View near the scene of the "Stancy Castle". Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. 8.6 cm high by 12.4 cm wide, framed, volume eleven of the Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, in seventeen volumes (1895-1897). Click on image to enlarge it.

Macbeth-Raeburn's frontispiece for Thomas Hardy's A Laodicean: A Story of Today is based on the actual Dunster Castle, situated near the village of Markton, on the north Somerset coast. In the 1920 illustration for Macmillan's Anniversary Edition, Hermann Lea's 1913 black-and-white photograph Dunster Village and Castle replaces the elegant frontispiece by Macbeth-Raeburn. There is no equivalent illustration from the novel's serialisation in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, as noted satirical illustrator George Du Maurier does not even show the mediaeval fortress as part of the social scenes which so engaged him. However, his 1880-81 wood-engravings contain a number of castle interiors such as "Fine old screen, sir!", for the second (January 1881) instalment. The highly picturesque view of the castle seeming to float above the trees recalls the fact that the first English volume edition, the Sampson, Low triple-decker of December 1881, was entitled A Laodicean; or, The Castle of the De Stancys. A Story of Today. In the Macmillan Wessex Edition (1912-31) that succeeded the Osgood, McIlvaine, it became simply A Laodicean (1912) under the heading "III. Novels of Ingenuity."

Edited image and text 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.]

The illustration for A Laodicean: A story of to-day appears courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Passage Illustrated

Recalling himself from these reflections Somerset decided to follow the lead of the wire. It was not the first time during his present tour that he had found his way at night by the help of these musical threads which the post-office authorities had erected all over the country for quite another purpose than to guide belated travellers. Plunging with it across the down he came to a hedgeless road that entered a park or chase, which flourished in all its original wildness. Tufts of rushes and brakes of fern rose from the hollows, and the road was in places half overgrown with green, as if it had not been tended for many years; so much so that, where shaded by trees, he found some difficulty in keeping it. Though he had noticed the remains of a deer-fence further back no deer were visible, and it was scarcely possible that there should be any in the existing state of things: but rabbits were multitudinous, every hillock being dotted with their seated figures till Somerset approached and sent them limping into their burrows. The road next wound round a clump of underwood beside which lay heaps of faggots for burning, and then there appeared against the sky the walls and towers of a castle, half ruin, half residence, standing on an eminence hard by.

Somerset stopped to examine it. The castle was not exceptionally large, but it had all the characteristics of its most important fellows. Irregular, dilapidated, and muffled in creepers as a great portion of it was, some part--a comparatively modern wing--was inhabited, for a light or two steadily gleamed from some upper windows; in others a reflection of the moon denoted that unbroken glass yet filled their casements. Over all rose the keep, a square solid tower apparently not much injured by wars or weather, and darkened with ivy on one side, wherein wings could be heard flapping uncertainly, as if they belonged to a bird unable to find a proper perch. Hissing noises supervened, and then a hoot, proclaiming that a brood of young owls were residing there in the company of older ones. In spite of the habitable and more modern wing, neglect and decay had set their mark upon the outworks of the pile, unfitting them for a more positive light than that of the present hour. — Book the First, "George Somerset," Chapter 2, p. 51.

From The January 1896 Preface

The changing of the old order in country manors and mansions may be slow or sudden, may have many issues romantic or​otherwise, its romantic issues being not necessarily​restricted to a change back to the original order; though this​admissible instance appears to have been the only romance formerly recognized by novelists as possible in the case.​Whether the following production be a picture of other​ possibilities or not, its incidents may be taken to be fairly​well supported by evidence every day forthcoming in most counties. [Page v]

Text associated with the Half-Title and Title-Pages

Thomas Hardy's Works
The Wessex Novels
Volume XI.
A Laodicean
View near the scene of
the "Stancy Castle"
of the story
Drawn on the spot.

"There appeared against the sky
the walls and towers of a castle,
half ruin, half residence, stand-
ing on a eminence hard by." —
Page 51.


