Leslie Stephen, Thomas Hardy, and A Pair of Blue Eyes

  • John Halperin


Much has been written about the famous scene in Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes (1872–3) in which Knight slips over the edge of a cliff and, while dangling over a deep chasm, reviews several thousand years of world history before being rescued by a rope of lady’s underwear. Carl J. Weber says the scene was adapted by Hardy from an incident that occurred during a picnic he went on in August 1870 with his future first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, who lost an earring during the day in a rocky crevice and asked Hardy, despite the heavy rain, to look for it. According to Weber, Hardy sketched two pictures of the scene and afterwards wrote a poem, “Where the Picnic Was,” recalling the day’s events. The fictionalized version in A Pair of Blue Eyes is “the first indication in the novels of Hardy’s ability to sustain interest in a tense situation by the sheer power of vivid description,” Weber adds. Michael Millgate refers to Hardy’s account of the cliffs along the coasts of Britain, of which this scene forms a part, as irrelevant picture-painting typical of a novel which is little more than “a kind of ragbag of information, ideas, descriptive vignettes, personal experiences, fragments of the author’s brief literary past.” J. O. Bailey says the scene is characteristic of a writer who enjoyed injecting into his novels spectacular events involving man and nature.


October Number Vivid Description Spectacular Event Sheer Power Rocky Crevice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Carl J. Weber, Hardy of Wessex (New York, 1940; 1964), pp. 83 and 87;Google Scholar
  2. Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (London, 1971), p. 63;Google Scholar
  3. J. O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1970), p. 281;Google Scholar
  4. Norman Page, Thomas Hardy (London, 1977), p. 97;Google Scholar
  5. Jean Brooks, Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure (Ithaca, N.Y., 1971), p. 150.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Robert Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy (London, 1975), p. 187.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    See Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy, pp. 169 and 244n.; Weber, Hardy of Wessex, p. 86; and Denys Kay-Robinson, Hardy’s Wessex Reappraised (Newton Abbot, Devon, 1972), pp. 249–50.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blue Eyes (London and New York, 1962), p. vi. Subsequent references are to this (the Macmillan) edition.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Robert Gittings, The Older Hardy (London, 1978), p. 181.Google Scholar
  10. I refer, of course, to F. E. Hardy, The Life of Thomas Hardy 1840–1928 (London, 1962), written, except for the last several chapters, by Hardy himself.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy, p. 281; and F. W. Maitland, The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen (New York and London, 1906), p. 277.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Quoted from The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, ed. James Gibson (London and New York, 1976), p. 322. The sonnet is poem 264 in this edition.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    R. L. Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study (London, 1954; 1968), pp. 11–12 and 332; Hardy, Life, p. 90; andGoogle Scholar
  14. The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, I: 1840–1892, ed. R. L. Purdy and Michael Millgate (Oxford, 1978), pp. 13–14 and 17.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Fraser’s Magazine, 86 (November 1872), 545–61; repr. in Leslie Stephen, Essays in Freethinking and Plainspeaking (London, 1905), pp. 177–225. The essay, like most of Stephen’s published in Fraser’s, was unsigned, but no one could have been in any doubt as to its authorship; Stephen’s feats of hiking and mountain-climbing were famous, and he was a frequent contributor of “outdoorsy” pieces to the magazines.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Halperin 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Halperin
    • 1
  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations