Strangers & Brothers: characters and originals

Opened Apr 2015

Updated: 10 Apr 2015
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C P SNOW

The author C P Snow was a physical chemist, novelist, and Civil Servant. His best-known books are the Strangers & Brothers sequence, narrated by Lewis Elliot, who is as near as makes no difference Snow himself. The name of the college in which the Cambridge action takes place is never given, but Snow was a fellow at Christ's College.

The originals of Snow's characters are known with some precision as he made the identifications himself in later years. Some of these are collected in The Originals by William Amos. (Cardinal, 1985) and further information occurs in C P Snow: The Dynamics of Hope By Nicolas Tredell. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) Here the identifications are given, along with the titles in which they appear.

Arthur Brown
(Modern History)
Arthur Brown is Sydney Grose, (1886-1980) Senior Tutor and Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge.
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
  • The Affair (1960)
  • Last Things (1970)
Roy Calvert
(Orientalist)
Roy Calvert, a brilliant linguist who suffered severe mood swings, was based on Charles Robert Cecil Allbery, (1911-1943) who became a fellow of Christs in 1935. Like the fictional Calvert, he died as an RAF bomber pilot.
  • George Passant (19)
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
Clark
A Fellow of Elliot's unnamed college. Not currently identified.
  • The Affair (1960)
Charles Percy Chrystal
Dean of Elliot's unnamed college. Chrystal was partly inspired by Travers Carey Wyatt, (see p888) who lived 1887-1954, and was appointed Bursar of Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1937. He was Vice-Master from 1950 to 1952. Wyatt got a 1st class degree in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos in 1909. In The Masters Chrystal switched his support from one candidate for the Mastership to another rather late in the proceedings. This is what Snow himself did in the 1936 Master's election at Christs College, which was the inspiration for The Masters.
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
Dr R T A Crawford
Crawford, a physiologist, is the successful candidate in The Masters election. He was based partly on Sir Charles Galton Darwin, (18871962) a grandson of Charles Darwin, who won the real-life election at Christ's in 1936. He left to become Director of the National Physical Laboratory in 1939.
  • The Masters (1951)
Austin Davidson
Austin Davidson is the father of Lewis Elliot's second wife Margaret. He is based on the mathematician G H Hardy (1877-1947), Professor of Pure Mathematics at Cambridge 1932-1942 and a Fellow of Trinity College.
  • Homecomings (1956)
  • The Sleep of Reason (1968)
  • Last Things (1970)
A T Despard-Smith
Albert Theophilus Despard-Smith is the Deputy Master and retired Bursar of Elliot's unnamed college. The novelist and critic Francis King
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
Martin Eliot
Younger brother of Lewis Eliot. Not currently identified
  • The Affair (1960)
M H L Gay
(Nordic Studies)
Gay is a retired Norse scholar. He is based on John Holland Rose (1855-1942) Professor of Naval History at Cambridge from 1919 to 1933. He was a Fellow of Christ's College. At the beginning of The Masters we are told that Gay had 14 honorary degrees ("From every civilised country except France".) This echoed Snow's experience; Philip Snow's biography lists 31 honorary degrees for his elder brother- but none of them were from France.
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
  • The Affair (1960)
Francis Getliffe
(Physics)
Steward of Elliot's unnamed college. His personality was based on the Australian-born Frank Bowden, (1903-1968) Professor of Surface Physics at Cambridge, and a fellow at Caius College. Getliffe's appearance was based on Patrick Blackett (1897-1974) who was Professor of Physics at Imperial College, and who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1948.
In 1932 Snow and Bowden were working together and came to believe they had discovered a way to make Vitamin A artificially. This was widely publicised, but the claims were quickly shown to be fallacious and it was a humiliating episode. Bowden went on to a successful scientific career, but Snow decided to turn to writing, The theme of premature disclosure of what proves to be erroneous scientific work was used in The Search. Apparently deliberate scientific fraud was dealt with in The Affair.
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
  • The New Men (1954)
  • The Affair (1960)
  • Corridors of Power (1964)
  • The Sleep of The Sleep of Reason (1968)
  • Last Things (1970)
Donald Howard
(Physics)
Research Fellow at Elliot's unnamed college; removed from his position for scientific fraud in The Affair. Not currently identified. It seems unlikely to me that Snow based this unpleasant character on a real person.
  • The Affair (1960)
Paul Jago
(English)
The Senior Tutor of Elliot's unnamed college. Paul Jago was the losing candidate in The Masters election. He was something of a composite character, but mainly based on Canon Charles Earle Raven (1885-1964), Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He was a Fellow of Christ's College, and became Master after Darwin (see Crawford) left the post in 1939. He remained master until 1950.
  • The Masters (1951)
Walter J Luke
Physics
Research Fellow at Elliot's unnamed college. Not currently identified
  • The Masters (1951)
R E 'Alec' Nightingale
(Chemistry)
Nightingale was based on two people; one was the classicist Arthur Peck (1902-74) Fellow and Librarian of Christ's College, who allegedly made sure that none of Snow's books got into the college library. That must have made for an interesting atmosphere at High Table. The other was the mathematician Stourton Steen. Snow himself commented that the 'more neurotic' elements of Nightingale came from Peck, while the 'more virile' characteristics came from Steen. As the author of a book or two myself, I think we can take it as read that Snow did not like Peck.
Peck published an English translation of Aristotle's Parts of Animals in 1955 but other biographical details are lacking.
Stourton Steen has also proved elusive; Second Lieutenant Stourton William Peile Steen was in The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) from 1914 to 1922, and published this book in 1971.
  • The Light and The Dark (1947)
  • The Masters (1951)
  • The Affair (1960)
  • Last Things (1970)
Tom Orbell
Fellow of Elliot's unnamed college. Not currently identified.
  • The Affair (1960)
Palairet
(Physics)
Supervisor of Donald Howard in The Affair. Not currently identified
  • The Affair (1960)
Eustace Pilbrow
(Classics)
Retired classics fellow. Based on John Brande Trend (1887-1958) Professor of Spanish at Cambridge. Snow said that Pilbrow was 'taken straight from the life'.
  • The Masters (1951)
Vernon Royce
(Orientalist & Comparative Religion)
Master of Elliot's unnamed college; his diagnosis with terminal illness triggers the election in The Masters. Not currently identified
  • The Masters (1951)
Julian Skeffington
Some sort of probationary Fellow of Elliot's unnamed college. Original not currently identified, but the name may have been taken from Skeffington and Son, a publishing company around at the time, and particularly active around 1945-60. See here for more details of the company. Amongst the authors they published was John Bude.
  • The Affair (1960)
Godfrey H Winslow
(Classics)
Bursar of Elliot's unnamed college. Original not currently identified
  • The Masters (1951)


BIBLIOGRAPHY

More information on the Strangers and Brothers sequence can be found in:

C P Snow's Strangers and Brothers as Mid-twentieth-century History by Terrance L. Lewis (Peter Lang 2009)

Stranger and Brother (Biography) by Phillip Snow. (McMillan 1982) See Amazon

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