Regarded by many as Trollope’s great masterpiece, The Way We Live Now, feels as relevant to today’s world with its financial scandals, “get rich quick” Ponzi schemes and mistrust of bankers who care for nothing but their own personal profit, whatever the cost to the small man who invests his life-savings only to lose them, as it was when Trollope penned it more than 140 years ago. The above image of Melmotte, taken from the frontispiece of the Chatto and Windus edition of 1876, which is reproduced in the Trollope Society edition, is not attributed to any artist but the self-satisfied pose, with feet planted firmly apart, cigar in one hand and the other thrust deep in his pocket is instantly and universally recognisable, the timeless stance of the rich man contemplating his wealth and looking down contemptuously on hoi polloi: Melmotte is the prototype for the Goldman Sachs Masters of the Universe.
This frontispiece is the sole illustration in the Trollope Society edition which notes that the original serial publication and two-volume publication by Chapman and Hall in 1875 featured “notoriously incompetent” illustrations by Lionel Grimshaw Fawkes. Somewhat confusingly, James Pope Hennesey, in his biography of Trollope, misattributes the illustrations in the Chapman and Hall edition to Luke Fildes (who provided the illustrations for Dickens’ unfinished final novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood ) but those illustrations he includes clearly bear the initials L.G.F. which do not correspond to Luke Fildes’ initials (he would be S.L.F. if anything – having been christened Samuel), so I think we may disregard Fildes as a red herring.
It is hard to imagine the woman depicted here by Fawkes as the fascinating but dangerous Winifred Hurtle of Trollope’s novel watching her erstwhile lover Paul Montague walk away. She is far better represented by Francis Mosley in the identical scene for the Folio Society edition.
This is one of 20 illustrations provided by Mosley for the Folio Society edition – more than the usual 16 in recognition of the extra length of this enormous book. Of these, of course, the greatest number are devoted to the central character Melmotte who features in seven of the illustrations. His greasy, unctious style is nowhere seen to greater effect than in the depiction of Melmotte welcoming the Emperor of China to a banquet he has personally laid on in his honour.
If Melmotte is the most featured character (appearing in 7 out of the 20 plates) then it is also surely correct that the next most featured “character” is the city itself which features no less than six times. Instantly recognisible buildings include the interior quadrangle of the Foreign Office in Whitehall, Westminster Hall within the Houses of Parliament, the arch at Euston Station (pulled down in the early 1960s) and the facade of Kings Cross station from which Emma Carbury emerges to confront her rival Winifred Hurtle in nearby Angel Islington towards the end of the novel.
Interestingly, Mosley choses to include more depictions of the villain Sir Felix Carbury (5), seen below at his favoured club, the disreputable Beargarden, than the rather weak male lead – I hesitate to use the term “hero” since his behaviour is anything but heroic – Paul Montague, who is seen only once in the company of Mrs Hurtle. The style of this and other illustrations of Carbury is similar to the cartoonish send ups of public figures, including Trollope himself, which apoeared in satirical magazines at the time such as Punch. With his waxed moustache he is every inch the silent era Hollywood villain.
Mosley shows willingness to attempt the unusual in his illustrations for the Folio edition. He even includes a map of the route for the great South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway which, were it ever to make an appearance in the real world beyond Melmotte’s financial scam, would have run from San Francisco via Salt Lake City to Veracruz. This wonderful sketch map demonstrates more clearly than a dozen paragraphs of prose why the scheme could never be for real linking three such disoarate locations be which there could never be demand for travel or traffic in goods.
Mosley actually provided illustrations for four Trollope novels in the Folio Society edition. In addition to The Way We Live Now, he also illustrated The Vicar of Bullhampton, Cousin Henry and John Caldigate. These are all darker, more psychologically challenging or with more controversial, for the late Victorian era, subject matter. As such they are well suited to Mosley’s style which is more adventurous and experimental than, say, that required for some if Trollope’s more straightforward love stories of the genteel middle classes if Engkand.
We are thus treated to a “portrait” of the Methodist Chapel that looms so large in the plot of The Vicar of Bullhampton, which is portrayed with the same overwhelming nature through the use of a low perspective as are the massive buildings of the city of London in The Way We Live Now.
In Cousin Henry we not only see the eponymous central character brooding alone in several different illustrations, often in poses with his head in his hand, but we also see his internal turmoil expressed through the visual metaphor of the crashing waves on the rocks which appear to be enticing him towards a way out of his mental torment through an act of suicide as he stands a lonely, tiny figure at the top of the cliffs almost lost within the landscape. This image is reminiscent of the illustration in The Way We Live Now in which the tiny figure of Melmotte walks alone, snubbed by the other Members of Parliament, across the vast space of Westminster Hall on his final appearance in the House before his actual suicide. No doubt Mosley intends readers who have collected the Folio series to make this connection.
This ability to create oppressive moods or atmosphere is one which Mosley carries through into his other works for the Folio Society, for whom he illustrated both the edition of the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and also the works of Joseph Conrad, as well as, by way of compkete contrast, Tolikien’s The Silmarillion fir which he created an almost mediaeval wood-cut style appropriate to that fantasy genre.
Mosley’s illustrations for John Caldigate also provided direct inspiration for the recent graphic novel re-imagining of the story by Simon Grennan, published as Courir Deux Lievres (“Running Two Hares”) for the large French-speaking market for that form and Dispossession for the English-speaking market. This early scene by Mosley is reproduced by Grennan in almost all its details even down to thecaption taken from Trollope’s original dialogue.
Grennan in his cartoon strip illustrations of the scene gives not only the perspective depicted by Mosley, which might be regarded as analagous to the author’s stated perspective, qbut also circles round each scene, such as this, to depict it from different angles thereby hoping to convey a sense of the ambiguity in the scenes – an ambiguity – did the hero, or did he not, marry Mrs Smith while working in Australia – that lies at the heart ofthe book’s plot.