Monthly Archives: December 2016

Illustrating Trollope: He Knew He Was Right

Turning from the two great, interwoven series of Trollope’s novels for a moment, I will next look at one of his finest and psychologically darkest standalone novels: He Knew He Was Right. The Trollope Society edition contains all 32 of Marcus Stone’s illustrations from the first edition published by Strahan in 1869. The Folio Society edition contains 16 illustrations by Shirley Bellwood.

Stone had first come to prominence as an illustrator earlier in the decade when he was selected by Dickens to illustrate Our Mutual Friend and Great Expectations in place of the aging “Phiz” to give them a more modern “sixties” look. The new style was darker and less caricatured than used by the earlier illustrators and was often produced from wood engravings rather than etchings on metal. His work on Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right was marked by the innovation of photographing the original wood engraving for use in the reprinting of the illustrations in the books. Stone was elected to the Royal Academy and in his later career focused on paintings, such as In Love (1888) in the sentimental style which had then come into vogue.


Stone’s illustration of Trevelyan at Casalunga at the start of this article is firmly in the gothic, romantic style of the time. The wild Tuscan scenery, reminiscent of Casper David Friedrich’s The Wanderer, provides both a backdrop and a commentary on his state of mind in the latter stages of the novel. The brooding pose captures his inner turmoil and anguish. Bellwood also uses a similar pose for an illustration of Trevelyan slightly later in the Folio Society edition of the novel when he watches his son being driven away in a carriage to return to his mother, Trevelyan’s estranged wife Emily.

In the illustration below, “Showing how reconciliation was made”, from earlier in the novel, Stone depicts Emily with her back to her husband – just as she had appeared in the opening illustration he drew, “Showing how wrath began”. Her pose, turned away from her husband, indicates that the reconciliation is only partial and temporary – the pair are not in sympathy with one another and, by implication, the fault lies more with Emily than her husband, Louis, who is approaching her with open arms.

This may reflect contemporary views which now seem archaic some 150 years later. She has failed to submit to her husband as she would have been expected to do then – obeying him in a spirit of dumb insolence (though in fact she is quite articulate in her quarrel with him) but refusing to promise to do so on the, to modern minds, reasonable grounds that her husband is unreasonable and evidencing a lack of trust in her by requiring such a promise. In this illustration, Stone may be overstating the author’s position. Trollope, although by no means a feminist in the modern sense, was at pains to present the reasoned stance of the wife but, perhaps crucially, had her come from a background in the colonies which might therefore excuse her for not behaving precisely as a well brought up young Englishwoman might have been expected to act.

Bellwood, in contrast, depicts the moment of the quarrel’s first beginning with a more realistic face to face confrontation. This is no stylised adherence to conventions for depicting such scenes but a naturalistic close up of the arguing pair. The anger on Louis’s face is patently clear, as is the tension in Emily, evident in the clenched hand, clasped to her chest.

Interestingly, this illustration is one of only two by Bellwood in which the couple are depicted alone together. The second instance is the final illustration when Louis has been reduced to a shell of his former self by his descent into insanity (he is described as mad but may be clinically depressed in modern medical terms) and is brought back to England and his wife kneels before his tragic figure and begs forgiveness – a scene which would probably have played out well with contemporary Victorian audiences but which sits uncomfortably with a modern reader who has a very different attitude to a husband who has absconded with the couple’s child and denied the mother access.

Other illustrations of the couple invariably include others – here Bellwood depicts a crucial encounter in the park when Colonel Osborne exploits the opportunity to literally as well as figuratively come between the couple provoking Trevelyan’s passive-aggressive response which we can already detect is to come from his expression as he watches the insinuating Osborne.

Stone follows a similar approach in the original illustrations reproduced in the Trollope Society editions. After the initial two depictions of the couple falling out and then temporarily reconciling in the opening chapters, they are never again depicted alone together. Indeed, they next appear in the same illustration only in chapter 67 (of 99) when Trevelyan allows a brief meeting of the mother and child from whom he has kept his wife. Here the focus is on the mother and child and Louis is a shadowy figure in the background, though it is already possible to detect some deterioration in his appearance which foreshadows his subsequent mental decline.

Bellwood depicts the same scene and repeats many of the features of Stone’s original.  Louis again stands in the background and has a slightly dishevelled appearance in contrast to his former smartness. He is noticeably aged. The onlooking maid again provides a visible cue for the reader’s response with her look of concern.

