Introduction: a working relationship?

The artistic pairing of Anthony Trollope and his illustrator, J. E. Millais, is a complex affair. Second only to the partnership of Charles Dickens and H.K. Browne, Trollope and Millais collaborated on five novels. Four of these – Framley Parsonage, Orley Farm, The Small House at Allington and Phineas Finn – are served with extensive series of illustrations, while a fifth, Kept in the Dark, is embellished with a pictorial frontispiece. Inaugurated in 1860 and concluding in 1882, this working relationship produced a sustained vision, a sharing of text and image in which the novels are presented as dense interplays of visual and written information.

Such complementarity has been studied in detail: N. John Hall (1980) establishes many of the principal facts and Paul Goldman (2004, 2005) has considered the illustrations’ aesthetics and at least some of the ways in which they visualize their texts. Michael Mason (1978), Simon Cooke (2010) and Ellen Moody Locke (1999) are among the many others who have explored the interactions of image and word, although the richness of the work defies any final accounting.

There are however a number of ways in which this partnership can be viewed. One strategy is to read the collaboration as one of the many working relationships which developed in the 1860s. In his classic study of the illustrated novel, John Harvey (1970) underplays the significance of these arrangements, preferring to focus on the early Victorians; nevertheless, the sixties witnessed some of the most dynamic partnerships of the whole period. These were complicated arrangements which raised questions relating to the status of the two contributors, the author’s authority, the control of the text, and the role of the publisher. Though often viewed as a unique pairing, the shared work of Trollope and Millais was part of an evolving discourse, one of several partnerships in which the idea of co-authoring a text was itself the subject of dispute and interrogation.

The participants’ views on the working of the arrangement must always provide important insights, but in analysing the pairing of Trollope and Millais we are hampered by the fact that Millais is silent while Trollope is outspoken. The author’s perspective is necessarily only one side of the equation, although it does tell us exactly what he thought of the situation.

Trollope’s relationship with his illustrator was primarily, though not unreservedly, a harmonious one. His attitude to Millais, whatever his protestations of admiration, was ambivalent. Though he later claimed (1883) that he had always valued the artist’s interpretation of his work, this is not entirely accurate; in point of fact, his views developed over time and were always characterized by a combination of approval and reservation. This ambiguity is exemplified by his dealings in the earlier part of their collaboration; most telling is the account of his changing judgements as they worked on Framley Parsonage (1860–61).

Writing in his Autobiography (1883) Trollope notes how he was ‘proud’ to have Millais as his illustrator, and claims no ‘more conscientious work was ever done by man’ (1, p. 198). He was just as enthusiastic when he was told by his publisher George Smith that he had engaged Millais as the interpreter of the Parsonage (The Cornhill Magazine, 1860–61), his first novel to be illustrated and his first to appear under such a major imprint. With the famous Pre-Raphaelite on board, Trollope enthused, ‘no-body would be able to hold me’ (Letters,1, p.97), allowing him to progress from mid-ranging success to popularity. At the same time, Trollope was far from naïve and understood the publisher’s reasoning. Always the practical man of business, he realized that Smith had appointed Millais to add the appeal of a famous name, drawing readers to the serial mainly on the basis of the artist’s reputation rather than his own. Smith would later do exactly the same in matching the celebrated Frederick Leighton with the lesser-known George Eliot, the artist and writer at work on Romola (1862–64). Trollope was merely the first in line for what became a clever strategy, and his initial response was one of gratitude and acceptance.

Yet, like Eliot, Trollope was not entirely willing to accept what was essentially an imposition: Millais was undoubtedly a hot selling point, still associated with the radicalism and modernity of the Pre-Raphaelities; but Smith did not ask him if he thought the artist a suitable interpreter, any more than he consulted with Eliot as to the suitability of Leighton. The stumbling block for both writers was the question of authorial control. This proved problematic, and the writing and illustration of Framley Parsonage was characterized, like so many novels of the period, by an artistic struggle.

As far as Trollope was concerned, all of the power should be retained by the writer, the originator of the text; like Eliot and practically every other novelist of the time, he was bound by the idea that illustrators were purely the author’s servants, visualizing the material as it was put before them and tasked only to provide an efficient para-text. As he explains in his Autobiography, the ‘good artist’ is someone who sets out ‘to study the work of the author from whose writing he was bound to take his subject’ and aims only ‘to promote the views of the writer whose work had had undertaken to illustrate’, never sparing ‘himself any pains in studying that work, so as to enable him to do so’ (1, pp.198–199).

This credo informs much of the work by Millais, but there was disagreement too. Millais’s illustrations were approved so long as they served the author’s intention as Trollope saw it, but any evidence of individual interpretation was met with resistance. Trollope tells us that ‘idle’ artists are those who make their own reading and disregard their writer’s intention (1, p.198), and it is barely surprising to find that Millais is castigated for inaccuracy when he fails to provide a mirror-image of the writing.

In these moments Trollope felt he had lost control, a situation exacerbated by the fact that all of his work with Millais was mediated through Smith and subsequent publishers; unlike Eliot and Leighton, W. M. Thackeray and Richard Doyle or Dickens and Phiz, Trollope and Millais worked at a distance. Trollope’s approach was to try to manipulate his illustrator through the agency of a third party, although there is no obvious reason why he could not have worked face to face with the generally cooperative Millais.

