This essay is based on a paper that was delivered to members of The Trollope Society on 9th November 2015 at The House of Illustration, London.

Millais turned to illustration in 1860 largely for financial reasons. He had found that although his Pre-Raphaelite paintings had met with moderate success with both dealers and collectors, he often had to wait a considerable time to receive payment. Illustration, on the other hand, offered a more regular recompense; and so Millais was engaged to illustrate a number of Trollope’s novels as they appeared in both part and serial form. Why, though, was he such a successful practitioner in the art of drawing for wood-engraving?

There were several reasons for the practical success of his illustrations. First, he had a good rapport with his engravers, the Dalziel Brothers, and, in addition, he was industrious and could work to deadlines. These qualities were essential as sometimes, especially in magazine illustration, the requirements meant being able to deliver drawings within a week. Second, he knew exactly how to draw with the wood-engraver in mind and this was an ability which he alone among the other Pre-Raphaelites took the trouble to master. At the same time, Millais found himself in tune with the author both intellectually and in terms of social class and background. For example, they both enjoyed fox hunting and the thrill of the chase. The two collaborated closely together and Trollope had an innate respect for Millais’s talents as draughtsman and thinker. Although Trollope occasionally took issue with Millais’s choice of which exact moment to depict, on the whole the two worked in close accord in writing and in design. Indeed, it is fair to say that Millais’s designs for wood-engraving generally and especially the Trollope drawings, may be seen as his greatest achievements with the notable exception of the Pre-Raphaelite oil paintings of the 1840s and 1850s.

Framley Parsonage

The first novel by Trollope that Millais was engaged to illustrate was Framley Parsonage, which was serialised in The Cornhill Magazine from January 1860 until April 1861 without interruption in 16 instalments. The 6 illustrations appeared in numbers 4, 6, 8, 10, 13 and 15, and these were later used in the book issue which appeared in three volumes in 1861. George Smith of Smith Elder negotiated with Millais to take on the commission and Trollope declared his delight at the arrangement in a letter to his publisher, noting ‘Should I live to see my story illustrated by Millais nobody would be able to hold me’ (qtd. Hall, p.11).

The first drawing shows Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts together and although Millais had little to go on in terms of descriptive text he shows the two having just met for the first time as the lord is on the point of leaving her at the parsonage gate. Trollope describes Lufton as ‘a fine bright looking young man’ while Lucy is apparently clever yet retiring, small in stature and dark in complexion (Cornhill I, 318). Millais produces a very creditable performance, with the lord carrying a brace of pheasants over his shoulder, a reference to the potential capture of Lucy in emotional terms.

Next comes Was it not a lie? Here, as in the first design, Millais chose what to depict – a scene from the end of Chapter 16 where Lucy, having told Lord Lufton that she cannot love him, retires to her room and throws herself on her bed. Trollope on this occasion, however, was angry, describing the image as ‘simply ludicrous’ (Letters, pp. 59–60), even suggesting that Millais might perhaps give up the illustrating the novel as a project. It remained in the novel and is remarkable because of Millais’s accuracy and understanding of the flounces and foldings of the crinoline Lucy is wearing. This illustration exemplifies the artist’s responsiveness to modern life; he was the master of contemporary dress, both male and female, and this is a constant throughout his illustrations for Trollope.

Left: Was it not a lie?. Right: The Crawley Family. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The Crawley Family contains a fine depiction of Josiah Crawley himself, echoing accurately Trollope’s description of him as “a lean, slim, meagre man, with shoulders slightly curved, and pale, lank, long locks of ragged hair. His forehead was high, but his face was narrow … Nobody could look at him without seeing that there was a purpose and a meaning in his countenance” 9531–320. If Millais showed Crawley with a close attention to the text and a sensitivity to the character, his drawings of the children though acceptable are less successful and appealing. A point to make about this particular drawing is that it shows no specifically dramatic moment in the text. Purely descriptive, it sets the scene for what is to come. Millais’s designs as a whole often show scenes just before and even or just after an event has occurred. In this way he enhances the text, adding feeling and complexity, as it were, from two narrators – the author and the illustrator working together and in harness.

