Illustrating Trollope: Kept In The Dark

Kept In The Dark was the last of Trollope’s novels to be published in his lifetime and the Trollope Society edition includes just a single illustration, the frontispiece by Millais which depicts the central female character, Cecilia Western, alone at her desk with correspondence – almost certainly with her absent husband – in an attitude of despair. Unfortunately it is not indicated whether or not this illustration is taken from the serialisation in the magazine Good Words, from the first two volume edition by Chatto and Windus or from another edition.

The novel is slim, some 176 pages, and so features not the customary sixteen illustrations in the Folio Society edition but only eight. These are drawn by Kate Aldous and none is an exact parallel of the scene depicted by Millais although Cecilia does feature in six of the eight illustrations. Evidently she is perceived as the pivotal character of the novel – in contrast to Trollope’s previous, lengthier novel, He Knew He Was Right, on a similar subject of a husband abandoning his wife because he is excessively jealous, without, it must be said, reasonable justification, of her relationship with another man, where the husband is the pivotal character – the “He” of the novel’s title.

Indeed, Mr Western appears in only three illustrations compared to the six in which his wife appears and, intriguingly, Aldous never depicts him facing the reader. In the critical scene where he confronts his wife with a letter revealing her past he is shown in profile only. In the other two his face is completely obscured. We are, therefore, both distanced from him and not given the privileged access to his inner feelings, as might be conveyed in his facial expressions, that we enjoy in illustrations of his wife, Cecilia. Our sympathies are, therefore, inevitably directed to her, whom we have seen being open with us, the reader, with her expressions giving us insight into her thoughts and feelings. Her internal conflict and anxiety about her husband’s anticipated jealousy are writ clear upon her face in the depiction of that fatal confrontation.
Indeed, Sir Francis Geraldine, Cecilia’s former fiance, appears in as many illustrations as does her husband and in each his face, with an arrogant or an angry expression, is visible to the reader, leaving us in no doubt as to his character.

In the small cast of characters in this novel, the two other significant women – Miss Altifiorla and Lady Grant, also feature in two illustrations apiece and Aldous captures the slightly vacuous character of the former (as seen in the above scene) and the sympathetic nature of the latter in both their respective appearances.
Aldous also provided sixteen illustrations for the Folio edition of Is He Popenjoy?  These include scenes which convey something of the vein of humour which runs through the book such as the incident where the high-spirited Mrs Houghton in search of excitement evades her husband in the hunting field and loses control of her mount at a brook causing an accident involving another rider ahead of her, Mr Price. (I believe the artist has incorrectly depicted Mrs Houghton riding side-saddle with her legs on the right hand side of the horse but this is only a quibble.)

There is also evident relish in Aldous’s depiction of the Dean seizing the dissipated Marquis by the cravat and shirt collar after the aristocrat has insulted his daughter’s name and character. Such scenes of violence are more common in Trollope than his conservative reputation might lead the reader to expect and it is invariably a good man whose patience has been tried beyond breaking who visits his wrath on the man whose ungentlemanly conduct has aroused his ire.

Aldous is perhaps best known for her work illustrating children’s books – both classics, such as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and the works of modern authors such as Anne Fine.


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