Trollope and Millais

Trollope and Millais

Words and Images Which Read Each Other

by Professor David Skilton

David Skilton is Emeritus Professor at the Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy. As one of the founders and later the Chair of the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, he has encouraged work at the intersection of book history, cultural history, and textual and editorial studies. He was educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Copenhagen, and held posts at Stockholm, Glasgow and Lampeter before becoming Head of the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University in 1988, where he was also Pro Vice-Chancellor from 1992-96.

This article was first published in Trollopiana Issue 88, January 2011.


This is a story of how two great artists became collaborators and friends, and how, at the peak of their powers and at the high-point of Victorian wood engraving, they forged a unique and fruitful, though brief, partnership. Trollope recorded their first meeting in An Autobiography:

“I think it was in March.… 1860 that Mr George Smith—to whose enterprise we owe not only the Cornhill Magazine but the Pall Mall Gazette,—gave a sumptuous dinner to his contributors. It was a memorable banquet in many ways, but chiefly so to me because on that occasion I first met many men who afterwards became my most intimate associates.  It can rarely happen that one such occasion can be the first starting point of so many friendships!”

Trollope manuscript
Fig 1

Trollope originally called these men his “most intimate friends” and, as an afterthought, changed the script to “associates”, probably to avoid repetition of “friendships” in the following line (Fig.1). He wrote of Millais and his illustrations in the warmest terms:

“Those illustrations were commenced fifteen years ago, and from that time up to this day my affection for the man of whom I am speaking has encreased [sic]. To see him has always been a pleasure. His voice has been a sweet sound in my ears. Behind his back I have never heard him praised without joining the eulogist; I have never heard a word spoken against him without opposing the censurer.  These words, should he ever see them, will come to him from the grave, and will tell him of my regard,— as one living man never tells another”.

This personal regard grew quickly. Millais’s closest artistic friend had been John Leech, now best known for his images in Punch, who introduced him to the joys of hunting, thus helping his relationship with Trollope. Trollope and Millais’ joint work on Framley Parsonage, Orley Farm, The Small House at Allington and Phineas Finn was the professional aspect of this mutual understanding:

“Altogether he drew from my tales 87 drawings, and I do not think that more conscientious work was ever done by man. … [A]s a good artist, it was open to him simply to make a pretty picture … But this artist was neither proud nor idle. In every figure that he drew it was his object to promote the views of the writer whose work he had undertaken to illustrate, and he never spared himself any pains in studying that work so as to enable himself to do so. I have carried on some of those characters from book to book, and have had my own early ideas impressed indelibly on my memory by the excellence of his delineations”.

Early on, however, there was an occasion when Trollope thought Millais guilty of merely making “a pretty picture”. Was It Not a Lie? in the June instalment of Framley Parsonage, supposedly depicts Lucy Robarts as a fashionably dressed young woman who has thrown herself across her bed in despair. (Fig. 2) Trollope hated it:

“I can hardly tell you what my feeling is about the illustration … It would be much better to omit it altogether … The picture is simply ludicrous, & will be thought by most people to have been made so intentionally”.

Was it not a lie?
Fig 2. John Everett Millais ‘Was It Not a Lie?’ wood-engraving 17.0 x 11.3 cm engr: Dalziel Brothers.
The Crawley family
Fig 3. John Everett Millais ‘The Crawley Family’ wood-engraving. 15.4 x 10.3cm. engr: Dalziel Brothers

In the text Lucy has a very small income, part of which is devoted to good works, and consequently could never have afforded such an elaborate dress. Besides, she was dressed to visit a farmer’s wife who had just given birth. Trollope phrased his account of Millais’ work with extreme care. He could not forget the “pretty picture”, but celebrated the fact of their professional closeness. In August 1860, Millais depicted Lucy in a perfectly fitting costume (Fig. 3).

Princess Mary of Cambridge
Fig 4. Camille Silvy. ‘Princess Mary of Cambridge’ photographic carte to visite 8 October 1860.

Soon after his outburst, Trollope withdrew his objection on the grounds that he had seen the very model of the dress in real life. Indeed there is reason to believe the image served as a fashion plate for the wealthy. A carte de visite of 8th October 1860 shows Princess Mary of Cambridge wearing what appears to be a copy (Fig. 4). She was affectionately known to the London populace as ‘Fat Mary’, and was notorious for running up huge dress-makers’ bills. Framley Parsonage was an immensely popular novel among the middle and upper classes, and Millais’ image of Lucy responded to this fact rather than to the text of the novel. It is tempting to think that he drew from a quick briefing rather than from reading the text. Nevertheless the image is relevant in another sense: this was an age of rapid growth in consumerism, and Millais in part announced the arrival of a recognizably ‘modern’ age.