In Lady Lufton and the Duke of Omnium we find the first example of a design suggested by Trollope rather than one chosen by Millais. As there is no direct description of the duke in the novel, Trollope referred Millais to a description of him in Dr Thorne where we read that he was ‘a plain tall man’ (Letters, p. 64). Millais then shows the exact incident of the meeting with close attention to the text:

‘I beg your pardon’ said the duke … Lady Lufton, as she retreated back … curtseyed low and slowly, and with a haughty arrangement of her drapery that was all her own…when she commenced her curtsey she was looking full in her foe’s face. By the time she had completed it her eyes were turned upon the ground, but there was an ineffable amount of scorn expressed in the lines of her mouth [I, 473]

Millais manages to describe all this in fine style and his design adds greatly to the reader’s comprehension of the text. Here are two further designs for the novel, with the final one, ‘Mark,’ she said ‘the men are here’ being the strongest and most dramatic. Mark Robarts’s face is carefully drawn to bring out his concern and anguish about what is going to happen. Fanny Robarts is telling her husband that the bailiffs are at the door and are intent on reclaiming Framley Parsonage.

Orley Farm

Before Framley Parsonage had finished its serialisation in The Cornhill Magazine Trollope had begun a new novel, published this time, in parts by Chapman and Hall. This was Orley Farm, which appeared in monthly shilling parts from March 1861 to October 1862 and contained 40 full-page designs by Millais. According to N. John Hall, ‘it would not be rash to call them (the illustrations) the best for an English novel of the “golden decade” of wood engraving’ (p. 27). Trollope himself said of them that they were ‘the best I have seen in any novel in any language’ (Autobiography, p. 167). He also had a set of artists’ proofs put together for himself and in the album he wrote, ‘I have never known a set of illustrations so carefully true, as are these, to the conception of the writer of the book illustrated. I say that as a writer. As a lover of Art I will add that I know no book graced with more exquisite pictures’ (The Robert H. Taylor Collection, no page number).

The pictures, which are indeed very satisfactory, concentrate on Lady Mason and the accusations against her for perjury (some 24 designs), but there are also 14 devoted to the love between Felix Graham and Madeline Staveley and just 2 to the comic sub-plot of Moulder and Kantwise. However, it is entirely right that Lady Mason should appear so prominently across the wide canvas of this fine novel, and Millais’s designs depicting her give a psychological weight and gravity to her predicament, in addition to interpreting the text so vividly.

A good example is There was sorrow in her heart, and deep thought in her mind, where she ponders the possibility that legal action may be taken against her. The text reads ‘There was no smile in her face now, neither was there any tear in her eye. The one and the other emblem were equally alien to her present mood’ (I, 36). Looking carefully at the image it is possible to see far more than simply a lady seated in an armchair. Lady Mason’s entire posture and facial expression reveal with immense clarity the depth of despair into which she has fallen. One hand cushions her face while the other rests uneasily on the arm of the chair. She is ostensibly at rest, but Millais suggests in his drawing an uneasy and uncomfortable situation. The only relief in sight is the relative freedom offered by the open access to the garden which reveals an arbour – a literal means of escape but indeed not a real one.

Left: There was sorrow in her heart, and deep thought in her mind. Right: Why should I not. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

In contrast, take Why should I not? where Sir Peregrine Orme promises to help Lady Mason and realises that he has fallen deeply in love with her. He paces his library deep in thought having just said to Lady Mason. ‘my house is altogether at your service. If you will be led by me in this matter, you will not leave it till this cloud shall have passed by you’ (I, 208). So, remarkably we have the influence of Lady Mason’s plight on Sir Peregrine, and in this profound way Millais shows us both characters at once even though only one is actually present in the plate. The skill lies entirely in the artist’s mastery of the body-language for Sir Peregrine is not simply standing but he is lost in pensive thought and concern suggested by his holding his lapel and leaning back just slightly. Such designs warrant close examination in an attempt to work out exactly what Millais is doing. He rarely takes the most obviously dramatic moment of a scene and here concentrates on Sir Peregrine after he has spoken to Lady Mason instead of while he was doing so. This allows him to penetrate the characters with deep psychological thought which is what renders his characterisations so powerful and creative. In so many ways Millais does not merely echo Trollope’s words – instead he adds a new visual dimension to them making them fuller and more rounded as characters – in this respect he may be seen as a story-teller or indeed a narrator in his own right.

