The selectivity and obliquity of Arthur Hopkins's illustrations for the 1878 Belgravia serialization of The Return of the Native result in a distorted reading of Hardy's text, especially through their avoidance of the passionate and subversive and their tendency to represent the novel as substantially more conventional than it actually is. Hopkins's Thomasin and Venn are represented as unambiguously and conventionally "good"; there is no visual acknowledgment of the more radical Thomasin or the more threatening Venn. Wildeve is essentially avoided as a pictorial subject, as is the problematic Clym of the novel's final books. Eustacia, on the other hand, figures prominently in the illustrations, initially-in keeping with her departure from hegemonic notions of viruous femininity-as a somewhat "masculine" figure. Follwoing Hardy's insistence that she be rendered more conventionally attractive. Hopkins rather incongruously transforms her into an object of desire, only to revert in the final illustration to his less than sympathetic reading: refusing to participate in the erotics of death of Hardy's text, Hopkins punishes the "fallen woman" by reducing her to a misshapen corpse. Hardy's essential toleration-and in some instances actual encouragement-of what now seem "unrepresentative" representations of his work appears to have been related to his own anxiety about the novel's success and based on the recognition that the very conventionality of the illustrations could be a valuable ally in his struggle to render publishable a text that pushed persistently against the limits of the then acceptable.
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