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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