Friday, 29 August 2014

Helen Allingham’s illustrations in the Cornhill Magazine serialisation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd

 [This is an adapted version of an assignment written for a course on the nineteenth-century novel]

At this remove it is easy to overlook the volume and range of late-nineteenth century periodical literature: ‘Once newspapers and magazines were finally and fully liberated from fiscal restraints [with the abolition of stamp duty on print] after 1861, their rate of growth was remarkable’ (Simon Eliot, 2012, p.47).  Technological advances in printing through the century also increased quantities and decreased costs (Eliot, 2001, pp.331ff).  That quantity was startling: ‘the Victorians published not only over 25,000 journals of all kinds including newspapers but also a few hundred reviews, magazines, and weeklies that could claim to be “literature”’ (Walter E. Houghton, 1979, p.389).

Magazines catered to a wide range of interests, both non-fiction and fiction.  Houghton makes a distinction between those that were concerned with the formation of opinion, and many of those launched in the 1860s, including the Cornhill, that ‘were often so firmly committed to amusement as to banish politics and religion altogether’ (ibid., p.407).  The latter included a significant proportion of fiction in their content, and magazine publication was a significant revenue stream for authors prior to republication in book form.  While modern readers associate classic Victorian literature with books, particularly the three-decker, for the first readers consumption was achieved in more diverse forms: ‘What must have been obvious to any aspiring novelist by mid-century was that Victoria’s reign was not, in publishing terms at least, going to be characterised by the book, but rather by the newspaper and the magazine’ (Eliot, 2012, p.48).

The Cornhill Magazine was a mass-circulation monthly magazine founded by George Smith (owner of the publishing firm Smith, Elder & Co.), which was first published in 1860 (Spencer L. Eddy, 1970, p.1).  It was priced at a shilling per issue, which meant it was comfortably affordable for a middle class readership.  From 1871 the magazine was edited by Leslie Stephen, and the following year he invited Hardy to contribute a new novel for serialisation (Linda M. Shires, 2002, p.xi).  The novel was Far From the Madding Crowd, which appeared in twelve instalments between January and December 1874, in volumes 29 (January to June) and 30 (July to December).  Smith offered Hardy £400 for the serial and first book-edition rights, a significant advance on the sums he had achieved for his previous novels (Eliot, 2000, p.212).

Stephen collaborated closely with Hardy on the editing to shape his story into a form suitable both for the constraints of serial publication and for the readership at which the magazine was aimed.  According to Linda M. Shires The Cornhill was ‘prestigious’ (Shires, 2002, p.xi) and an ‘upper-middle-brow family magazine’ (ibid., p.xix), and the narrative had to be tailored to that audience’s sensibilities.  In practice, Shires continues (p.xix), this took the form of ‘conservative editorial censorship’ by Stephen, to which Hardy acquiesced; this was not the case later in his career, however, and The Return of the Native (1878) was sold elsewhere after Stephen declared that it was ‘“dangerous” for a family magazine’ (quoted by Dale Kramer, 1999, p.168).

The extent of Hardy’s openness to editorial intervention can be seen by comparing The Cornhill version with the restorations incorporated into the Oxford World Classics edition, as indicated in the ‘Note on the Text’ (Suzanne B. Falck-Yi, 2002, pp.xxxiff.)  Some changes related to practical issues of serialisation, for example the length of each instalment and issues of pacing, which led to requests to shorten or reorder certain scenes.  Where the unmarried Fanny’s pregnancy was concerned, this had to be dealt with cautiously, and Stephen asked Hardy to ‘soften or even eliminate references’ to this (ibid., p.xxxi).  However, he indicated that Liddy’s ‘there’s two of ‘em in there!’ (Hardy, 2002, p.285) when telling Bathsheba about the occupants of the coffin, altered to Liddy whispering into Bathsheba’s ear for The Cornhill (Hardy, 1874b, p.491), could be restored for the book version (Eliot, 2000, p.212).  As Eliot points out, price acted as a form of censorship related to class prejudice, the more expensive, and therefore exclusive, book being the preserve of those of a higher class considered less likely to be corrupted than a mass magazine readership.

Each instalment was accompanied by a large engraved illustration and a small initial-letter vignette by Helen Allingham, the former signed and the latter initialled by her.  None of the instalments though bore Hardy’s name, despite the fact that the serialisation was considered significant enough to begin every issue in Volume 29 and three in Volume 30 (see Allingham, 2002, for a brief discussion of the content of Volume 29).  The supplementary vignettes, Philip V. Allingham suggests, imparted ‘an old-fashioned literary’ quality (Allingham, 2002).  Illustrations added to the cost of production so Stephen must have felt that their presence justified the expense by attracting additional purchasers.  Smith, Elder & Co. produced a triple-decker edition of the novel in late November 1874, thus slightly preceding the final instalment in the magazine, which included all twelve of the full-page plates, but none of the vignettes (Jackson, 1982, p.87; Allingham, 2001).