Left: Lady Staveley interrupting her son and Sophia Furnival. Right: Guilty. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Another part of the story concerns the love life of Augustus Staveley. In Lady Staveley interrupting her son and Sophia Furnival we see her quite deliberately bursting in on the two lovers with her eye full on Sophia, the stony-hearted but physically attractive girl who entrances Augustus. Lady Staveley, who holds a set of keys close to her dress, is the dominant figure here. We read:

Lady Staveley interrupted her son and Sophia Furnival in the back drawing-room, and began to feel that her solicitude for her children would be almost too much for her. Why had she asked the nasty girl to her house, and why would not the nasty girl go away? [I, 306]

Again, Millais concentrates his attention on the central and troubled figure of Lady Staveley; the anger and irritation clearly appears both in her face and in her demeanour. Returning now to the Lady Mason plot, we find one of the most dramatic of Millais’s plates, one that is unusual in his Trollope illustrations because it takes the most obvious subject — Guilty in which Lady Mason confesses to Sir Peregrine that she is guilty and so cannot marry him.

‘Sir Peregrine, I am guilty.’

‘Guilty! Guilty of what?’ he said, startled rather than instructed by her words.

‘Guilty of all this with which they charge me.’ And then she threw herself at his feet, and wound her arms round his knees [II, 32]

This scene is one of the greatest strength and also one of the most powerful Millais ever made. We can feel the tightness with which Lady Mason is encircling the legs of Sir Peregrine and feel with him, his embarrassment as he puts out a hand to vainly attempt to make her let him go. The plate is full of anguish and despair and it adds a good deal to the text.

Another dramatic scene is How can I bear it? in which a distraught Lady Mason reveals her misery to her friend Mrs Orme: ‘Do you know I was thinking today that my mind would fail me, and that I should be mad before this is over? How can I bear it? How can I bear it?” And rising from her seat, she walked rapidly through the room, holding back her hair from her brows with both her hands” (II, 238). Millais contrasts the two figures superbly – Lady Mason exactly as Trollope describes her, and and Mrs Orme looking on with heartfelt sympathy.

Left: How can I bear it?. Right: Farewell. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The final plate is a tender one, for it shows the final embrace of Sir Peregrine and the disgraced Lady Mason. Entitled simply Farewell, it is a fine reflection on Trollope’s text at this crucial point:

‘May God bless you, Mary, and preserve you, and give back to you the comforts of a quiet spirit, and a heart at rest! Till you hear that I am under the ground you will know that there is one living who loves you well.’ Then he took her in his arms, twice kissed her on the forehead, and left the room without further speech on either side. [II, 311].

Millais thus concludes his illustrations to Orley Farm. They are amongst his most consistent and finest. It is impossible here to do full justice to his achievement, but in this section I have suggested his capacity to visualize the complexities of a long and demanding novel, with its many subplots.

The Small House at Allington

A third major novel is The Small House at Allington, which was serialised in The Cornhill Magazine from September 1862 until April 1864. A feature of this important group is the delightful initial letter vignettes which appear at the opening of each chapter, but which, inexplicably, were omitted from the first book edition of the novel. The story contains a number of episodes which are treated successfully by Millais and one or two have elements of humour about them. A good example is Why, it’s young Eames, which was published in January 1863. The earl has come across Johnny Eames who has fallen asleep on his land in the old Manor woods.

‘Young man’ said the voice, ‘if you want to catch rheumatism, that’s the way to do it. Why, it’s young Eames, isn’t it?’

‘Yes my lord,’ said Johnny, raising himself up so that he was now sitting, instead of lying, as he looked up into the earl’s rosy face [VII, 67].

The earl’s rosy face is clearly suggested by Millais, but the artist does not choose to show Johnny Eames sitting; instead, he shows the moment before while he is still in a recumbent position and presumably sleeping. It is noticeable that on several occasions Millais chooses to show a scene that does not correspond exactly with Trollope’s words. Yet the picture of the sleeping Eames is delightful one as we are shown the moment of his discovery by the earl before the awakening. Although we know that Trollope regularly made suggestions as to what Millais should depict it is frequent that the artist shows that he is his own man when it comes to the exact moment in the narrative. The moment is indeed a significant feature of Millais’s work in illustration and it is sometimes difficult to be sure exactly which moment he has opted to choose for his drawing.