With no direct control over his artist and, for whatever reasons, unwilling to change this situation, Trollope’s collaboration with Millais was sometimes both testing and testy. His sense of powerlessness is embodied his comments on individual designs for Framley Parsonage. In January 1860 he speaks of the advantage of having such an important name to promote his work, but on the appearance of the first illustration in June 1860 he was horrified at how that work might suggest a reading entirely beyond his influence. Trollope describes Was it not a lie? (Cornhill, 1, facing p. 691) as ‘simply ludicrous … a burlesque fit for Punch’ (qtd. Super, p.115). Modern commentators regard this as one of greatest of Millais’s designs, but for the peevish author it was certainly ‘idle’, and probably impertinent, a mockery of his words. Indeed, the image of Lucy in her boudoir following a love-tryst with Lord Lufton is the very reverse of the type of illustration Trollope preferred. It should be a simple para-text materializing the stage-direction, ‘she threw herself on the bed’ while revealing to the reader how much ‘she loved him’ (1, p.700). What Millais depicts, however, is a piece of expressive distortion: the figure is simplified into a monolithic form and the patterns of the crinoline externalize the character’s inner turmoil. It acts to deepen the scene’s psychological resonance, constructing meaning out of the barest of information and crystallizing Lucy’s state of mind in a powerful form. Yet Trollope seems not to understand how his text has been enhanced, and can only complain about the ‘very pattern’ of the dress, which is so vivid as to create a jarring after-image: ‘I saw [it] some time after the picture came out’ (qtd, Super, p.115).

As far as Trollope was concerned this was a moment when his text had been appropriated by another hand – turning it into the sort of torrid excess that might be acceptable in illustrations for Sensational texts, but was a poor fit with the level realism of the world of Barsetshire. Thereafter he tried to exert more influence. In July 1860 he wrote to Smith asking to see the illustration for the September design (Letters, 1, p. 110), and earlier he had written suggesting a subject for part 3 (p.96). Neither bore any fruit: Millais produced nothing for September 1860, and ignored the earlier communication.

In the end, Trollope was forced to accept this frustrating lack of control, submitting to the ‘better judgement’ (p.96) of his publisher and by implication his artist, who worked (after all) for Smith, and not for the author. Trollope’s dealings with Millais must thus be described as another example of the change in the balance of power. In previous decades the illustrator had indeed been the servant of the author, a model carried forward in the collaboration between Charles Reade and Robert Barnes in the production of Put Yourself in His Place (The Cornhill, 1869–70). But in the sixties the situation had changed: Leighton refused to be manipulated by Eliot, Du Maurier did as he wished, and Millais did the same in his responses to Trollope. Eventually Trollope accepted that Millais had to be trusted with the material and allowed him to become a co-narrator, creating a Trollopean world which matched and enhanced the author’s creations.

Works by Trollope illustrated by Millais

Framley Parsonage. Serialized in The Cornhill Magazine 1–3 (February 1860–March 1861). 6 illustrations engraved by the Dalziels. First book issue: London: Smith, Elder, 1861.

Kept in the Dark. Serialized in Good Words (1882). First book issue: London: Chatto & Windus, 1882, with an illustration first published in the April issue of the magazine, re-used as a pictorial frontispiece. Engraved by the Dalziels.

Orley Farm. Sold in parts (March 1861–October 1862); published in London by Chapman & Hall; published in 2 vols in 1862, with vol. 1 appearing while the serialization was still in progress. 40 illustrations. Engraved by the Dalziels. There are very few surviving copies of the original part-issues.

Phineas Finn. Serialized in Saint Pauls (October 1867–May 1869). 20 illustrations, engraved by Swain. First book issue: London: Virtue, 1869.

The Small House at Allington. Serialized in The Cornhill Magazine 6–8 (September 1862–April 1864). 18 full page illustrations and 19 initial letters First book issue: London: Smith, Elder, 1864. The book contains only the full-page designs.

Secondary sources

Cooke, Simon. Illustrated Periodicals of the 1860s. Pinner: PLA; London: The British Library; Newcastle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2010.

The Cornhill Magazine. 1860–64.

Goldman, Paul. Beyond Decoration: The Illustrations of John Everett Millais. London: The British Library, 2005.

Goldman, Paul. John Everett Millais. Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2004.

Hall, N. John. Trollope and His Illustrators. New York: St Martin's Press, 1980.

Harvey, John. Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970.

The Letters of Anthony Trollope. Vol 1, 1835–1870. Ed. N. John Hall. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983.

Locke, Ellen Moody. Trollope on the Net. London: The Hambledon Press, 1999.

Millais, J.G. The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais. 2 vols. London: Metheun, 1899.

Mason, Michael. 'The Way We Look Now: Millais’ Illustrations to Trollope'. Art History 1:3 (September 1978): 309–40.

Super, R. H. The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1988.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. 2 vols. London: Blackwood, 1883.

Created 15 March 2015