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219 From Pygmalion to Persephone: Love,Art, Myth inThomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved Patr icia Pu lh a m • In 1887, Thomas Hardy visited Rome as part of a tour of Italy and, in a letter to Edmund Gosse dated 31 March 1887, wrote, “I am so overpowered by the presence of decay in Ancient Rome that I feel it like a nightmare in my sleep” (Letters I: 163). His comment expresses an unease famously shared by George Eliot’s Dorothea, who, exposed for the first time to the city’s “ruins and basilicas, palaces and colossi,” to the “long vistas of white forms whose marble eyes seemed to hold the monotonous light of an alien world,” feels the “weight of unintelligible Rome” pressing upon her senses (Eliot 225). Dorothea’s discomfort is caused, in part, by the uncanny presence of Rome’s sculptural bodies, and it is interesting to note that when in Rome, Hardy, whose love of the visual arts expressed itself primarily in a“passionate interest in the art of painting” (Bullen 15), begins to focus on statuary. In his discussion of the Hardys’ Italian tour, J. B. Bullen observes that“classical sculpture seems to have featured more prominently in this part of their journey” (26).We learn that Hardy visited theVatican “to see the collection of marbles”; went to the Capitoline Museum;“bought five photographs of sculptural subjects, including the Belvedere Apollo, a Faustina, and a Juno”; and “may also have bought … two busts—one of Caesar, the other ofVenus de Milo—which stood for many years in his study at Max Gate” (Bullen 26). Hardy’s own artistic responses to Rome and its sculptural bodies are recorded in poetic form in“Rome:TheVatican: Sala delle Muse,” written in 1887 and later published in Poems of the Past and Present (1902): I SAT in the Muses’ Hall at the mid of the day, And it seemed to grow still, and the people to pass away, And the chiselled shapes to combine in a haze of the sun, Till beside a Carrara column there gleamed forth One. She looked not this nor that of those beings divine, But each and the whole—an essence of all the Nine; With tentative foot she neared to my halting-place, A pensive smile on her sweet, small, marvellous face. victorian review • Volume 34 Number 2 220 “Regarded so long, we render thee sad?” said she. “Not you,” sighed I,“but my own inconstancy! I worship each and each; in the morning one, And then, alas! another at sink of sun. “To-day my soul clasps Form; but where is my troth Of yesternight withTune: can one cleave to both?” —“Be not perturbed,” said she.“Though apart in fame, As I and my sisters are one, those, too, are the same.” —“But my love goes further—to Story, and Dance, and Hymn, The lover of all in a sun-sweep is fool to whim— Is swayed like a river-weed as the ripples run! —“Nay, wooer, thou sway’st not.These are but phases of one; “And that one is I; and I am projected from thee, One that out of thy brain and heart thou causest to be— Extern to thee nothing. Grieve not, nor thyself becall, Woo where thou wilt; and rejoice thou canst love at all!” (Hardy, Selected Poetry 207) The poem introduces a number of themes that are later developed in The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (1892) and The Well-Beloved (1897): love, art, and mythology.1 As Norman Page remarks, the argument posited in the poem functions as “an aesthetic counterpart” to The Well-Beloved “in which the hero’s quest for an erotic or romantic ideal finds temporary fulfilment in a series of separate embodiments” (44). Indeed, Hardy’s protagonist, Jocelyn Pierston,2 like the speaker in his poem, visits Rome and spends an afternoon “among the busts in the long gallery of theVatican” (TheWell-Beloved 284), and the speaker’s claim: “I worship each and each; in the morning one, / And then, alas! another at sink of sun” encapsulates Pierston’s relationship with women in the novel. Discussing the complex nature of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 219-239
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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