Introduction: illustration and interpretation

Anthony Trollope and J.E. Millais created a series of dual-texts in which the writing and illustrations are united in a symbiotic relationship. Although there were some professional difficulties, with the author struggling to assert his control over the visual material while never wanting to engage in the sort of face to face consultation that characterized the partnerships of other writers and artists of the period, the work they produced was remarkably unified. Its harmonies are largely the result of a basic compatibility, a sharing of interests combined with the illustrator’s skill in finding visual equivalents to match his source material. Indeed, in many ways Millais’s designs are conventional pieces of literal replication that buttressed the writer’s effects and work, as if an act of artistic unselfishness, to ‘promote’ Trollope’s vision (Autobiography 1: pp.198–99).

However, it is plainly the case that much of the work is interpretive and extends the texts’ implications. The movement between these two tendencies – literality and extension – greatly enriches the reader/viewer’s experience of the novels and inscribes further nuance in the dense surfaces of image and word. There is no definitive critical model for reading these interactions, although it is possible to divide the artist’s response into the constituent ingredients of ‘illustration’ and ‘interpretation’.

Millais as an illustrator

Millais was matched with Trollope by George Smith, the publisher of The Cornhill Magazine, in which Framley Parsonage made its first appearance in 1860–61. Trollope’s novel featured in the magazine’s opening numbers, and Smith needed a winning formula that would win and retain as large an audience as possible; Millais was the star name that added allure (Cooke, pp. 193–205) and exploit the growing demand for illustration in the style of poetic realism that was later known as ‘The Sixties’. But the publisher’s considerations were aesthetic as well as economic. Millais was in many ways a perfect fit with Trollope, or at least the closest fit among the many possibilities available to Smith from his newly-established stable of ‘Cornhill Artists’. Millais had the best credentials and the most relevant experience, possessing all of the qualities that would make him into an effective running mate for Trollope’s brand of fiction. Smith was a careful judge of both literature and art, and his idea of employing the former Pre-Raphaelite as Trollope’s illustrator was an astute recognition of their fundamental equivalence as interpreters of contemporary middle-class life.

As in the case of the other Pre-Raphaelites, who applied their painterly imagery to drawing on wood, Millais commanded an appropriate vocabulary of forms. Paintings such as The Black Brunswicker (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, 1860) and Autumn Leaves (Manchester City Art Gallery, 1856) are explorations of the same sort of genteel lives as those featuring in Trollope’s prose, and Millais charted similar territory in Edward Gray and The Miller’s Daughter in the ‘Moxon Tennyson’ (1857). These images equipped the artist with an iconography of bourgeois experience, a semiotic that meshes neatly with Trollope’s literary codes. In the words of a reviewer assessing the illustrations for Orley Farm, he provides an effective para-text by positioning ‘sketches of commonplace life’ (‘Trollope as the Voice’, p.175) in parallel with writing of the same range of interests.

Millais’s emphasis on the machinations of the bourgeois experience is partly realized in his treatment of settings. Trollope focuses on contemporary décor in the form of interiors and costumes, and Millais deploys his expertise in these areas to visualize the author’s physical details. The illustrations provide a detailed portrait of the domestic spaces of middle-class homes. Trollope sketches the rooms’ appearance, and Millais furnishes a series of plausible backgrounds which roots the action in ‘modern’ society. This ‘scrupulous attention … to existing fashions [in] furniture’ (‘Contemporary Literature’, p. 251), glasses, curtains, carpets, ornaments and other bric-a-brac is exemplified by the settings in Orley Farm. In Von Bauhr’s Dream (1: facing p. 136), for example, the character is placed in his bedroom, staring up at the ceiling (1, p.136), and Millais accordingly shows him in a confined space with a low roof. In There was sorrow in her heart (1: facing p. 36), the artist similarly depicts the contents of the middle-class parlour, complete with a fire-screen, paintings, intricate wall-paper and highly patterned carpet and elaborate chairs. This strategy of filling in details is carried across all of the illustrations for the five novels, and in each case Millais underscores the author’s social milieu: all we have to do is check for confirmation by glancing at the illustrations.