If we go back to Millais’ first illustration, Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts in the April instalment, we see that he paid close attention to Trollope’s writing (Fig.5). Here Lufton and Lucy, meeting for only the second time and speaking for the first time, are shaking hands outside the kitchen garden gate to Framley Parsonage. The scene is almost exactly as the narrator presents it, except that they are just outside the gate, rather than just inside – a permissible change symbolizing that they may enter a new life together. Millais added doves and a dovecote in the background, a commonplace Victorian symbol of love. Undercutting this hopeful scenario is the brace of pheasant hung over Lufton’s shoulder. The birds are mentioned in the text, but not in the immediate context of this meeting. Seeing the illustration, it does not take a very acute Victorian reader to wonder whether Lucy will be ‘bagged’ like the birds and, if so, legitimately or illicitly. But Millais went further in hinting at the danger a wealthy aristocrat posed to an orphaned girl of slender means, and based the position of his characters on an illustration of Jupiter Meeting Semele (Fig. 6) by John Leech, as the prelude to the mortal being destroyed by the lust of the god, just as Lucy might be expected to be ‘ruined’ by a wicked, aristocratic admirer. The image originally accompanied a comic story in the tradition of burlesque of the classics, popular in literature and on stage since the 1820s, and which appeared in the Illuminated Magazine for 1843. Millais paid homage to his mentor whilst providing a sub-text of danger for the knowing reader.

Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts
Fig 5. John Everett Millais ‘Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts’ wood engraving 15.4 x 10.3cm engr: Dalziel Brothers
Jupiters junket
Fig 6. John Leech – illustration to ‘Jupiter’s Junket’. Illuminated Magazine 1 (1843) wood engraving 9.2 x 12.5cm

This is the point at which Trollope began to read Millais, as well as being read by him. Millais produced a sophisticated visual analogue of the situation which a conventionally trained mid-Victorian reader would recognize, and Trollope proceeded to exploit the potential of the Millais’ enhanced details. The brace of pheasant made prominent by Millais in Chapter 11 provided an image of Lucy’s triumphant reversal of their positions in love in Chapter 16, when Lufton said:

“‘My Lucy, my own Lucy – my heart’s best friend, and chosen love. Lucy, there is my hand. How long you may have had my heart it matters not to say now’. The game was at her feet now, and no doubt she felt her triumph”.

The doves reappeared as an image of love associated with the parsonage and the love between a wealthy man and a penniless dependant of a clergyman when Major Grantly wooed Grace Crawley, and in Chapter 55 of The Last Chronicle of Barset, (entitled incidentally ‘Framley Parsonage’), Lufton and Mark Robarts were unaware that Major Grantly had “sloped off to the parsonage, well knowing in what nest his dove was lying hid”. Trollope made strikingly appropriate use of what in the hands of his contemporaries was usually a very tired, sentimental image.

Mark the men are here
Fig 7. John Everett Millais ‘”Mark,” she said “the men are here.”‘ wood engraving 17.5 x 11.2cm engr: Dalziel Brothers
Penguin covers
Fig 8. Penguin book covers. Right: Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood, by George Elgar Hicks.

The way Trollope and Millais avoided sentimentality is highlighted by the juxtaposition of another of the Framley Parsonage illustrations with an easel-painting, Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood, by George Elgar Hicks. Millais’ wood engraving (Fig. 7) is clearly a derivative, using the imagery of the breakfast table, hearth and mantelshelf to emphasize a wife’s support of her husband during a crisis. In Fig. 8 it is shown alongside Hicks’ painting, bringing together the jackets of an earlier and later printing of a Penguin edition of the novel. To the modern eye, Hicks’s Companion of Manhood appears to magnify the crisis, and today’s male reader would much prefer to be married to Fanny Robarts.

Orley Farm cover
Fig 9. Cover of Orley Farm, published by Chapman & Hall. Probably designed in-house.
Orley Farm illustration
Fig 10. John Everett Millais, ‘Orley Farm’ wood engraving 16.0 x 10.6cn engr: Dalziel Brothers
Monkton Grange
Fig 11. John Everett Millais, ‘Monkton Grange’ wood engraving 16.9 x 10.6cm engr: Dalziel Brothers
Fig 12. ‘Visit of the Prince of Wales to Merton Hall’ wood engraving 237 x 342mm. Illustrated London News, 21 Jan 1865.

Merton Hall
Fig. 13 John Preston Neale ‘Merton Hall, Norfolk’ (London: Jones & Co., [1831]) Line engraving on paper 104 x 131mm Engr Robert Icon
In The Small House at Allington Millais highlighted the fact that the shooting party at the Great House was made ridiculous by the mockery of Lucy Dale, and the moment is seen in terms of her perception. We hear a lot about “the male gaze” defining women in the period. This is a striking case of the female gaze defining men. By now Millais and Trollope were working entirely to the same end. The contrast between the cover of Orley Farm (presumably designed in-house at Chapman & Hall) and Millais’ evocative frontispiece for the novel (Figs. 9 and 10) are striking. If Framley Parsonage contains an unauthorized excursion into female fashion by the illustrator, novelist and artist eventually worked together to portray the fashionable Elizabethan country-house architecture of the decade in Monkton Grange in Orley Farm (Fig.11).
This may well be the first picture of a meet before the hunt moves off, at least as far as my researches and those of the Melton Carnegie Hunt Museum in Melton Mowbray can discover. Three years later, an artist for the Illustrated London News used Millais’ image for a grander meet at a grander house in Norfolk (Fig. 12). The letter-press enthuses over the antiquity of Lord Walsingham’s house, which is in fact a radical re-modelling and extension of a dull building in quite another style (Fig. 13).