This and the opening quarrel are one of only four scenes which are featured in both the Trollope Society and the Folio Society editions. However, a further six scenes in each are depicted but the illustrators have chosen different moments for their images. For example, Stone in the Trollope Society edition illustrates (on page 329) the moment when Emily asks “Am I to go?” so that she leaves her sister alone with Hugh Stanbury who is depicted by Bellwood in the Folio edition (at page 331) declaring to Nora that “All my heart and soul are in this.” In another example, Stone depicts the moment of arrival when “Miss Stanbury visits the Frenches” (at page 401) whereas Bellwood depicts the moment (at page 406) when Aunt Stanbury declares of her niece Dorothy, “She has been doing nothing of the kind.”, defending her against the slanderous gossip of Camilla and Arabella French.

As can be seen from these examples, Bellwood tends to focus on the climax of scenes whereas Stone depicts the point at which the scene commences and tension begins to rise – a subtly different approach. Did the Victorians savour the anticipation of the crisis to come more than the actual outpouring of emotion when it is released?

A further point of contrast between the Victorian approach in the Trollope Society edition and the modern approach in the Folio edition is the balance between illustrating the main storyline and the two romantic subplots. The Folio edition concentrates 8 of its 16 illustrations on the main plot – the disintegration of the Trevelyans’ marriage – whereas the Trollope edition focuses only 10 of its 32 illustrations on this plot and allows more than two thirds of the illustrations to focus on the Hugh/Nora romance subplot and the Dorothy in Exeter romantic subplot. Perhaps the Victorians had greater expectations of complex interwoven, if only loosely so, multiple plot-lines than do modern readers.

Reflecting on my own choice of illustrations to reproduce for this article, I notice that I have sub-consciously selected illustrations solely from the main plot line, neglecting these other sub-plots. Not that the other illustrations are inferior for the purposes of making the comparisons and contrasts I am looking to demonstrate, but nevertheless I have found the Emily/Louis illustrations more satisfying to use – as a modern reader, their tragedy is for me the core of the book and the subplots are sidelined in my focus of attention.

Another apparently minor technical detail I would like to explore is that whereas all 16 of Bellwood’s illustrations for the Folio edition are portrait, Stone’s illustrations reproduced in the Trollope Society edition have a more or less equal split of landscape and portrait illustrations (15 landscape and 17 portrait). This difference has a significant practical implication: in order to view the landscape illustrations, the Trollope Society edition must be turned on its side by the reader, making it effectively impossible, without difficulty, to both view the image and read the text simultaneously. A possible effect of this is for the reader to break off from the story development in order to view the landscape image and so they pause and concentrate on that moment in the story for a while uninterrupted by ongoing events. Does this make, perhaps, for a more reflective, contemplative engagement with the novel?

He Knew He Was Right was one of three novels in the Folio Society series which Shirley Bellwood illustrated. The others were also standalone novels: La Vendee and Ralph The Heir. Neither of these is illustrated in the Trollope Society edition so it might be as well to mention them here. Of the two, La Vendee, Trollope’s third novel – written before he achieved popular success with the Barchester series – is perhaps one of his most unusual books. It is his only venture into the realms of the historical novel – published in 1850, it looks back to events of the last decade of the preceding century in the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution. It calls for a very different approach by Bellwood from the intimate, revealingly personal portraits seen in He Knew He Was Right. Instead, of the 16 illustrations, 10 are of group scenes or crowd scenes and only 6 – barely more than a third  – are the intimate depictions of one or two people such as predominate in He Knew He Was Right. Typical of this grander scale is “And so the priests blessed the cannon, and the people baptised it, and called it ‘Marie Jeanne'” (below).

Sadly Shirley Bellwood died earlier this year, at the age of 84, after a long and successful career as an illustrator – not just of books but also of comics. As well as the three Trollope novels for the Folio Society  she drew for a variety of publishers covering diverse subjects ranging from Dennis Wheatley story collections for Heron through classics such as The Mill on The Floss, published by Hueber in 2012, to a host of children’s books. Perhaps it was for her work in comic illustrations, however, that she was most popular, particularly on titles such as Sally and Jinty aimed at the teenage girl market and, most famous of all, her long-running character Misty, who appeared in many series over the years, and who was in fact a self-portrait.




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The Long Read

I have just finished what I am sure is likely to be my longest read ever. Weighing in at a massive 32 years 181 days (the white bookmark you can see is the receipt from W H Smith which tells me I bought it on 23rd June 1984 for £1.75 and is still lodged at page 57 where I stalled on my first attempt) I fear I may not have that long left to finish any book I start now.

I confess that much of the time it felt like reading English as a foreign language. As with any book touching on Marxist politics, I found myself plunged into a world described in terms of petty bourgeoisie, proletariat, imperialists, materialism and the Party with its Congresses and Comintern control.