The same can be said of his representation of contemporary dress. The texts are informed with a distinct sense of actuality and the engravings give the writing material form, depicting in detail the fashions of the 1860s. The female characters, such as Lucy Robarts, Lily Dale and the aristocrats in Phineas Finn are each shown in their elaborate everyday dress. Billowing crinolines (the fad of the sixties) dominate the domestic spaces in which the women are doubly contained while the men display the variety of costumes – from evening to hunting dress, clothes for interiors and exteriors – appropriate to the particular routine or activity. In Phineas Finn and Framley Parsonage we see a distinct series of changes which map the daily rituals, a process typified by the contrast between two scenes in Phineas Finn; one shows a soirée (St Pauls 1: facing p.247), and the other the moment when Phineas regales Laura with his protestation of love (1: f.p. 509). The first is in evening dress, the second an opportunity to dress in country costume – leggings, a tasselled hat, and an outdoor dress. Variations in dress also point, subtly, to the class distinctions between the genteel and the aristocratic, with Lady Mason (Orley Farm) being far more opulently dressed than middle-class characters such as Lily Dale and all in the house at Allington. Much of the significance of the costumes has no doubt been lost to modern interpreters, but for the original audience Millais’s designs are visual signs to match and confirm the author’s closely-textured writing of circumstance and station, propriety, taste and tastelessness.

Millais’s designs are used, in short, to buttress the author’s reading of society. This correspondence was widely noted at the time, with many commentators linking the two as practitioners of Pre-Raphaelite realism. In the words of The Eclectic Review:

Mr Millais illustrates this fiction (Orley Farm); and to the school of art represented by Mr Millais among artists, belongs Mr Trollope among the writers of fiction. He is a Pre-Raphaelite; he draws the characters of life in hard lines (‘Unsigned Notice’, p. 128).

Made despite the fact that Millais no long painted in a Pre-Raphaelite style, this comment tellingly points to the ways in which the writer and artist are united in their pursuit of ‘truth’ – the ‘truth’ of appearances, and the ‘truth’ of the spaces in which the characters move. If the written text were removed, we would be able to reconstruct the milieu from the illustrations on their own, which create an extended montage to accompany the letterpress of each of the novels. ‘Truth’ is the validating factor.

Millais is at his most supportive, as it were, in his representation of character. H. K. Browne (Phiz) and George Cruikshank produced visual forms for some of Dickens’s most memorable creations, and the same could be said of Millais’s showing of Phineas Finn, Lord Lufton, Johnny Eames, Lady and Peregrine Mason and many others. Trollope regarded these treatments as the perfect embodiment of his intentions; his comments on the subject are undoubtedly naïve, but the author insisted that Millais had ‘impressed indelibly’ on his mind his ‘early ideas’ about his cast of characters (Autobiography 1, p.199), enabling him to recall how they should appear and behave over the long period (1860–82) of the novels’ publication. The comment further points to the fact that Millais was fundamentally a co-creator of the texts, establishing their ‘look’ of their cast and settings which parallels the workings of Dickensian illustration.

Millais’s work for Trollope can be summed up in the words of George Du Maurier’s extended essay, ‘The Illustrating of Books from the Serious Artist’s Point of View’ (The Magazine of Art, 1890). Du Maurier was reflecting on his practice from the 1860s onwards, and his comments are especially applicable to Millais’s book-art in the context of mid-Victorian aesthetics.

Millais closely conforms to Du Maurier’s argument that an illustrator should ‘ply his trade’ by embodying ‘the author’s conceptions in a concrete form, presenting the characters ‘fixed, crystallised, and solidified into imperishable concrete’ which makes them live once the details of the text ‘have been forgotten’ (pp.349–51). Millais thus adheres to the idea of an illustrator who validates the writing by giving it material and sensory form. His strategies also embody Du Maurier’s notion that an effective illustrator roots his text in the life of its times. Illustration, Du Maurier says, should ‘faithfully’ represent ‘what he has seen with his own eyes’ (p.374), linking his literary source material with the realities of its historical period. This is precisely what Millais does and here, as in the treatment of character, he is the very model of a literal illustrator who only ‘promotes’ the author’s conceptions.

