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.

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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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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Illustrating Trollope: He Knew He Was Right

  1. ellenandjim

    Very good. I enjoyed reading and looking at this. I thought your points all telling and the illustrations especially interesting and well-chosen — except the last. I hope you don’t mind if I say the last returns us to an image that comes out of a deeply anti-real women point of view which Louis’s possessive anxiety/jealousy and the law that allows him to do what he does to Emily and their child embodies. It’s telling that when it came to this expressive woman illustrator offering an image of herself, she presents this guarded overtly sex-projecting one (it is that too, a wall face).

    • I think you make an excellent point, Ellen. A successful illustrator for magazines which targeted the teenage girl market, and who was so possibly in spite of rather than because of her gender, was still required to conform to a male-dominated perception of feminine beauty when drawing for those magazines. Misty dates back some decades now but I am not sure that perceptions of what is feminine when portrayed in the media, have moved on as much as we might like.

  2. nicky barnes

    Love your posts on Trollope Jupiter. Happy new year! Best wishes Nicky X

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