Illustrating Trollope: The Small House at Allington

Returning to Barsetshire, I’m now going to examine the fifth book of the series: The Small House at Allington. First published in book form by Smith and Elder in 1864 following serialisation in Cornhill magazine, it was illustrated by Millais. The Trollope Society edition uses the 18 illustrations from that first edition. In addition, it includes a number of small vignettes, often street scenes which lend atmosphere to the text but do not specifically depict incidents from it.  These appear at the end of various chapters. The Folio Society edition includes 16 illustrations by Alexy Pendle, who provided the illustrations for all the Folio Society’s edition of the six Barsetshire Chronicles.
Perhaps astonishingly, only one scene is chosen for depiction by both illustrators and that is taken from the tragi-comic sub-plot of Johnny Eames and his complicated love-life with the less than genteel Amelia Roper, daughter of his landlady Mrs Roper. That this affair should throughout the novel appear to be a potential stumbling block in his awkward courtship of Lily Dale is a comic reflection on Trollope’s own difficulties while, like Johnny Eames, a clerk in the civil service in London.

Millais chooses to depict the pair discussing his imminent departure for Allington and the vicinity of Amelia’s supposed rival Lily with Johnny seated and Amelia standing before him at a respectable distance as she demands of him “And you love me?” in a mood in which “she could occasionally ruffle her feathers like an angry kite”. Pendle depicts the scene a moment later when he has foolishly replied: “‘Of course I love you.’ And then, upon hearing these words, Amelia threw herself into his arms.” We thus move from the full length portrait of the pair by Millais to a much closer and more intimate perspective of the couple embracing in the foreground while the chaperone, Miss Spruce appears in the distant background of the room as Amelia has switched in an instant to a mood in which “she could assume the plumage of a dove”.

Millais, in fact, never does depict the two other members of the Adolphus Crosbie, Lily Dale, Johnny Eames love triangle together in spite of the fact that it is Lily’s persistent attachment to Crosbie which is the mainspring of the book’s plot. is this some subtle form of censorship to avoid depicting Lily in a compromising closeness to a man whom she will ultimately not marry. Would she be perceived as having overstepped the bounds of decency and so lose the sympathy of readers – particularly censorious female matriarchs – if she were depicted in an embrace with Crosbie. Certainly Victorians did not baulk at the depiction of a wife embracing her husband (albeit perhaps not in such close up detail as Pendle depicts Amelia and Johnny) but would they have been scandalised at the sight of an unmarried couple embracing?
In contrast, Pendle depicts Lily and Crosbie together twice – the first occasion is the frontispiece showing them both in a social setting early in the novel but the second, and more important occasion, is the night-time tryst in the garden between the Small House and the Great House at Allington. Some scholars speculate whether this embrace went further than the kiss on the lips which Trollope explicitly describes before she whispers to him in apparent ecstacy: “Oh, my love!…My love! my love!” Pendle chooses to show a romantic moonlit image.

Millais, in fact does depict Crosbie with the woman he actually marries, Lady Alexandrina De Courcy, not once but twice. In neither scene is the couple shown to be happy. Indeed, Crosbie is pointedly looking at his watch, patently bored of the shopping expedition on which he has been forced to accompany his bride to be as she shops for carpets and other needful things to decorate their intended marital home. There is something of the universal experience of men under such circumstances which is irresistibly comical.

Pendle chooses to depict a moment of more spiky antagonism when portraying Crosbie and Alexandrina. She is clearly no fool and is well aware that he is courting her while ostensibly engaged to Lily when she asks him: “‘How long is it, Mr Crosbie,’ she said, ‘since you put the same question to Miss Dale?'” She evidently understands him and determines to take him on that basis for her own ends. Pendle portrays her without a hint of softness in her expression and Crosbie, handsome and bearded, looks down at the floor abashed.

There is indeed a greater variety of perspective in Pendle’s illustrations for the Folio Society editions than is used by Millais, whose viewpoint is generally static and at a middle distance – neither too close nor too distant. Pendle, as we have seen is willing to shift from the close up of the frontispiece to the longer perspective of the couple in the garden – both ostensibly embracing couples in love. This allows her to create light and shade in her depictions of the scenes allowing her to highlight contrasts – the self-serving physicality of the lower class couple, neither of whom are truly in love with each other but must go through the apparent ecstasies of being so, which can be exposed in close up, while the middle class couple have an apparently idyllic romantic interlude, best observed from a distance, even though only one of them is true  to the other.

Thus we see in close up the very physical assault by Johnny Eames on Crosbie in Pendle’s illustration whereas Millais opts for a more sedate portrayal of the subsequent discussion of the incident. Pendle even includes minor details of the scuffle such as the disturbance of the yellow shilling novels arrayed on display outside Mr Smith’s bookstall (yes, that Mr W. H. Smith). This is one of only four scenes, in addition to the single scene depicted by both, where both Millais and Pendle depict either the aftermath of, or run up to, a scene depicted by the other. For the remainder, they chose unrelated scenes.
For example, the artists chose two different moments from the Plantagenet Palliser – Lady Dumbello affair for their illustrations. This early indiscretion on the part of the young Palliser precedes the events described in Can You Forgive Her? which was published the following year (and whose plot in so far as it relates to the Palliser, Glencora, Burgo Fitzgerald love triangle is given away within a few paragraphs in this novel). It is interesting to speculate to what extent Millais was called upon to provide an illustration of Plantagenet Palliser as a teaser for the forthcoming novel. Did Trollope already have in mind at least the kernel of the idea for a new series of novels built around the fortunes of this young and, it must be said, almost foolishly self-willed aristocrat to take over from the Barsetshire series? If so then Millais depiction of this early incarnation flirting almost bashfully with Lady Dumbello reveals little of the sober, long-sighted man he will become. Though perhaps that uncertainty with women will be a constant trait.

Pendle choses to depict the private talking-to which Palliser receives from his Uncle the Duke of Omnium. She has Palliser looking rather more self-assured than Trollope suggests he might have been, casually leaning against the wall as the Duke sits admonishing him. It is as if Palliser is wishing the Duke to just get on with it. He has, perhaps, a lot of growing up to do before he will, in the fullness of time, assume the parliamentary responsibilities he will take so seriously and, ultimately, inherit the title.

It is also interesting to observe how Millais looks not only forward but backward in his illustrations, depicting Mr Harding, the hero of The Warden, the first book in the series. His appearance in this fifth Barchester novel is fleeting, mentioned as he passes Crosbie who in conversation with the verger at the door of the cathedral. Millais reflects Trollope’s description of “a little, spare old man”. Much of the plot of that earlier novel is recited and the illustration may have the effect of emphasising its appearance with a possible view to boosting sales of the earlier novel. Or is this retrospectively ascribing 21st Century marketing techniques to a nineteenth century publisher, author and illustrator?

Pendle does not depict Mr Harding in The Small House at Allington but as she provided the illustrations for the Folio edition of The Warden, it is interesting to compare her depiction of him in a closing scene with Bunce, one of the bedesmen under his care, with that drawn by Millais. Pendle’s Mr Harding is a less Dickensian portrait. She captures an expression of benevolence which speaks of the man’s character.

Pendle’s illustrations for the Barchester series are consistently in this style with emotional expressions clear on the characters’ faces. This is true of her other work for the Folio Society such as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell.

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She has also provided illustrations for Oxford University Press, Macmillan and other publishers as well as providing illustrations for children’s books published by Puffin and others. She also wrote and illustrated a children’s novel The Cat Who Could Fly published by Muller. Having grown up in England and trained at the Central School of Art in London she now lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.

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