Millais as an interpreter

Within this literal approach there was nevertheless a small space in which he could interpret rather than re-phrase. He was partly bound by the Victorian convention which defined the illustrator’s role as one of a servant of author and text, but he also responded to changes in the discourse. Exemplified by Dante Rossetti’s designs for the ‘Moxon Tennyson’ and Frederic Leighton’s response to George Eliot’s Romola, these developments re-positioned the graphic artist as one who could or should be free to visualize as he wished.

This notion was voiced by Du Maurier as a counter-argument to his insistence on fidelity. The illustrator might work ‘in harness’ to the author, but he could enjoy artistic freedom as well, using the text (in the words of William Michael Rossetti) as a ‘hint and an opportunity’ (p.189). As Du Maurier comments, “Sometimes … another’s idea lets loose the fountain of one’s own originality [and the text becomes] a theme or motif for endless contrapuntal additions and variations, and fugues, and unforeseen embellishments” (374). This development is evident in Millais’s illustrations for Trollope, inscribed within and enriching his literal responses. He recreates Trollope’s domestic scenes, but he offers other emphases which foreground what he sees as key elements.

One of these is his focus on pairing. Trollope’s novels contain many conversations, but Millais privileges these situations to the extent that the texts sometimes appear to be solely concerned with encounters between two individuals, or between a pair with a supplementary character. A simple count stresses the point. Of the 40 illustrations for Orley Farm, 21 are concerned with intense face-to-face consultations (with the remaining 19 divided between the court-scene, narrative exteriors, several crowds and single figures). In Framley Parsonage 3 of the 6 designs are conversations; in Phineas Finn 18 of 20; and in The Small House at Allington 15 of the 19. In each of these Millais stresses the psychological interactions of the characters, focusing on their facial expressions and gestures, especially their highly nuanced gaze as they look at each other.

The pair is Millais’s basic expressive unit, borrowed from paintings such as The Black Brunswicker (1860) and his illustrations in the Moxon Tennyson. This emphasis represents his own, idiosyncratic reading of Trollope’s writing, enhancing our sense of the characters’ inner life while infusing them with a gravitas beyond the writer’s concern with what are essentially small people in limited settings. As noted by a critic in The Contemporary Review, the artist infuses a deep sense of seriousness: the characters are endowed with a ‘statuesque sadness of expression’ which manages ‘to lend grace and dignity to hoops and shooting jackets’ (p.251), and the effect is often sombre rather than easy-going. Indeed, in Millais’s treatment there is always a fine balance between reportage and psychological drama; if Trollope’s texts give some of the details of some of his characters’ inner lives, then Millais converts them into individuals of deep feeling.

The process of psychological validation can be traced in many of the one-to-one situations. It often involves intense interactions between men, complicating Trollope’s notion of masculinity as a matter of bluff self-confidence (Cooke, ‘Interpreting Masculinity’, pp.144 –149). One of the most touching of these is the interview between Sir Peregrine and Lucius in Orley Farm (1: facing p. 17), when the grandson is tackled for his unpaid university bills. As usual, Millais has complex material to work with, a mixture of dialogue, descriptions of expression which range from ‘severity’ to ‘sadness’ (1: 25), and authorial comment. However, he only draws on two details: one involves Sir Peregrine putting his hand on Lucius’s shoulder and the other is the younger man’s gaze, looking ‘into the baronet’s face’ (1: p.25). These are taken as the keynotes of the exchange, and Millais greatly amplifies their significance: the placing of the hand is delicate, almost timorous, the suggestion of intense but reserved emotion in the manner of the English upper classes, as if he is afraid to express his feelings openly; while Lucius’s gaze is a mixture or remorse and sadness. The illustration works, in short, to intensify the delicacy of the moment, modulating its emotions to create a sort of archetypal design in which youth and age are linked in deep affection.