Another image, again with humorous elements, is The Board of June 1863. The scene shown is where Adolphus Crosbie goes before the promotion board made up of Sir Raffle Buffle, Mr Optimist, Mr Butterwell and Major Fiasco. All the figures are drawn with true accuracy and the body language is skilfully handled. There is indeed lightness here and the serious scene is reduced to one of light comedy. Also to be noted is Millais’s command of men’s dress for he has an innate understanding of exactly how male costume hangs be it standing or sitting. Throughout the story we are delighted with the tiny vignettes which add small touches to the text and to the larger images which follow


In Let me beg you to think over the matter again from September 1863 we see the squire attempting to persuade Mrs Dale not to leave the Small House. The text at this point reads, “A quarrel between me and your children would be to me a great calamity, though perhaps, they might be indifferent to it. But if there were such a quarrel it would afford no reason for their leaving that house. Let me beg you to think over the matter again” (VIII, 270). The concentration on the faces of both characters is well-handled and the positions of the figures are strongly drawn, highly dramatic and alive. The entire scene is Trollope’s, yet Millais adds a measure of his own story-telling powers to enhance the author’s words in a complementary yet powerful manner. Two figures in conflict are similarly seen in ‘Why, on earth, on Sunday?’ from December 1863. Here Adolphus Crosbie, who is now married to Alexandrina, bickers with her over having to visit her sister in St. John’s Wood on a Sunday. The sense of irritation in both is well hinted at in the standing Adolphus and the seated Alexandrina. Both are clearly put out and the facial features accurately and deftly tie in neatly with Trollope’s text:

There was, however, one point as to which he could grumble. ‘Why, on earth, on Sunday?’

‘Because Amelia asked me for Sunday. If you are asked for Sunday, you cannot say you’ll go on Monday.’ [Cornhill, 8: p.659.]

Once again, Millais displays again his mastery of both male and female middle/upper class dress. The features in the room such as the fireplace in front of which Adolphus stands add context to the text and heightens and enhances the scene. Other telling images relate to Lily and her love for Johnny Eames and also involving Adolphus Crosbie. In ‘Mamma’ she said at last. ‘It is all over now I’m sure’ from November 1863 we see Lily who is recovering from scarlatina as she speaks with sadness of the marriage of Crosbie to Alexandrina de Courcy.

‘What is over, my dear ?’ ‘He has made that lady his wife. I hope God will bless them, and I pray that they may be happy.’ As she spoke these words, there was an unwonted solemnity in her tone which startled Mrs Dale and Bell. [Cornhill, 8: p.527.]

Millais thus encapsulates the sad emotions in the resting figure of Lily attended to by Mrs Dale and Bell. The solemnity of which Trollope speaks is clearly apparent and Millais’s design is a true reflection. We can see also that the other two figures are clearly taken aback by what Lily has just uttered.

The theme of ‘It is all over’ is later echoed in another of Millais’s designs. This is from February 1864 and it depicts the scene on the bridge where Johnny Eames turns in despair to Lady Julia and tells her that Lily Dale has turned down his proposal of marriage.

a gentle step came close up to him, and turning round, he saw that Lady Julia was on the bridge. She was close to him and had already seen his handiwork.

‘Has she offended you, John ‘” she said.

‘Oh Lady Julia!’

‘Has she offended you?’

‘She has refused me, and it is all over.’

‘It may be that she has refused you, and yet it need not be all over. I am sorry that you have cut out the name, John. Do you mean to cut it out from your heart?’ [IX, 256]

So very neatly these two images are combined yet contrasted. Lily is present in one but not the other, while Eames is present in the latter but not the former. Both protagonists are musing on lost love or potential love. The scene on the bridge is also a powerful one, and this is reflected in the obvious concern on Lady Julia’s face and her pose while the despair on Eames’s face is also apparent and again from his listless stance.

The scenes Millais has chosen for the Small House at Allington are in their own way on a par with those for Orley Farm and they have the advantage of the charming initial letter vignettes which, as noted earlier, only appear in the magazine serialisation. They add delightful touches of detail which fills out the story in numerous ways.

