Strangers and Brothers is largely the life story of Lewis Eliot, who, like C. P. Snow, was born in 1905 in a small town (the thinly disguised Leicester). In several significant ways Eliot serves as Snow’s alter ego, though no strict one-to-one correspondence can be set up between the fictional and real persons. For example, Eliot had studied to become a lawyer, and Snow had studied to be a physicist. Many similarities exist as well: both were Labor Party members, had influential government positions, and were knighted. Furthermore, both managed to overcome lower middle-class family backgrounds to ascend to the heights of the British class structure.
As a sequence of novels, Strangers and Brothers is in the traditional of the roman-fleuve of such French writers as Honoré de Balzac and Marcel Proust, and of such English writers as Anthony Trollope and John Galsworthy. Snow has written that the idea for the series had a specific origin in time and place: New Year’s Day, 1935, in Marseilles, France, where he envisioned a multinovel treatment of a man’s life as a unified whole. At this time, he had started writing one of the novels, though he was unsure about whether it was the first of many more. He also had decided, early on, that each novel had to work on its own, apart from its place in the series. Indeed, the novels were published neither in their order of composition nor in their eventual place in Snow’s overarching design. Snow himself has divided the novels into those of “direct experience,” in which Eliot is the dominant character, and those of “observed experience,” in which Snow tells the stories of other principal characters. Time of Hope, Homecomings, and Last Things are examples of direct experience, and The Masters, The Affair, and Corridors of Power are examples of observed experience.
Some critics have praised Strangers and Brothers as Snow’s greatest achievement, and others have admired his unparalleled use of a...
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