Illustrating Trollope: The Claverings


Uniquely amongst the Trollope Society’s edition, The Claverings features illustrations by a woman artist. Mary Ellen Edwards, who produced the illustrations for the serialisation of the novel in the Cornhill magazine in 1866 to 1867, was suggested to Trollope by his publisher Smith. She had already begun to establish a reputation as an illustrator through her work with Mrs Henry Wood in the magazine The Argosy and her work on The Claverings further enhanced her standing amongst the illustrators of periodicals at that time.

Edwards, photographed above (on the left) with her sister Jessie, also on artist, was undoubtedly subject to prejudice; her work was frequently regarded as inferior to her male contemporaries. She was thought to excel at domestic scenes which were a less-highly regarded genre than those on which male artists might concentrate. Her illustration for The Graphic, published in 1869, The Children’s Hospital, both confirms and confounds this pigeon-holing. The subject matter is essentially feminine – children – but the treatment is clearly documentary rather than sentimental in its approach.

That said, following her second marriage, to children’s illustrator John Staples, she did begin to produce the type of mawkish (to 21st century eyes) images so favoured by the late-Victorians – witness Millais’s Bubbles, so the trait cannot be ascribed solely to her gender.

The Folio Society edition of the novel was illustrated by Alexy Pendle – one of four non-series books for which she provided the illustrations, in addition to the six Barchester novels, making her the Folio Society’s most used artist. The contrasting styles of the two women reveal how each is able to convey effectively the emotions or inner-turmoil of the characters.

Both illustrated the wedding of Julia Brabazon to the significantly older Lord Ongar shortly after she has jilted Harry Clavering at the start of the novel. Edwards depicts the new Lady Ongar looking down, as befits a demure bride, but her expression, caught half in shadow, is one of distaste and she is looking away from her debauched husband, who leers at her with an evident sense of ownership. Pendle also depicts the bride looking away from her husband, gazing into the sunlit distance pensively, perhaps wondering what she has done.

This pair of opening images in the two editions of the novel is one of five such instances where they illustrate the same scenes – a high proportion given each provided only 16 illustrations in total.

Both depict the other unhappy marriage in the novel between Sir Hugh Clavering and Julia’s elder sister Hermione. They each depict the scene where Sir Hugh browbeats his wife in an argument and determines to abandon her while he pursues his masculine pleasures in spite of her pleading for him not to do so. By positioning Sir Hugh casually perched on the arm of the chair while his wife is seated in another looking up at him, Pendle conveys the inequality of their respective positions – he able to assert his authority without fear of contradiction, she reduced to the role of supplicant. Her expression reflects her fearful subservience.

Edwards depicted the couple twice – not only in the identical scene to that illustrated by Pendle, but also at another moment, when Sir Hugh has just learned of the death of his son. Edwards shows the devastating impact this loss has on the man and how, in a moment of tenderness, his wife – who, it must be remembered, has just lost her child – offers him a tentative comforting touch. This remarkable handling of an emotional scene between the two parents, revealing a strength in the woman which the man lacks at this juncture, even while she recognises that this will be but an interlude before he returns to his bullying ways, is very subtle. It is perhaps for this very ability to reach the emotional inner-life of her subjects that Edwards was “typecast” by the critics’ biases.

The third scene depicted by both artists is the return of the now widowed Lady Ongar to the estates which she has inherited from her husband. Their approach to this subject is markedly different. Edwards shows Julia as she visits one of the poorer tenants at Ongar Park. She is in her widow’s weeds and, once again, looks downward with an apparently pensive expression. She is perhaps reflecting on all that she has undergone at her husband’s hands and this is borne out by the caption “Was not the price in her hand?” She has made her Mephistophelean bargain and knows it. In contrast, Pendle chooses to depict Julia on the terrace of the great house looking out over her domain. She is pictured from behind so we cannot see her face – our view is that of the servant, waiting on her deferentially as she surveys the estate from her vantage point. It is a position of power and her stance indicates a determination to exercise that power. Only the very dark tones and deep shadows Pendle uses give an indication of the sombre heart of Julia’s sudden accession to this vast wealth.