Phineas Finn

The final major novel for which Millais supplied designs is Phineas Finn, The Irish Member, which appeared with its twenty illustrations in St Pauls Magazine from October 1867 to May 1869. It is worth noting that Trollope himself was the editor of the magazine at this time. Despite this being one of the author’s greatest political novels, Millais produced a disappointing group of designs. In many ways the scenes he depicts appear a little conventional compared to the best of Orley Farm, The Small House at Allington, and Framley Parsonage. Nevertheless, on returning once more to these designs one finds that there are some of real distinction. Several show figures in elegant poses with full advantage taken from the placing of the groups or more frequently of couples. A telling one is You don’t quite know Mr Kennedy yet. The scene depicted is where Lady Laura Standish speaks to Phineas about Mr Kennedy at Lord Brentford’s dinner.

‘Do you expect to hear much of an opinion from Mr Kennedy?’ ‘Yes, I do. You don’t quite know Mr Kennedy yet. And you must remember that he will say more to me than he will to you [November 1867, p.247.]

Lady Laura reclines on a chaise-longue while the slightly raffish figure of Finn is seated more upright to face her, his arm leaning on the chaise. A third figure is seen from the back while the room is well furnished with ornaments on the mantel piece. By adding such small details Millais makes the figures appear more solid and real within their surroundings and so sensitively loading the text with even more strength and emotional weight and depth.

Another strong, emotionally charged design is I wish to regard you as a dear friend – both of my own and of my husband. The scene depicted is where Phineas is told that he has been pipped to the post for Lady Laura’s hand by the uninspiring Mr Kennedy. Phineas is deeply disappointed and he shows this not just by the words he speaks but also by his slightly backward leaning stance – he is both taken aback and angry – perhaps more with himself than with Lady Laura herself.

‘I, poor, penniless, plain simple fool that I am, have been ass enough to love you, Lady Laura Standish ; and I brought you up here today to ask you to share with me-my nothingness. And this I have done on soil that is to be all your own. Tell me that you regard me as a conceited fool – as a bewildered idiot’ [January 1868, p.509.]

Lady Laura is seen from the side and back and the extended hand towards Phineas carries with it something to suggest that she herself may have made a mistake in her choice of husband. Another of the stronger images features Lady Laura alone. In So she burned the morsel of paper we see her about to burn a telegram from her cousin in which she has read of Phineas’s election. She leans forward towards the fire place but there is a feeling that she is somewhat reluctant to part with the precious news. The problem is that her husband, the ever-suspicious Mr Kennedy, believes that the telegram has come direct from Phineas himself.

Lady Laura looks both tentative and anxious in this design. The remaining illustrations to Phineas Finn are far less distinguished although the book ends with a satisfying one. It is when Phineas has just heard that he has just been appointed a poor-law inspector in Cork. Mary remarks

‘O Phineas; surely a thousand a year will be very nice.’

‘It will be certain,; said Phineas, ‘and then we can be married to-morrow.’

‘But I have been making up my mind to wait ever so long,’ said Mary.

‘Then your mind must be unmade,’ said Phineas.

What was the nature of the reply to Lord Cantrip the reader may imagine, and thus we will leave our hero an Inspector of Poor Houses in the County of Cork [May 1869, p.256.]

With Phineas Finn we come to the end of the bulk of Trollopian illustrations by Millais. I hope I have been able to show how distinguished and distinctive his illustrations are and how much they add to and complement Trollope’s text. They never overwhelm but manage often in subtle ways to enhance the written word. In a very real sense allow us to see two narrators at work together in harmony. The key to the success of the illustrations lies in Millais’s close reading of the text and his innate feeling for contemporary dress. In addition he reveals a profound understanding of the human psyche and he shows this in his rendering of body language and of facial expression and in his careful use of pose. His designs are as sensitive and delicate as Trollope’s text and, as such, greatly enhance the prose with which he is presented.

Other discussions of Millais as an illustrator of Trollope

Works Cited

The Cornhill Magazine 1–3 (1860–63). Illustrated by J. E. Millais.

Hall, N. John. Trollope and His Illustrators. New York: St Martins Press, 1980.

The Letters of Anthony Trollope.Ed. Bradford A. Booth. London: OUP, 1951

The Robert Taylor Collection.Princeton: Princeton University Press, n d.

St Pauls Magazine. 1867–69.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography.Ed. Frederick Page. London: OUP, 1950.

Trollope, Anthony. Orley Farm. 2 Vols. London: Chapman & Hall, rpt. 1866. Illustrated by J. E. Millais.

Last modified 27 January 2016