Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In his lifetime, C. P. Snow was the epitome of a Renaissance Man. Like his protagonist Lewis, Snow rose from humble origins to achieve worldly success as a research scientist, an academic at Cambridge, and a public administrator. Like Lewis, he helped to organize British scientists in support of the war effort, but, unlike that of his creation, not all of Snow’s subsequent work was carried out behind the scenes. In 1966, he was appointed a parliamentary secretary (to the Ministry of Technology) and subsequently made a life peer. Amid all this activity, Snow somehow managed to write an astonishing array of literary and critical works. Between 1935 and 1970, he worked, as his schedule permitted, on his magnum opus, Strangers and Brothers. The series has never lacked for readers. Indeed, several of the novels have been best-sellers on both sides of the Atlantic. Though Snow was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1954, critical response to his work has been mixed. Such distinguished writers as Anthony Burgess, Alfred Kazin, and Lionel Trilling have found much to admire in Snow’s works, but others, led by the late F. R. Leavis, have refused to accord him any stature as a serious novelist.

In many ways, Strangers and Brothers, though written mainly in the years following World War II, is a throwback to an earlier literary tradition. Snow’s leisurely, conventionally plotted narrative is reminiscent of such Victorian and Edwardian...

(The entire section is 601 words.)