The Conscience of the Rich

by C. P. Snow

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 696


*London. Great Britain’s capital and leading city. On his arrival in London, the narrator, young provincial lawyer Lewis Eliot, is fascinated by the metropolis, whose life takes on a glamour of its own, and whose restaurants, theaters, and clubs are “invested with a warm, romantic haze.” The London summer pleasures of his wealthy friend Charles March include such typical upper-class amusements as the ballet, Wimbledon, coming-out dances, and parties in the prestigious neighborhoods of Grosvenor Square, Knightsbridge, and the Park. With the Marches, Eliot visits the splendid home of the Holfords, with its beautiful garden and extravagant display of fireworks, the fashionable house of Herbert March, and, above all, Leonard March’s Bryanston Square residence, all of which allow him to observe closely the exotic milieu of the rich. Lewis himself rents two small rooms at the top of a lodging-house on Conway Street, near Tottenham Court Road.

As both Lewis and Charles study law, they frequent the legal London of chambers and courts. Charles’s decision to abandon his career in law for the less prestigious one in medicine provokes one of the central conflicts of the novel.

Bryanston Square

Bryanston Square. London home of the patriarch Leonard March (Mr. L.) and his two children, Katherine and Charles. Bryanston Square is a stronghold of the traditional upper-class Anglo-Jewish way of life, with its lavish parties and elegant Friday dinners designed to consolidate the family. Most social events take place in the large, dazzlingly bright drawing room and even larger dining room, which contains family portraits dating back to 1730. The house’s study, with its dark brown wallpaper and bookshelves of ancestral leather-bound collections, is the refuge of the master of the house. Lewis Eliot’s awe at the splendor of the March residence highlights the contrast between his lowly origins and the wealthy Jewish merchant class into which Charles was born and from which he is trying to escape.

Despite its traditional character, Bryanston Square is not immune to the social changes taking place in the 1930’s. To the displeasure of its household servants, the opulent guests of the past are being replaced by people without connections or wardrobes. Even Mr. L.’s children turn away from the customs of their elders; their rebellion takes many shapes, from relaxing the once-rigid dinner dress-code to choosing controversial life partners. When Katherine and Charles leave Bryanston Square with their spouses, they abandon the social order represented by their father and his brilliant residence. The last part of the novel, aptly titled “Alone,” closes with an image of Mr. L.’s solitude: After testing the latches and switching off the lights, he would be left in his own company.


*Pimlico. London neighborhood in which Charles March establishes his medical practice and lives with his wife Ann. His father disapproves of his choices of both a career and a spouse and repeatedly refers to his new place as “Pimlico and similar unsalubrious neighborhoods.” Lewis Eliot describes the house as dingy on the outside but featuring a bright interior, marked with Ann’s taste. The cozy brightness of the house corresponds to the happiness of Charles and Ann’s marriage.

Note office

Note office. Located on London’s Charing Cross Road, the office of the communist newspaper to which Ann contributes. The building’s murky stairwell reeks of shavings and mildew, and the Note’s neighbors include “art photographers,” dingy solicitors, and a questionable-looking trading company. When Lewis visits the office, he gets a glimpse of a world of which Mr. March would rather not know.


Haslingfield. Hampshire country house of Mr. L. that provides the setting for the long,...

(This entire section contains 696 words.)

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lazy summer days that the Marches spend with friends. It is here that Ann and Charles fall in love. With its bay windows, tennis courts, terrace, and lush wooded view, Haslingfield is every inch the traditional English summer estate. Mr. L.’s migration between his two houses has been marked with unfailing regularity for the forty years since the purchase of Haslingfield. His premature return to London in the year of theNote affair betrays the turmoil caused in the patriarch by his son’s disloyalty.


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 266

De la Mothe, John. C. P. Snow and the Struggle of Modernity. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992. Asserts the writer’s primary concern is the need for “mediation between the private and the public spheres.” A demanding study in intellectual history, but worth the effort. Photographs and bibliography.

Halperin, John. C. P. Snow: An Oral Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983. A series of interviews conducted during the last two years of Snow’s life. Not indexed, but contains frequent references to The Conscience of the Rich and related matters. A brief conversation with Lady Snow (Pamela Hansford Johnson) is recorded in an appendix. Some photographs.

Karl, Frederick F. C. P. Snow: The Politics of Conscience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963. The chapter on The Conscience of the Rich concentrates primarily on three characters. Charles and Lewis are discussed as “Snow’s alternatives to the typical existential hero,” and Leonard as a reactionary who, although charming, is essentially a fool. Interesting but oversimplified. Includes a fictional chronology based on the first eight books of the “Strangers and Brothers” series.

Ramanathan, Suguna. The Novels of C. P. Snow: A Critical Introduction. London: Macmillan, 1978. Short but insightful. Although references to The Conscience of the Rich are scattered, provides a good overview of Snow’s novels and useful comments about his originality. Bibliography.

Shusterman, David. C. P. Snow. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A good starting point for the study of Snow. Three chapters are devoted to the “Strangers and Brothers” series. Biographical information, including a chronology, extensive notes and references, and a select bibliography. Secondary sources are annotated.


Critical Essays