I think that the Bolshevik Committee which convicted Mao in 1932 of “narrow empiricism” and “opportunistic pragmatism” may have understood him better than they realised. If by narrow empiricism you understand that Mao gathered as much information as possible and examined it objectively rather than through the distorting lens of Marxist-Leninist ideology (in which he was notably deficient at the time) and by opportunistic pragmatism you understand that having correctly identified the main chance by his narrow empiricism he then went ahead and took it then I have to say that I find Mao guilty as charged.

I found myself almost permanently “reading against the grain” as Derrida would have it. At times it reads like a hagiography with Wilson uncritically reporting childhood stories of Mao sharing his school packed lunch with a fellow pupil whose mum didn’t provide one that could have been lifted straight from a sycophantic party mythmaker. But then he would quote allegations made by political rivals such as Wang Ming, backed by Stalin, that Mao tried to poison him. However, these attacks are sometimes ridiculed and their credibility questioned. So the balance of the reporting is perhaps questionable. But then, is the rejection almost overdone; doth he protest too much to the point of deliberately undermining his own apparent support for the official position or Party line? In the end I just don’t know which side of the fence Wilson comes down.

I did have to keep reminding myself that this is a biography of the man not a history of the revolution he lived through and, to a great extent, drove. So I must be satisfied with a view of what Mao the man was doing in Yenan after the Long March and accept the tide of events that happens around him – World War 2 and the civil war with Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, which seemed to be won without any explanation of how the stalemate was broken.

This narrow perspective also avoids big questions by simple omission. Wilson simply glosses over the number of deaths resulting from Mao’s decisions in, for example, the land reforms. The prospect of “one tenth of the peasants would have to be destroyed” is treated as almost a casual aside but that maths equates to perhaps 50 million deaths out of a population of half a billion as being somehow an acceptable price (actually only – can I really use “only” in this context – about a million people died).

This blindness of view allows Wilson to present Mao as a the man, the political schemer with a ruthless core without turning him into a monster. But it is impossible to forget that he directed the government whose actions directly and indirectly caused the deaths of more than 45 million people in the supposed cause of progress. Only Stalin comes close with the blood of some 20 million victims of his policies on his hands. Hitler’s 6 million victims begin to look like the efforts of an amateur by comparison. 

Nothing is so dangerous as a man convinced he is right.

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Illustrating Trollope: Can You Forgive Her?

Having seen how Framley Parsonage featured illustrations by Millais, it seems appropriate to consider the first of the Palliser/Political novels, Can You Forgive Her?, which featured illustrations by the equally prominent Hablot Knight-Browne, better known as “Phiz”, under which pseudonym he was illustrator of many of Charles Dickens’s novels when they were first published. In fact, Phiz provided the first 20 illustrations in volume one of the Chapman and Hall first edition, with the remaining 20 illustrations in the second volume being provided by E. Taylor. All are reproduced in the Trollope Society edition so we are able to compare not two but three artists’ work when considering also the Folio Society edition which features 16 original illustrations by Llewellyn Thomas. Indeed, unlike Framley Parsonage, which featured only six  of the original illustrations,we are in the position of considering which of the original illustrations the modern illustrator choses to replicate and whether this resulted in quite different interpretations and approaches.

The frontispiece of the Trollope Society edition is Phiz’s illustration of the early scene of Alice Vavasor and her cousin George Vavasor on the balcony of a hotel in Basle. This is replicated in the Folio Society edition and both are remarkably accurate in reproducing details from the text. Alice is seated at the end of the balcony and George, by his physical presence partially blocking her exit route, effectively forces her to remain alone with him as he seeks to further his pursuit of her. The details of the coffee pot and cups on the table between them are also accurately depicted.

Interestingly, though, both illustrations depict a post supporting the roof of a loggia structure though the text makes no mention of it being a covered balcony. Clearly Thomas, for his modern interpretation, has copied the Phiz original.

As Can You Forgive Her? is the sole example of Phiz’s work in the Trollope Society editions it is perhaps worth noting how typical it is of his work generally. The above illustration of Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller in the lawyer’s office, taken from Pickwick Papers, includes a number of features characteristic of Phiz’s style. He caricatures. Thin people are impossibly thin. Tall people are unnaturally tall, with elongated thin heads. Fat people are unnaturally rotund, often with skinny legs which seem inadequate to support their bulk. And many of his cheerful characters feature upturned button noses which, in coarser individuals, are exaggerated yet further reminding me of cartoons of Richard Nixon in his “tricky Dicky” guise. These stylistic quirks are evident in the illustration below, “Captain Bellfield proposes a toast” in the picnic scene on the sands of Great Yarmouth from Can You Forgive Her? 

Interestingly, although Thomas also chooses to illustrate this scene in the Folio Society edition, he does so from a different perspective.He elects to depict the scene from a distance and to include more of the background mentioned in the text of how the party were sheltered from the wind by a partly overturned boat.