Trust Me
Fig 14. John Everett Millais, ‘Trust Me’. 1862 Oil on canvas 112 x 80cm

Another fashion which might well have been promoted by this artistic collaboration is that of the so-called problem-picture. Oxford University Press decided to use an impressive Millais painting, ‘Trust Me’ from the Forbes Collection for the cover of its World’s Classics edition of Orley Farm (Fig. 14). This oil painting was done by Millais in Perthshire while working on illustrations for the novel. It purports to show a scene from Trollope’s novel, but in fact no such incident took place in Orley Farm. Additionally, Sir Peregrine Orme did not ride to hounds in hunting pink, but in a black coat. The models for the two figures in the painting are Mrs Aitkin and John Lindsay, presumably neighbours of Millais’ host, and were not those used as models for Sir Peregrine and Lady Mason. This painting is often cited as the first example of the sort of problem- picture which was popular for much of the rest of the century. It is not clear which of the characters speaks the words ‘Trust me’, and we can only guess at the relationship between them. In other words, a problem-picture is a picture which provides an image of a moment in a developing situation, and which provides the viewer with a title or caption (Trollope uses the word legend), but not a narrative. The Millais-Trollope illustrations (if I may emphasize the artists’ joint responsibility by this hyphen) provide all three: image, legend and narrative, whilst a problem-picture can be regarded as a quasi-illustration to which the viewer must provide their own narrative.

Some of the more enigmatic of the Orley Farm illustrations may reinforce this comparison. The examples I have chosen are those which the critic Leonora Lang (Mrs Andrew Lang), looking back from the 1880s, praised for having:

Why Should I not
Fig 16. ‘Why should I not?’
Lady Mason after her confession
Fig 17. Lady Mason after her confession.
Footsteps in the corridor
Fig 18. Footsteps in the corridor

“… movement and life in quite supreme degree”: …. For this … quality look at the figure of Sir Peregrine Orme, in the drawing ‘Why should I not?’ As an example of dramatic force it will be hard to conceive anything finer than Lady Mason after her Confession, or Footsteps in the Corridor (Figs. 16, 17, 18).

Perhaps the most puzzling is ‘Bread Sauce is so Ticklish’ (Fig. 19), which shows the indirect communication between the injured Felix Graham and his hosts’ family, particularly the daughter, Madeleine.

Bread sauce is so ticklish
Fig 19. Bread sauce is so ticklish
Never is a very long word
Fig 20. ‘Never is a very long word’

A particularly complex relation between image and text is found in ‘Never is a Long Word’ in Chapter 50. The context and the caption are from a conversation between Lady Staveley and Peregrine Orme, in which he asks what Madeleine had reported about his proposal of marriage and her reply (Fig. 20). The illustration looks back to that earlier conversation between Madeleine and her mother, with a caption taken from the later conversation, bridging the two moments in time. Is it too much to say that the characters Peregrine Orme and Lady Staveley are respectively imagining and remembering the earlier scene? And does it somehow reinforce Madeleine’s report of her refusal?

“‘She told me that she had declined the honour that you had offered her;— that she did not regard you as she must regard the man to whom she would pledge her heart’.
‘But did she say that she could never love me?’ …
‘Never is a long word, Mr. Orme’.
‘Ah, but did she say it? Come, Lady Staveley … if I have no hope, tell me at once, that I may go away. In that case I shall be better anywhere out of the county’”.

The final example of Trollope reading Millais reading Trollope occurs in Chapter 63, where the narrator addresses the reader directly:

“In an early part of this story I have endeavoured to describe how this woman sat alone, with deep sorrow in her heart and deep thought on her mind, when she first learned what terrible things were coming on her. The idea, however, which the reader will have conceived of her as she sat there will have come to him from the skill of the artist, and not from the words of the writer. If that drawing is now near him, let him go back to it”. (Fig.21)

There was sorrow in her heart
Fig 21. John Everett Millais, ‘There was sorrow in her heart, and deep thought in her mind’. wood engraving 163 x 106mm engr. Dalziel Brothers

Trollope directed a reader of the part-issues or of the two separately published volumes of Orley Farm to a part or volume published months earlier and perhaps shelved elsewhere. Moreover, as N. J. Hall points out in his book on the illustrations:

“[i]n the earlier description we read simply that Lady Mason “seated herself in her accustomed chair”; the details mentioned in the latter passage are in fact a description of Millais’s drawing.”

These examples should teach us of the richness which we miss if we fail to examine the illustrations as text and image, working together. It was wise of the Trollope Society to publish their collected edition of the novels with the original illustrations.

Sources include N.J. Hall: Trollope and His Illustrators, Trollope’s Autobiography, and Art Annual for 1886.