Thursday, 19 July 2001

C.P. Snow: Time of Hope (1949)

Edition: Macmillan, 1972 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 878

My first acquaintance with Snow's Strangers and Brothers sequence came - I think - in the early eighties, when I watched an excellent TV adaptation before reading the whole series. Now, twenty years later, my memory of this has been stirred by recently reading Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, and so I'm reading them again. The central character of the series, Lewis Elliot, comes from a family on the borders of middle and working class, born in the early part of the twentieth century at a time when these distinctions were of importance. The novel begins with the formative events of his childhood, his father's bankruptcy and his mother's death. Determined to escape his background, Lewis studies for the bar - an upper middle class profession - despite warnings that he shouldn't get involved in things above his station. The main part of the novel is about his early days in chambers, about him growing up, and about his disastrous passion for the unstable Sheila Knight.

Elliot is almost an exact contemporary of Powell's Nick Jenkins, but other than that there are few points of similarity between them. Everything is easier for Jenkins, because of his privileged background, and this removes a lot of the drama from A Question of Upbringing. Powell's intention, I suppose, was to write a satirical commentary on high society, while Snow clearly wants to make points about the effects of class - how bright people like Elliot are held back by their background. This makes Time of Hope a more satisfying novel, and A Question of Upbringing a book that is more interesting as satire.

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