C. P. Snow Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Percy Snow, British novelist, scientist, and literary critic, is notable for both his realistic fiction and his commentaries about the “two cultures” of science and literature. He was born on October 15, 1905, in the lower-middle-class district of Leicester. His father, William Edward Snow, a clerk in a shoe factory, was an amiable but remote figure in Snow’s early life, who seems to have neither helped nor hindered his son’s intellectual growth. Snow’s doting mother, Ada Sophia Robinson, on the other hand, encouraged her son’s precocity and, despite the family’s poverty, sent Snow to private grammar schools until the age of sixteen.

In 1925 he entered Leicester University College, where he received his B.S. in chemistry in 1927 and master’s degree in physics in 1928. Having determined from his youth to become a novelist, Snow nevertheless chose science for a career, following his own pragmatic instincts and aversion to poverty. In 1928 he gained acceptance into the Ph.D. program in physics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and its prestigious research core, the Cavendish Laboratory. This pivotal event in Snow’s life marked his entry into the “corridors of power” (a phrase he coined), as the University of Cambridge was clearly the exuberant center of a new “heroic age” of scientific discovery, where men such as Lord Ernest Rutherford, J. D. Bernal, John Cockroft, and P. M. S. Blackett were revolutionizing physics and biochemistry. Upon completing his doctorate in 1930 Snow, who wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and looked well beyond his twenty-five years, was elected a fellow at Christ’s College. Now comfortable in science, he turned his attentions to his first interest, fiction writing.

Snow began writing in deliberate reaction against the purely aesthetic mode of fiction typified by writers such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. This antirealistic trend, he believed, was self-indulgent and pernicious, and it threatened the breakdown in society of morality and individual responsibility. His early novels are apprentice works: Death Under Sail, an intriguing detective story intended for a popular audience; New Lives for Old, a story about rejuvenation,...

(The entire section is 909 words.)