TROLLOPE: His Life and Art by C. P. Snow

TROLLOPE: His Life and Art

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Rumor has it that Upstairs/Downstairs fans will be regaled this season with a serialization of the Parliamentary novels, and several publishers are hoping for a Trollope vogue. Snow's handsomely illustrated biography is undoubtedly the season's lushest bit of Trollopia, but it will be of more interest to people who don't want to know an awful lot about Trollope than people who do. Snow has that proprietary air, both endearing and infuriating, which distinguishes so many admirers of Trollope. Once past the childhood years, that sublimely prosaic life--the Post Office career, the marriage ""of no special interest to anyone except me and my wife,"" the appallingly methodical work habits--does not invite daring intuitions, and Snow often seems to be working slender materials to the bone. He searches the novels for traces of autobiography and rarely fails to find them: since ""there are some emotional states that no writer can invent,"" there must have been a young woman whom Trollope worshiped as bootlessly as Johnny Eames, in The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset, worships Lily Dale. All those bright and spunky heroines must have originated in Trollope's wife--except for Isabel Boncassen, sparked off by his American friend Kate Field. As for the bluff no-nonsense civil servant and literary artisan portrayed in the Autobiography, he is a defensive persona, a useful exterior self grafted over the exquisitely responsive sensibilities of the inner Trollope. In trying to convey Trollope's greatest gift as a novelist, Snow huffs and puffs and comes up with ""percipience,"" which is awkward but pleasing. His individual pronouncements are rather summary and dogmatic: one doubts that ""modern opinion would rank"" The Prime Minister among the best of his novels; and mathematical ratings tend to replace specific analytic detail (the intriguing Mr. Scarborough's Family is merely pigeonholed ""among the top third of his entire corpus""). In sum, an affectionate, highly personal, meandering tribute marred by a high-handed tone and occasional critical naivete.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Scribners