Helen Allingham (née Paterson, she married while working on the illustrations) was chosen by Stephen to illustrate Hardy’s work without Hardy’s knowledge (Allingham, 2007a).  Eventually she became the ‘most famous and prolific of the many … artists of idyllic rural scenes …’ (Julian Treuherz, 1993, p.188).   She was primarily a water colourist (a member of the Royal Watercolour Society: see Allingham, 2007a for details of her career) but despite being well known for bucolic country scenes, as Treuherz continues, ‘Even at the time, her work had a nostalgic charm; though she lived for a period in Surrey, she was essentially a town dweller...’ (ibid., pp.188-9)  This restricted understanding of country life may partly account for the paucity of agricultural activity, in particular the lack of animals (with the notable exceptions of Bathsheba with a pony in plates 2 and 4), in the twelve plates.

Vignette 5

The vignettes focus more on country life more than the plates do, but even here animals tend to be obscured, such as in vignette 5 which shows Gabriel astride a sheep while shearing it, and vignette 7, a scene taken from chapter 32, ‘Night: Horses Tramping’, showing Gabriel and Jan examining tracks when following Bathsheba’s gig as she travels to Bath (Hardy, 1874b, pp.13-14).  In general, the illustrations focus on the characters, isolated or interacting, rather than on the natural world that permeates the novel.  Despite these technical limitations, Hardy rated Allingham highly: writing to James Osgood on 6 December 1888, and to Edmund Gosse on 25 July 1906, he declared her ‘the best illustrator I ever had’ (quoted in Allingham, 2007a), and it is true that her illustrations for Far from the Madding Crowd possess a more robust quality than can be found in her later chocolate-box watercolours of picturesque thatched cottages (the Helen Allingham Society’s website contains numerous examples of her bland rural aesthetic).

Vignette 7

 The start of the novel is the opening item in the January 1874 issue of The Cornhill,, and prefacing this is the first of the twelve plates, captioned ‘Hands were loosening his neckerchief.’  As becomes clear from the text, the individuals depicted are Gabriel and Bathsheba, so introducing the two most significant figures in the novel.  The caption is taken from page 14 of the Cornhill instalment (Hardy, 1874a), a scene in which Bathsheba rescues Gabriel from suffocation in his mobile hut.  As a scene-setter it is dramatic and piques the reader’s interest to know how that circumstance arose.  However, it misleadingly suggests a romantic closeness between the protagonists which is not the case until the novel’s conclusion, but that would have guided readers to expect a significant relationship to develop.  The text states that Gabriel’s head is in her lap, but in the illustration it is perched more decorously on her knee, and the interior of the hut has been rendered for dramatic purposes as rather larger than a wheeled hut would likely have been.  The two figures are shown in a symbolic configuration, with Bathsheba dominant in the composition, as her social position compared to Gabriel’s is for much of the novel (though not at this point, when Gabriel is still an independent farmer rather than a shepherd for hire).  Perhaps unconsciously Allingham has posed them as a Pietà, a subject in Christian iconography that shows Mary cradling Jesus after the Crucifixion; the best-known example is by Michelangelo (Alessandro Parronchi, 1969, pp.37-41).  In 1874 this configuration may have had considerable resonance for some readers, most of whom would have had a Christian (albeit largely Protestant) background.

Plate 1

 The accompanying vignette shows a woman carrying a pail who is later revealed to be Bathsheba, but while vignette and plate are linked by the pail that she is carrying in the vignette and one overturned in the plate, there is a significant difference between her working clothes in the former and her dress in the latter, which has a middle-class appearance (Allingham, 2007b), even though at this stage she has not come into the tenancy of her uncle’s farm.  Allingham has followed Hardy in depicting Bathsheba’s left arm extended in the vignette (Hardy, 2002, p.22), but her counterbalancing posture is somewhat exaggerated for such a small pail and there is less bare arm on display than one might infer from the text, which suggests that Gabriel finds the sight erotic.  The vignette’s effect is to reinforce the physical nature of her labour, and it acts as a general comment on the rural setting of the novel which the enclosed space of the main image does not provide.  The milkmaid with churn was a common subject in Victorian sentimental painting, but in particular Allingham’s figure and setting are similar to Jean-François Millet’s 1874 painting ‘Laitière Normande de Gréville’ in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.  Arlene M. Jackson detects the influence of John Everett Millais’ ‘school’ in the series (Jackson, 1982, p.88), and such high art associations would have resonated with many of The Cornhill’s readers, lending the story extra gravitas and memorability.

