Illustrating Trollope: Orley Farm

The Trollope Society edition of Orley Farm is lavishly illustrated with forty scenes by Millais from the two volume first edition published by Chapman and Hall in 1861 (volume 1) and 1862 (volume 2). The frontispiece features the famous image of the farmhouse at Harrow on the Hill in which the young Trollope spent part of his childhood when his father, with no prior experience, tried his hand at farming following the failure of his legal practice. One has to wonder why Trollope, who invariably had input on the illustrations provided for his works, should chose to revisit an unhappy scene from his youth since the family were evicted from the farm by bailiffs when this father was declared bankrupt and were forced to flee to Belgium, where life on the continent offered a cheap respite from their struggles in England. Perhaps he was reclaiming the farm in his fictional world, and incorporating it into his public persona as the successful author.

Llewellyn Thomas chose not to include an equivalent image of the farm among the sixteen illustrations he provided for the Folio Society edition of the novel. He does, however, include a mirror of the famous Millais illustration from part way through the novel in which Lady Mason throws herself at the feet of her staunch supporter Sir Peregrine Orme and, clasping his knees, confesses her guilt.

This melodramatic, plot-revealing scene occurs early in the second volume causing Trollope to lament later, in his Autobiography, that, “The plot…is probably the best I have ever made; but it has the fault of declaring itself, and thus coming to an end too early in the book.”

This is one of five scenes (arguably six if one is to include the Christmas entertainment during the evening at Noningsby which Millais illustrates with the family playing Blind Man’s Bluff while Thomas depicts them playing Snap-dragon, which followed immediately afterwards) in which Thomas mirrors the earlier illustrations.

One of these scenes which appears in both editions is the courtroom during “The Great Orley Farm Case”. In both the Trollope Society and Folio Society editions, that eminent and pugnacious barrister Mr Chaffanbrass can be seen haranguing the witness Bridget Bolster. In each image, the barrister is seen in full face whereas the witness is seen from behind. We thus experience as readers the full blast of the lawyers browbeating of the witness – a scene which provoked much critical reaction from lawyers at the time of publication and in subsequent years for being an inaccurate portrayal of the profession in action, though US lawyer Todd Shields who in a recent seminar in London defended Trollope’s depiction of the lawyers’ grandstanding as being within the bounds of artistic licence.

I am struck by the effect of Thomas’s use of a looser, more fluid style of drawing when compared with Millais. This conveys some sense of the state of uproar in the court during the examination of the witness by Chaffanbrass whereas the Millais image creates a more static, set-piece feel.

Thomas creates a similar effect of capturing a moment of chaos in the Dockwrath family home during the comic scene when Mr Kenneby goes to visit his old flame Miriam, for the first time in the many years since she deserted him for the lawyer with the better career prospects. He is overcome with the realisation that though the years have been kind to him, they have removed the glamourous lustre of his former love who is now a middle-aged, harrassed housewife struggling to cope with her growing brood. In the equivalent scene, depicted by Millais, we see the pair only as she answers his knock on the door in a brief moment of decorum before the full effect of the change from winsome girl to homely matron struggling to maintain some semblance of order amidst the clutter and confusion of her children has taken effect on her visitor.

Both artists though capture the exuberance and joie de vivre of Mr Kantwise in another comic scene in which he endeavours to sell some furniture to the reluctant Mr Dockwrath, climbing on top of a table and dancing a jig with his hands aloft to demonstrate the quality of the workmanship that has gone into its production.

What Millais achieves through the expression on Mr Kantwise’s face, Thomas achieves with more crowding of his scene with a plethora of sketchily conveyed detail that overwhelms the eye though in fact both artists remain scrupulously accurate in the inclusion of the snoozing Mr Moulder, the detached Mr Dockwrath and the supporting bystanders, James, the waiter, and Joe, the boots.

The fifth scene depicted by both artists is another devoted to the main plotline – the courtcase – rather than the comic asides such as the two previously considered, with the young Peregrine Orme seeking to persuade Lady Mason to reject his grandfather’s courtship of her because she will be the ruin of a gentleman who has hitherto led an unblemished life and enjoys an unsullied reputation. Millais, as would be conventional, depicts the young heir standing, talking down to the seated Lady Mason, emphasising the inferiority of her position as both a woman and as a presumed perjurer whose reputation and status is at least questionable at this point in the novel. Thomas choses to go against these conventions and depicts the scene a few moments later when the young man has seated himself, having had his say, and Lady Mason has risen and is pacing the room in her distress and being confronted so bluntly with the potential consequences of her actions for someone whom she regards so highly.

When considering the forty illustrations by Millais and the sixteen by Thomas, Millais shows a marked tendency to focus on the main plot – the court case. Eighteen of the forty illustrations (some 45%) show scenes that are directly related to this plot-line or are very closely related to it (for example showing characters together who are closely involved in that plot-line at points in the story where they are not specifically advancing that plot). In contrast, only five of the sixteen illustrations by Thomas, some 30%, are concerned with the main plot. This gives Thomas scope to devote more to the type of comic side stories relating to minor characters, such as depicted above. Indeed, Thomas devotes more in absolute as well as relative terms to these other illustrations than to the court case – there are six of them compared to the five devoted to the case. Both artists, however,devote about the same space to the secondary plot – the romance between Felix Graham and Madeline Staveley reflecting, perhaps, Trollope’s belief that a love story was an essential component of any novel.

In addition to Orley Farm, and to the six Political/Palliser novels for which he was the provided the illustrations,Thomas was the artist for two other non-series novels in the Folio edition of Trollope’s complete works.  These were The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson and Miss Mackenzie. This makes him, after Alexy Pendle,who illustrated the six Barchester novels and four non-series novels, the second most used artist in the Folio edition.

Thomas clearly identifies the pivotal moment in Miss Mackenzie when the middle-aged spinster recognising, perhaps for the first time, that, now she has inherited wealth, she is a full-fledged woman, and potentially attractive as such. She leans forward and kisses her own reflection in the mirror in what is, in the novel, an erotically charged scene. However, I feel that sense of eroticism is absent from Thomas’s drawing. Miss Mackenzie appears older and more past it than I sense from reading the passage in the novel.

However, Thomas does convey something of the erotic charge that John Ball felt when visiting his cousin Margaret and, being a close relative, was admitted into her bedroom to see her, which would not have been possible for a typical male visitor. We get some sense through Thomas’s free-flowing style of the state of deshabille in which Margaret receives her visitor, with her hair down in a way that would be unthinkable for her to be seen by a man to whom she was not closely related. Indeed, his gaze seems irresistibly drawn to her barely , or perhaps loosely, covered breasts (not a detail mentioned by Trollope in the text).  Indeed, this perspective on the artist’s part might reflect perfectly the character’s unspoken thought “Was he now being surrounded by the meshes of a false woman’s web?”.

This use of a mass of ill-defined detail also conveys very well the confusion and noise of the Negro Soldiers’ Orphan Bazaar in which Trollope satirises the well-meaning but ineffectual attempts by the great and the good of society to provide charity for a worthy but obscure cause. I am tempted to identify the woman behind the counter with her hands to her face as the hapless Miss Mackenzie – “the Lamb” to Mr Ball’s “Lion” (so described by the Reverend Maguire in his articles when under the misapprehension that she had been fleeced, so to speak, by her cousin).

Sadly, in spite of my best endeavours, I have discovered no other work by Llewellyn Thomas beyond the illustrations he provided for the Folio Society edition of Trollope’s novels. I would welcome any information that might enable me to provide a more complete picture of his work.

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