Is Posy Simmonds the new Trollope?

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Unless you are a reader of The Guardian, it is possible you will not have come across the works of Posy Simmonds.

Critic Anthony Quinn described her as, “the laureate of English middle-class muddle, a peerless observer of their romantic confusions, emotional insecurities and professional vicissitudes. She gets to the heart of them more incisively and wittily then any number of her contemporaries. …[She] offers not only the psychological intricacy of good fiction but also the pictorial subtlety of art.”

Surely that description would be one that any reader of Trollope would recognise as being an accurate summary of what defines his remarkable talent as displayed across almost his entire catalogue.

So who is this modern day Trollope?

She is a cartoonist working primarily for The Guardian and is responsible for two full length adaptations of classic novels. Both were serialised in The Guardian. And both shift their Victorian heroines to a modern setting but remain faithful to the essentials of the originals. The first was Gemma Bovary, based unsurprisingly on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; the second was Tamara Drewe, based on Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd in which the eponymous heroine is an updated Bathsheba.

Clearly the first book was created with half an eye to the market in the French-speaking world where graphic novels are accorded greater respect and regarded as having cultural significance which status is not enjoyed by their English language equivalents. Both have been translated into French and enjoyed success in that market.

That a successor to Trollope might be found in the graphic novel genre should be no surprise. There is a thriving market for such works. Many are based on the thriller genre, which makes for filmic adaptations, with exciting graphics and are aimed at a young adult audience.  But inevitably, as that audience matures, they will look for more complex and psychologically insightful works.

It is into this trend that Simon Grennan, with the aid of David Skilton, is looking to tap with his graphic novel, Dispossession, based on Trollope’s John Caldigate due to be published next month; the French language edition Courir Deux Lievres was published earlier this year.

In a world where a picture may truly be said to paint a thousand words, these condensed adaptations of the great (in both senses – quality and size) Victorian novels is to be welcomed. For some they may be an entry into reading Victorian literature in its original form, for others they may be an end point in their own right and I think both destinations are to be valued.

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