Of all the novels of Thomas Hardy, A Laodicean: A Story of Today (1881) is hardly in the first rank. Featuring a Hardy-like young man, the architect George Somerset, it is very much, despite the presence of the telegraph and cross-Channel steamers, a romance, as the original serial illustrations by George Du Maurier make clear.

Its theme of vocation reflects Hardy's own hovering between the arts of literature and architecture. Like Somerset, Hardy worked on architectural restoration, and met his wife through his work. Somerset is not only torn between doing what he prefers and doing what is socially prudent. — Barbara Hardy, "Introduction," p. 14.

The setting and symbolism of the novel are pressed into . . . [the service of the pervasive theme of the clash between the old order and the new]. It links the Norman castle with its power, strength and beauty to the railway which asserts the romance of industry and the aesthetics of engineering. — Barbara Hardy, "Introduction," p. 25.

Denys Kay-Robinson indicates that Markton, Stancy Castle, and Dunkey Tor are on the fringe of Exon Moor in "Outer Wessex" (192-93), and that Somerset's architectural rival, Havill, has his office at "Toneborough" (Taunton), where are located also the cavalry barracks of Captain de Stancy. He adds that "Hardy wrote most of the novel while lying seriously ill at Tooting, London, and in consequence it lacks his customary local colour" (194).

Hardy, forced to dictate A Laodicean from a London sick-bed, modelled Stancy on Corfe Castle . . . and tool its paintaings from Hutchin's list for Kingston Lacy. Today a National Trust property, Dunster Castle, thrusting its complex lineaments, the colour of a Golden Russet apple, high above the trees, retains an agreeable touch of fairyland; the Trust has lately [i. e., as of 1984] made extensive repairs. Below the hill the village has been very carefully protected from anything out of harmony: perhaps too carefully, making it a little precious. — "Outer Wessex," p. 196.

After witnessing Paula Power's baptism at the Dissenters' Chapel, the protagonist, George Somerset, in his moonlit journey to the village of "Sleeping-Green" (Dunster) where he intends to spend the night at an inn, spies above the canopy of the ancient forest the Tennysonian castle, a "fossil of feudalism" (52), which incongruously boasts a telegraph wire. The next morning, he returns to Castle de Stancy, touring the long gallery and studying its oil paintings of the de Stancy ancestors. Even in the Continental scenes the castle is a looming presence of the choice facing Paula, for her projected liaison with Captain de Stancy suggests a yearning for a bygone era while her frustrated romance with the middle-class architect reflects her passion for modernity, as exemplified by her telegraphy. Thus, as Barbara Hardy remarks, from the outset with descriptions of the chapel, church, and castle, the novelist "uses the architectural version of pathetic fallacy which we might call the sympathetic habitat" (27).

Other Views of Castle de Stancy and the Village of Sleeping-Green


Hardy, Thomas. A Laodicean. A Story of Today. Illustrated by George Du Maurier. Harper's New Monthly Magazine. December 1880—November 1881.

Hardy, Thomas. A Laodicean. A Story of Today. Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Eleven in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine; 1896.

Hardy, Thomas. A Laodicean, A Story of To-day. Anniversary Edition of the Wessex Novels. Vol. 13. New York and London: Harper & Bros., and Macmillan, 1920.

Hardy, Thomas. A Laodicean. A Story of Today. Introduction by Barbara Hardy; notes byErnest Hardy. The New Wessex Edition. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1975.

Jackson, Arlene M. "The Minor Novels." Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981. Pp. 120-129.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.

Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Macmillan, 1968.

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

Robinson, Denys K. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy.Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1984.

Seymour-Smith, Martin. Hardy. London: Bloomsbury, 1994.

Turner, Paul. The Life of Thomas Hardy. A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Vann, J. Don. "A Laodicean in The Cornhill Magazine, December 1880—November 1881." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Page 85.

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

Last modified 6 February 2017