Thomas took a similar approach when depicting a later scene in which Glencora and Alice walk through the ruins of a priory. Phiz provides a full length picture of the two woman amidst the ruins whereas Thomas shows the women as distant figures in a landscape in which the priory ruins themselves are the focal point.

As we enter the second half of the novel we move from Phiz’s etchings to Taylor’s wood engravings in the Trollope Society edition. There is a distinct change in style. The illustrations are more formal, almost stylised in their depiction of the figures but with more attention to realism, detail and accuracy of line compared to the freer, more relaxed caricature-like approach of Phiz.There are also certain technical differences, such as the use of a marked, rectangular border and typeface titles to the illustrations whereas Phiz used handwritten titles and had no defined border allowing his images to fade away to nothing around their edges which were more oval in shape.

Taylor’s depiction of the emotional scene where Glencora offers Plantagenet, “Before God, my first wish is to free you from the misfortune that I have brought on you.”, is faithful in its representation of both protagonists – he tall and thin, she short and fair- as described by Trollope. And she clasps his coat just as described.

Llewellyn Thomas is equally accurate in these respects but chooses to depict the scene a few moments later when “Softly, slowly, very gradually, as though he were afraid of what he,was doing, he put his arm round her waist.” The Victorian illustrator has chosen the moment of high drama whereas the modern illustrator has chosen the gentler, less dramatic moment when their reconciliation begins. And there is a sense of the warmth that is beginning to flow between them in the way they look into one another’s eyes with a calmness after the storm.

In fact, of the 16 illustrations in the Folio Society edition, nine correspond directly with one of the illustrations from the first publication reproduced in the Trollope Society edition, and a further five depict scenes that are either details of, or large scale backdrops to, incidents also depicted in the Trollope Society edition. Only two, therefore, depict scenes not covered by one of the forty illustrations in the Trollope Society edition. Neither of these illustrations focus on key scenes in the main plotlines; indeed one features purely secondary characters in a subplot of marginal relevance.

However, the most intriguing of these “nearly but not quite identical” scenes is perhaps that chosen as the Folio Society frontispiece, which shows the scene where Burgo Fitzgerald, after the failure to persuade Glencora away, is accosted by a young prostitute but, showing his best side, treats her with respect and kindness. The Trollope Society edition shows the aftermath, depicted by Phiz,where he buys her a meal in a pub, though interestingly it is entitled simply “Burgo Fitzgerald” with no reference to the girl even though she is depicted eating while Burgo offers her privacy by turning away to face the other people in the bar. But the Folio Society frontispiece depicts the more intimate moment when she touches his face with her hand saying “Feel my hand – how cold it is”, a scene that is so reminiscent of Puccini’s La Boheme, written later in 1896, in which  the hero Rudolfo says to Mimi, “Your tiny hand is frozen”. Were the librettists Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa familiar with Trollope’s earlier novel? Certainly the moment is one that appeals to modern sensibilities though it might have been too risque for depiction in a publication destined for a Victorian family audience.

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Lilstock St Andrew

The tiny church of Lilstock St Andrew nestles between the Quntock Hills and the Bristol Channel, surrounded by trees and almost hidden from the lane to the hamlet of less than a dozen houses from which it takes its name. After serving its community since being built in 1552, on the site of an earlier 12th century building, the church fell into disrepair through lack of use and was deconsecrated in 1980. By 1989 it was described in a local guidebook as “derelict”. The Church Commissioners decided it was not worth the effort and cost of keeping it up, or indeed taking any steps to prevent it falling down. They contemplated levelling it to save any further expense.

Enter the Reverend Rex Hancock, a former army chaplain and the Rector of the United Benefice of Quantoxhead, in which parish the ruined church stood. Described* as “a unique character who might have stepped out of a Trollope novel”, he would no doubt have won the approval of the author for his willingness to bless the hounds when the Rector of Seend felt unable to do so – an “incident”, if so it may be described, which was captured for posterity in the BBC documentary “A Country Parish”. The Reverend Hancock was also known to conduct the local Watchet town band in renditions of the Dambusters March at garden fetes.

Reverend Hancock, deploring the Commissioners decision, paid several thousand pounds out of his own pocket to finance the necessary repairs to restore the church – work carried out by local craftsman Arthur Booker and his family business.

Thereafter Reverend Hancock held one service each year at the church, maintaining its status as an active place of worship. A practice which continues to this day.

The church was somewhat belatedly recognised as architecturally and historically significant and is now a Grade II listed heritage site.

Reverend Hancock died in 2012 and was buried at nearby Porlock to the sound of a hunting horn after which the band played the Dambusters March in his honour.

*in his obituary which is reproduced in full in the church.

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