The subtitle of this book is "An Illustrated Biography," and I am always a sucker for period illustrations. A couple of years ago, I saw copies of this at every Half Price Books I visited. I finally succumbed, but I put off reading it, I think in part because it feels like Victoria Glendinning's Anthony Trollope is the only biography I really need. With that, Trollope's Autobiography, and the Oxford reader's companion, I feel that I have a richness of resources on his life and works. Unlike Jane Austen, I will never own more books about him than books by him! And not just because he wrote so many more than she did. However, I did fall for the illustrations in Trollope, and for the title of R.H. Super's The Chronicler of Barsetshire (still unread).
I knew nothing about C.P. Snow when I bought the book, or indeed when I started reading it. From a quick internet search I've learned that he had quite a life, as a chemist and college professor, a novelist, and a politician and civil servant. He wrote about science, including biographies of fellow scientists, as well as literary criticism. Trollope was published in 1975, five years before his death. The edition I read, a paperback, has a 1991 date. At first I thought nothing of it, just that this was a reprint. But there were a couple of references in the text to 1991, which I found jarring. Obviously someone other than the author revised the text, but there is no mention that I can find of those revisions. It's impossible to know what was revised or added, and by whom. That makes this version of the book a little suspect in my mind. If I ever find a 1975 edition, I will be tempted to replace this one.
That caveat aside, I found much to enjoy in this book. The illustrations are lovely. They include photographs and paintings, of Trollope himself, as well as the people and places in his life. Some of the photos are period, including at least one by Julia Margaret Cameron (not of Trollope unfortunately). There are also illustrations, some from his books, and caricatures of Trollope. There are some gorgeous Victorian genre paintings, which Snow refers to in discussing scenes or characters from the novels. They include a two-page spread of a James Tissot painting Too Early (which you can see here). I always associate Tissot now with Trollope's novels, since his work has been used on so many of the covers of the Oxford World Classics editions.
The book itself is short, only 177 pages. Though it covers the essential facts of Trollope's life, it felt less like a traditional biography than an extended essay. There is a personal tone sometimes. Snow clearly admired Trollope as a writer, and to me it was clear he liked him as a person, but he avoided sentimentality and over-familiarity with his subject. In the endnotes, he wrote,
Anthony Trollope, novelist, 1815-82, is referred to as Trollope, tout court, throughout. His family and friends called him Anthony (a very few, Tony): but we don't know him well enough for that, and it gives the impression of heartiness and simplicity which it is one of the intentions of this book to dispel.However, C.P. Snow was not a completely detached observer. Like Victoria Glendinning, he took a dislike to Trollope's older brother Thomas. Glendinning wrote that she had "conceived a hostility [toward him] which I have made every effort to temper with fairness." Snow made less of an effort, but he reserved his real bitterness for Trollope's mother Frances. I had forgotten some of the grim events of Trollope's childhood, including the fact that at age 14, he was left alone in England when his father and older brother sailed to America, to join his mother (in what Snow calls "perhaps the scattiest of all Mrs. Trollope's plans"). I think that must have been the lowest point of a truly miserable childhood - abandoned, with no money, for more than six months. It was the most extreme example of the neglect that Trollope endured throughout his childhood. Both Snow and Glendinning point out that as an adult, Trollope had a great capacity for and need of love, and it doesn't take a psychologist to see the roots of that in his neglected, unloved childhood.
Snow was also a great advocate for Trollope's work, making a case for his place among the great writers. Trollope has been dismissed as a hack, writing to a schedule just for money; and as a photographer, recording what he saw without imagination. Susan Hill discusses those negative views of Trollope in her book, Howards End is on the Landing, where she also defends his work. For Snow, one of his greatest strengths was as a great "natural psychologist":
He could see each human being he was attending to from the outside as well as the inside, which is an essential part of the total gift. That is, he could see a person as others saw him: he could also see him as he saw himself. He had both insight and empathy, working together in exceptional harmony.Two chapters of the book focus on Trollope's art. The writers Snow compared him to most frequently are Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Trollope probably never knew that Tolstoy was a major fan of The Prime Minister. Snow spent one chapter analyzing Trollope's narrative voice, which he considered another of his strengths as a writer, as well as his characters' very natural speech patterns. As usual, I found some of the literary criticism difficult to follow, but I enjoyed what I understood of his analyses. I didn't always agree. I don't think Trollope fell in love with Lily Dale, but I think he did with Glencora Palliser. I'm not sure if I agree that Johnny Eames in The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire is a "true portrait" of Trollope. I'll be re-reading those with Audrey's #6Barsets project, and I'll be keeping Snow's point in mind.
In the end, I found this book interesting and enjoyable, with the caveat on the 1991 editing, and not just for the illustrations. But I think I'd still recommend Victoria Glendinning's book first, in conjunction with the Autobiography.