The Isle of the Slingers. Hermann Lea's photographic illustration of the shore of Portland Bill serving as the frontispiece for Thomas Hardy's The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament, volume 13 in the Macmillan Wessex Edition (1912). 8.8 cm by 13.4 cm. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image 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 photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

A person who differed from the local wayfarers was climbing the steep road which leads through the sea-skirted townlet definable as the Street of Wells, and forms a pass into that Gibraltar of Wessex, the singular peninsula once an island, and still called such, that stretches out like the head of a bird into the English Channel. It is connected with the mainland by a long thin neck of pebbles 'cast up by rages of the se,' and unparalleled in its kind in Europe.

The pedestrian was what he looked like — a young man from London and the cities of the Continent. Nobody could see at present that his urbanism sat upon him only as a garment. He was just recollecting with something of self-reproach that a whole three years and eight months had flown since he paid his last visit to his father at this lonely rock of his birthplace, the intervening time having been spent amid many contrasting societies, peoples, manners, and scenes.

What had seemed usual in the isle when he lived there always looked quaint and odd after his later impressions. More than ever the spot seemed what it was said once to have been, the ancient Vindilia Island, and the Home of the Slingers. The towering rock, the houses above houses, one man's doorstep rising behind his neighbour's chimney, the gardens hung up by one edge to the sky, the vegetables growing on apparently almost vertical planes, the unity of the whole island as a solid and single block of limestone four miles long, were no longer familiar and commonplace ideas. All now stood dazzlingly unique and white against the tinted sea, and the sun flashed on infinitely stratified walls of oolite, with a distinctiveness that called the eyes to it as strongly as any spectacle he had beheld afar.

After a laborious clamber he reached the top, and walked along the plateau towards the eastern village. The time being about two o'clock, in the middle of the summer season, the road was glaring and dusty, and drawing near to his father's house he sat down in the sun. — I. "A Supposititious Presentment of Her," p. 3-4.


Richard Little Purdy notes that The Well-Beloved (1897) was one of four volumes issued by Osgood, McIlvaine (London) after the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels had concluded with volume 16, Under the Greenwood Tree, which had appeared in September 1896. In the 1912-31 Wessex Edition issued by Macmillan, which eventually ran to twenty-four volumes, Hardy placed the story under the heading "II. Romances and Fantasies." Issued as one of the first volumes in the new series in 1912 (a year which saw eighteen of the twenty-four volumes published in the "Wessex Edition"), The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament was volume thirteen of the eventual twenty-four. Exceeding the first Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels by six volumes, the new edition, Macmillan must have decided, should not merely repeat the engraved frontispieces of Henry Macbeth-Raeburn (1860-1947), even though it had acquired the rights to use them after it absorbed Osgood, McIlvaine in 1902 and officially received Hardy's imprimatur. Since Hardy's new publisher offered Hermann Lea's photographs in Thomas Hardy's Wessex (1913) in matching format, it must have seemed to Macmillan's that realistic photographs would be more suitable to give the Wessex Edition a completely new, uniform appearance, distinguished by the maroon cloth gilt rather than the dark green cloth of the 1895-97 Osgood, McIlvaine.

At first [Macmillan] printed the Wessex Novels from Osgood, McIlvaine's plates (with the alterations Hardy stipulated. . .), but in 1912 they undertook a new and definitive edition, called (at Frederick Macmillan's suggestion) the 'Wessex Edition'.< — R. L. Purdy, "Wessex Edition," 285-286.

Relevant illustrations of "The Isle of the Slingers" (1892 and 1896)

From the original serial illustrations for Hardy's novella: left, The sea roared and splashed now as it did when they first visited it together as children (The Illustrated London News, 8 October 1892); right, Pearston stopped and examined the cause of discomfiture (26 November 1892). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Above: He pushed the skiff down the slope, floated it, and jumped into it without an oar (The Illustrated London News, 17 December). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Above: "The Isle" of the Story — frontispiece for "The Well-Beloved" (Osgood, McIlvaine edition, 1896). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Related material


Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

Hardy, Thomas. The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament. Illustrated by Walter Paget. The Illustrated London News, 1 October — 17 December 1892. Pp. 425-775.

Hardy, Thomas. The Well-Beloved. Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Seventeen in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, 1897.

Hardy, Thomas. The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament. Works [Wessex Edition]. London: Macmillan, 1912. Volume 13 of 24. With photogravure frontispieces by Hermann Lea.

Kay-Robinson, Denys. ​The Landscape of Thomas Hardy. Exeter: Webb and Bower, 1984.

Pinion, F. B. ​A Hardy Companion: A Guide to the Works of Thomas Hardy and Their Background. Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1968, rpt. 1984.

Purdy, Richard L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954, rpt. 1978.

Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.

Last modified 19 April 2024