This deeply felt but contained emotionalism is typically Pre-Raphaelite in its emphasis on the psychological. Millais transfers the visual language of his paintings to his drawings on wood. The interiority of The Blind Girl (Birmingham Art Galleries and Museum, 1856) and Mariana (Tate Britain, London, 1851) is matched by his charting of the inner lives of Trollope’s characters. The pairings of courting or married couples takes this process further, notably in the meetings between Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts and Mark and Fanny in Framley Parsonage, Finn and Lucy in Phineas Finn, John and Lily Dale and John and Amelia (The Small House at Allington). Some of these are love-relationships, but Millais is equally telling in his representation of couples who are in conflict: his treatment of incompatibility is brilliantly conveyed, for example, in his representation of the irritable exchange between Adolphus Crosbie and Alexandrina in The Small House. Here, once again, gaze and gesture are the concrete exemplification of states of mind. The husband’s stance (legs apart, hands in pockets, a sideways gaze) acts as the sign of his contempt for his wife, while her dislike for him is represented by her disdainful gaze and irritated fiddling with a ribbon (The Cornhill 8, facing p. 641).

The figure of Alexandrina typifies a sub-set within Millais’s treatment of the characters’ inner lives. The anguish of male figures is intensely conveyed – as, for example, in Mark’s suffering in Framley Parsonage – but the artist pays particular attention to the female experience. The limitations of women’s lives form a major theme in Millais’s paintings and his insight into feminine psychology is applied to his reading of Trollope’s heroines. The visual language exemplified by Mariana (1851) is deployed as a means of representing Lily, Lucy Robarts and Lady Mason, and the effect is again a matter of subtle modulation. Lily’s facial expression and gesture reveal her inner feelings for Johnny Eames, and the same is true of Lucy when she speaks with Lord Lufton.

Millais greatly expands the author’s emotional range in his depiction of anguish. Lucy’s yearning for Lufton is overpoweringly realized in the form of agitated patterns in the famous Was it not a lie? (Cornhill1: facing 691), and the same sort of emotional excess is generated in Lady Mason after her confession (Orley Farm, 2: facing p. 40) and Lady Mason going before the magistrates(2: facing p.97). Both of these are images of remorse, shame and fear in which the closed gestures and downcast expression are reinforced by the dark hatching that envelops the figure. Apparently naturalistic, the shading acts as a metaphor for how she is possessed by the darkness of depression and anxiety.

Such stretching of naturalistic detail is central to Millais’s strategy. He registers the outer world of Trollope’s novelistic universe, illustrating, or re-representing what is inscribed in the texts; and he carries us forward through a process of interpretation which expands the range of Trollope’s messages, particularly in his emphasis on psychology and feeling rather than action.

What, then, is the overall impact of Millais’s visualization of Trollope’s novels? As noted earlier, he reinforces the sense of the everyday, rooting the characters in the life of the time; but he also converts Trollope’s text from tales of small lives into images of a universal condition. In this illustrator’s hand Trollope’s cast of middle-class characters, with their billowing dresses and top hats, are both mid-Victorians and archetypes. Their manners and mode of dress may be caught in time, but Millais shows how their inner lives are contributors to an eternal state of being, types of human experience which are partly revealed by the writing but are exposed for all to see in the visual language of gesture, stance and expression. If Trollope’s tone is predominantly cool and sardonic, Millais emotionalizes his source material, acting as a co-narrator who re-writes Trollope’s comedies of manners, turning them into psychological portraits of the mind and, more than anything, the workings of the heart.

Works Cited: Primary Material by Trollope

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

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 Material

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

Cooke, Simon. ‘Interpreting Masculinity: Pre-Raphaelite Illustration and the Works of Tennyson, Christina Rossetti and Trollope’.Pre-Raphaelites Masculinities: Constructions of Masculinity in Art and Literature. Eds. Amelia Yeates and Serena Trowbridge. Burlington, V.T: Ashgate, 2014. pp. 127–150.

Du Maurier, George. ‘The Illustrating of Books from the Serious Artist’s Point of View’. The Magazine of Art (1890): 349–353; 371–375.

‘Contemporary Literature’. The Westminster Review 82 (1864). Reprinted in Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Donald Smalley. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

‘Notice’. The Eclectic Review (July 1861). Reprinted in Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Donald Smalley. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

‘Phineas Finn’. The Contemporary Review 12 (1869). Reprinted in Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Donald Smalley. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

Rossetti, William Michael. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters, with a Memoir. London: Ellis & Elvey, 1895.

‘Trollope and the Voice of the English Middle Class’. National Review (January 1863). Reprinted in Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Donald Smalley. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

Last modified 17 June 2015