(Picture: courtesy Victorian Web)
The ballad tale/fable and the country environment merge in the reddleman. Although to comply with fictional convention and Hardy’s reading public, he was tied into the conclusion, Hardy originally intended him to ‘disappear from the heath’: in the revised version, he ‘vanished entirely’ (221) after Thomasin marries, only to return. His craft is a dying one, he has a ‘poetry of existence’ and he demonstrates such qualities as passive firmness, fidelity, self-denial and patience. The fear of the Reddleman is ironic, considering his ‘good nature’ and ‘acuteness’ which does not ‘verge on craft’. He is an emblem of traditional ways and he personifies the life of the heath.
Diggory Venn’s selfless regard of the heath and the heathfolk suggests the altruism of the community. Venn appears to be the heath’s eyes, the living embodiment of Egdon’s ‘watchful intentness’. All Venn’s actions, even his occupation of reddleman, are motivated by his love for Thomasin, a love which takes the form of ‘watching over’ the interests of his loved one and those close to her. Engaged in this constant surveillance, it is his eye, ‘which glared so strangely through his stain … keen as that of a bird of prey’ (59), that sees the secrets of the heath. At one point, he becomes the personified eye of Egdon. Concealing himself beneath the turves that lay strewn about the heath, appearing ‘as though he burrowed underground’, he becomes invisible in order to watch the secret meeting between Eustacia and Wildeve.
However, Venn is associated with the heath not only materially but also mythically. He ‘represents’ the world of Egdon in a dual form. Hidden beneath the lurid red dye, ‘which permeated him’ (58), he appears first in the material form of ‘one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex’ (59). He also appears as a kind of mythical demon, a ‘Mephistophelian visitant’ whose ghostly presence was a ‘sublimation of all the horrid dreams, which had afflicted the juvenile spirit since imagination began’. Christian fearfully admits to having ‘seen him in strange places, particular in dreams’ (380). In this role of ‘blood-coloured figure’ (131), he attempts to counteract Eustacia’s malign influence.
The ‘material’ relations between the main protagonists in the novel thereby also suggest a shadow play of mythical significance. The contending forces appear both on the level of a ‘reality effect’ and that of a ‘fabular effect’. Characters appear both as ‘real persons’ with whom we can identify, and imaginary or fabular beings.
Venn’s watch over Thomasin is one where ‘the reddleman’s love was generous’ (134) and he watches over Thomasin’s interests. He determines to help ‘Tamsie’ by seeing Eustacia (140) and later renounces his ‘wild mode of life’ to gain her (211). This is quite unlike Wildeve’s avid vision of Eustacia. Wildeve’s perception of Eustacia as a sexual vision is a typical manifestation of the distracted gaze, and while Venn can see that Eustacia’s ‘comeliness is a law with Mr Wildeve’, he cannot perceive the true nature of that ‘law’. He really cannot see Eustacia as Wildeve sees her: ‘There was a certain obscurity in Eustacia’s beauty, and Venn’s eye was not trained’. This is because the intuitive insight cannot see love as passion. Venn is blind both to the perceptions of the distracted gaze and the idealising vision. He cannot see that Wildeve, is dominated by ‘the curse of inflammability’, or that Eustacia sees Wildeve as ‘the single object within her horizon on which dreams might crystallise’.
Some further useful quotes for Diggory Venn:
× ‘But she’s nothing to me (about Thomasin 61)
× ‘The imagination of the observer clung by preference to that vanished solitary figure’ (63)
× ‘most ghosts be white; but this is as if it had been dipped in blood’ (770)
× Description of reddleman including Thomasin’s letter (131-135)
× Kind to Johnny Nonsuch (128) who tells him about Eustacia and the gentleman.
× ‘His occupation tended to isolate him’ (132)
× ‘he might have been called a prosperous man’ (134)
× ‘still loving her well’ [re Thomasin] (134)
× ‘the perspicacious reddleman’ decides to ‘appear less unimpressionable’ and pretends that she ‘might have the power to drive [trouble] away’ (143)
× ‘a sinister redness .. dull and lurid like a flame in sunlight’ (205)
× ‘like Israel in Zin’ (205)
× ‘the lonely man’ (205)
× ‘ His figure was perfect, his face young and well out-lined, his eye bright, his intelligence keen, and his position one which he could readily better if he chose.’ (205)
× Reports on Thomasin’s marriage which he witnessed due ‘to the thoroughness’ of his character ‘to see the end of the episode’ (220)
× ‘only a man accustomed to nocturnal rambles could at this hour have descended those shaggy slopes with Venn’s velocity’ (327)
× He looks at the pure sweet face of Thomasin (328)
× To Thomasin: ‘As if I could hurt anything belonging to you.’ (432)
× ‘he saw no reason for waiting longer in a house where he remained only as a stranger.’ (440)
× ‘hues of an ordinary Christian countenance’ (450)
× ‘artful man’ (454)
× Thomasin on Venn’s character: ‘it is to cover up your feelings under a practical manner, and only to show them when you are alone.’ (458)
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