Vignette 1

 Allingham’s skilful use of light and shade to focus attention on part of the scene for dramatic effect is seen to good effect in plate 10, captioned ‘Her Tears Fell Fast Beside the Unconscious Pair.’ Troy is shown kneeling beside the coffin containing Fanny and her baby, with Bathsheba looking on.  The whole forms a tableau with the chiaroscuro highlighting Bathsheba and linking Troy to Fanny by heavy shadows and his dark jacket (Jackson, 1982, p.81).  The composition appears melodramatic, but Jackson argues that where melodrama is present in the series, it is always kept in check by Allingham’s control which emphasises psychology rather than heightened dramatic emotion.  Lawrence Jones notes that Stephen’s desire to soften references to Fanny’s baby in order not to offend the magazine’s respectable readership resulted in a ‘ludicrous misunderstanding’ by Allingham.  Whereas the book version reads ‘Her tears fell fast beside the unconscious pair in the coffin…’ (Hardy, 2002, p290), in the serialisation the final phrase was omitted (Hardy, 1874b, p.494), and Allingham assumed that the ‘pair’ were Fanny and Troy, not Fanny and her baby (Jones, 1978, pp.322-3). 

Plate 10

 The caption would have puzzled the reader because at this point in the narrative Troy is not present, and Bathsheba is alone with the coffin.  Allingham’s scene relates to the later moment when Troy ‘sank upon his knees … and, bending over Fanny Robin, gently kissed her’ (Hardy, 1874b, p.496).  It is possible that Allingham chose obfuscation in order to draw attention away from the true meaning of ‘the unconscious pair’, that is, one of the pair was an illegitimate baby.  The confusing mismatch between image and text, however, suggests that Jones is probably right in his surmise.  The accompanying vignette shows Troy at a later point, when he is planting flowers on Fanny’s grave at night and appears opposite the plate, at the start of chapter 43 (‘Fanny’s Revenge’).  Readers linking the vignette to the coffin in the plate might assume that Tory is interfering with the grave since he appears to be about to start digging with a shovel, giving the scene a Gothic feel absent from the text, in which he is merely planting flowers.

Vignette 10

 It is impossible to know with certainty the extent to which the pictures modified the narrative’s reception for The Cornhill’s readers.  Philip Allingham argues that illustrated magazines assisted understanding among working-class and rural (i.e. labouring) readers with their lower literacy rates (Allingham, 2001).  This would have been less of an issue for The Cornhill’s target market, but even highly literate readers would be cued to the meaning of the words by an initial perusal of the images, setting up questions that they expected to be answered as they read.  But as Jackson points out, ignoring the natural turmoil and concentrating on that of the humans carries a cost:

By omitting Hardy’s view of changing, unpredictable nature, the illustrations shift her reading of his text: the cosmic dimension inherent in the text gives way, in the illustrations, to the human realities of Wessex. (Jackson, 1982, p.88)

By ignoring its most dramatic scenes – the fire and the storm, for example – Allingham fails to do the novel full justice.  More than that, far from faithfully depicting Hardy’s story, her interpretations of his words often betray a lack of congruence between text and image.  However, despite Allingham’s inability to exploit the narrative’s potential, the serialisation was ‘an instant popular success’ (John Halperin, 1980, p.740), and the pictures would have helped to make the story more memorable in a competitive market.


Allingham, P.V. (2001) ‘Why do Hardy's Novels Often Have Illustrations in Periodical but not Book Form?’ The Victorian Web. 11 August.  Available at (Accessed 16 February 2014).

Allingham, P. V. (2002) ‘The Physical Make-up of "The Cornhill Magazine," Volume 29’ The Victorian Web. 15 November.  Available at (Accessed 18 February 2014).

Allingham, P. V. (2007a) ‘Brief Biographical Introduction’ The Victorian Web. 22 February.  Available at (Accessed 16 February 2014).

Allingham, P. V. (2007b) ‘Plate 1: ‘Hands Were Loosening His Neckerchief’ and Initial Letter Vignette "W" (Bathsheba carrying a milk pail)’ The Victorian Web. 22 August.  Available at (Accessed 18 February 2014).

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Kramer, D. ‘Hardy and Readers: Jude the Obscure’, in Kramer, D. (ed.) (1999) The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Parronchi, A. (1969) Michelangelo: Sculpture, London, Thames and Hudson.

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Treuherz, J. (1993) Victorian Painting, London, Thames and Hudson.