, and to avoid having to depict a scene between just two characters, such as the third plate, because he "felt more at ease in drawing group scenes. Nine of the total thirteen illustrations have more than three figures depicted in them, and there are no single figure illustrations" (125). Although seven of the Ethelberta plates contain just two figures, none of these is particularly effective as either character study or drama.

Image scan, caption, and commentary 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.]

Created 11 May 2001

Last modified 31 December 2019