C. P. Snow Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Reflecting his various careers and interests, C. P. Snow published, in addition to his novels, a number of books, including the literary biographies Trollope: His Life and Art (1975) and The Realists (1978), as well as many reviews and articles. He had some interest in the drama, encouraging the staging of his novels The Affair, The New Men, and The Masters. He wrote a full-length play, A View over the Bridge, which was produced in London in 1950, and collaborated with his wife, Pamela Hansford Johnson, on six one-act plays published in 1951: Spare the Rod, The Pigeon with the Silver Foot, Her Best Foot Forward, The Supper Dance, To Murder Mrs. Mortimer, and Family Party.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

C. P. Snow’s accomplishments, in general, were many and varied; his achievement was more limited as a novelist and yet probably more long lasting. Snow the scientist and Snow the public figure cannot, however, be divorced from Snow the writer. Just as his novels drew upon his experiences in his nonliterary careers, so were his sociopolitical ideas presented in his novels. Yet, there is less of the detail of “doing” science, less of the specificity of the public life than one might have expected from Snow’s background had he been more of a naturalistic novelist, and there is less ideological content than might have been anticipated from one with Snow’s strong views had he been more of a propagandist.

Snow was, rather, a realistic novelist, using his particular knowledge, background, and political ideology not primarily for their own sake, but in the service of his art. This art was conventional, relatively old-fashioned. Snow had limited patience with James Joyce and the literary avant-garde. As a roman-fleuve, Strangers and Brothers has a few interesting features, but it certainly lacks the subtlety that Snow admired in Marcel Proust. Snow did little to advance novelistic techniques; his own craftsmanship shows scant development over the course of a long writing career. His style has frequently been described as dull or pedestrian; Edmund Wilson found his novels “unreadable.”

Snow implicitly defended his own style in discussing that of Anthony Trollope, praising his predecessor for using language that was often intentionally made flat in order to be clear. Snow’s style is certainly more serviceable than inspired. His imagery is limited and repetitious. Unity and impact are achieved through the recurrence of a limited number of images, such as those of lighted windows and rivers, but the impact is gained at the expense of a degree of monotony.


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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

De la Mothe, John. C. P. Snow and the Struggle of Modernity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992. Chapters on Snow’s view of literature, science, and the modern mind and on his career as writer and public intellectual. Includes extensive notes and bibliography.

Karl, Frederick S. C. P. Snow: The Politics of Conscience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963. A generally useful study of Snow that analyzes his novels up to and including The Affair. Some of the statements about him are misleading, however, and should be read with caution.

Ramanathan, Suguna. The Novels of C. P. Snow: A Critical Introduction. London: Macmillan, 1978. A sympathetic assessment of Snow which discusses all of his novels save his two earliest works, Death Under Sail and New Lives for Old. Notes Snow’s “imaginative impulse,” his understanding of the changing social scene in England over a span of fifty years, and the gradual change in his outlook from hopefulness to doom. Upholds Snow as being free from fanaticism. A recommended reading.

Shusterman, David. C. P. Snow. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A competent, compact study of Snow, including his early life, the controversies surrounding his nonfiction, and his literary output. Contains an in-depth analysis of the Strangers and Brothers series of novels, noting their interest apart from their literary value. Includes a chronology and a select bibliography.

Snow, C. P. C. P. Snow: A Spectrum, Science, Criticism, Fiction. Edited by Stanley Weintraub. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963. A useful introduction to Snow’s life and works. The commentary covers many aspects of his fiction, criticism, and writings on science.

Snow, Philip. A Time of Renewal: Clusters of Characters, C. P. Snow, and Coups. New York: Radcliffe Press, 1998. Written by C. P. Snow’s brother. Includes plates, index, and bibliography.

Thale, Jerome. C. P. Snow. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965. Considered an excellent secondary source on Snow that is both readable and informative. Presents Snow’s work up to and including 1964. Discusses his nonfiction writings, among which are his two controversial works, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution and Science and Government.