Pendle uses the devise of the character facing away from the reader/viewer in several other illustrations, including the depiction of the final scene where Julia and Florence meet at last, which is the last of the five scenes drawn by both artists. This technique, hiding the character’s face creates a sense of ambivalence – since we have none of the clues of facial expression to assist us in reading the character’s inner feelings. Pendle chooses to depict Florence in this way as she struggles with mixed emotions. She has won Harry in the end and Julia has lost him, but it must be hard for her to know in her heart of hearts that it was a close call. In depicting the same scene, Edwards, more conventionally, shows the two women close together, clasping each others’ hands in the emotion of the moment, rather than stiffly keeping their distance from one another as Pendle has them. Indeed, Edwards depiction of the pair has many similarities with the stagey pose of herself and her sister walking in the garden captured in the photograph above.

The relationship between Harry Clavering and Julia, Lady Ongar, is central to the plot of the novel. It is interesting, therefore that Edwards only shows them together once and Pendle twice. Edwards depicts Harry as an apparently immature and somewhat petulant-looking, young man. In this early scene, Julia leans in towards him while he is at repose. There is a greater sense of engagement in the relationship between them on the part of the woman in spite of the fact that she had earlier jilted him. She has more emotional investment in Harry than he, rather understandably, feels for her at this point.

In contrast, Pendle exploits the greater freedom of the modern artist to present the couple in a passionate embrace, from later in the plot,showing how their feelings for each other have returned with a vengeance. Harry is depicted as more mature and his expression is masterful while Julia is evidently giving way to the sensuous feelings of the moment. The close up view of their faces, inches apart, dominates the image in a way that would not have been acceptable in a Victorian periodical.

It is clear that both Edwards, providing illustrations for Victorian readers of the Cornhill magazine, and Pendle, for modern readers of the Folio edition, treat Julia as the key character in the novel.  She appears in eight of the sixteen drawings by Edwards and five of the sixteen drawings by Pendle – more than any other character. Harry Clavering is the next most popular character, appearing five times in Edwards’s illustrations and three times in Pendle’s. The third person in this love triangle, Florence Burton, appears three times in Edwards’s illustrations but four times in Pendle’s illustration.  That she should feature more than Harry Clavering in the modern edition suggests that the emphasis on the relative importance of her character – the long-suffering, nice girl – has increased for audiences in the current era.

Indeed, while Edwards,with only a single exception, always depicts one of the principal characters (the three mentioned above with the addition of Sir Hugh Clavering) in every one of her illustrations, Pendle feels free to focus attention elsewhere in six of the sixteen illustrations. Although the novel lacks the multiple sub-plots of many of Trollope’s large scale works, there are a number of secondary characters whose impact on the main storyline is emphasised by allowing them to feature more prominently in the illustrations rather than making background appearances as they do in Edwards’s illustrations. Pendle therefore has illustrations which focus on Captain Boodle, Cecilia Burton, Theodore Burton and Reverend Edward Fielding.

However, it is noticeable that the single example of Edwards depicting solely these secondary characters is the fifth of the scenes which appear in both editions. This is the moment when the poor curate, Mr Saul, makes his awkward proposal to Harry’s sister Fanny, while the couple are walking back together from a visit to aid the poor in the village. They are kept at a respectable distance from each other by their raised umbrellas in the middle of a symbolic downpour that emphasises the poor prospects of both the clergyman’s career and, in consequence therefore, his aspirations to the hand of a woman of higher social standing than himself.

In addition to the Barchester series, Alexy Pendle provided illustrations for four othe Trollope novels in the Folio Society edition. As well as The Claverings, she also drew the illustrations for The Kellys and the O’KellysThe Belton Estate and Mr Scarborough’s Family. I have no doubt that Trollope would have enjoyed the detailed hunting scenes she provided – the one in the Irish setting for Trollope’s second novel might have been of particular interest to the author as it was there that he first took up hunting, which became a lifelong passion for him and featured frequently in his novels, often as a plot device to move the romantic storylines along when the youngsters could evade the protective care of the chaperones who might otherwise interfere.

Pendle also excelled at creating a domestic atmosphere with her attention to details. The illustration in Mr Scarborough’s Family of the moment when Dolly Grey arrives with assistance for her poor relatives the Carroll family only to find Mr Carroll, whom she had expected would have left by the time she arrived, is still at home. With his relaxed pose, hands behind his head and legs akimbo, he is acutely observed by the artist and his casual, masculine air is convincingly portrayed. Dolly’s pained expression on seeing him there speaks volumes.

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