Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980)

Charles Percy Snow was born in 1905 in Leicester, a relatively prosperous city based on boot-and-shoe trades. He was the second of the four sons in the family. His father was a clerk at shoe factory.

Snow was educated in Alderman Newton Grammar School where in the sixth form he specialized in science. Later he worked as a laboratory assistant at the same school. At Leicester University College in 1927 he took a first class honour degree in chemistry. After that he worked on molecular physics. At Cambridge the high quality of his research let him be elected to a Fellowship in 1930, and he was recognized as a talented scientist. Nevertheless, he decided to devote himself to literature. As a beginning he wrote two detective novels. One of them is called “Death under Sail” (1932), but it is not of a great interest. In 1933 he wrote “The Search”, his first serious novel. It established him as a novelist.

Real fame came to Snow in 1940 when he started publishing a series of novels under the general title “Strangers and Brothers”. It took him more than a quarter of a century to finish his work including eleven novels.

Snow remained in Academic life until the outbreak of the Second World War when he was asked by a committee of the Royal society to help in organizing university scientists for the war. Thus he joined the civil service.

Since 1947 the writer has published seven more novels of the projected eleven which will complete the “Strangers and Brothers”. The most important are: “The Light and the Dark” (1947), “Time of Hope” (1949), “The Conscience of the Rich” (1958). All these novels are united by one character — Lewis Eliot – a lawyer and a government official. Eliot is a representative of modern society, he understands that to achieve comfort and power he must struggle and make compromise. The development of Eliot’s career demonstrates a transmission from optimism of a poor young man to the wisdom of a middle-aged dutiful government official.

The most important novel is, perhaps, the “Time of Hope” which helps the reader to understand the most subtle character. In this story Eliot tells his own story about his childhood, about his hopes and dreams. He comes from a middle-class family, possessing great ambition and inspiration. His mother’s only desire is that her son should do well in his life. The problem of ambition is in the centre of the novel. Ambition, to Snow, is a part of man’s nature, but the weak and flabby characters turn ambition into desire for success. Fortunately, in the end Eliot understands that success is not everything in this life. Snow shows, very convincingly, the evolution of his main personage, the change in his outlook and his attitude towards life.

Charles Snow was a critical realist. His novels are remarkable for their imaginative power: their vivid situations and exact depiction of political moments. He tries to show the inner world of his characters. The novel “Time of Hope” is the key one, which helps the reader to understand the most complicated aspects of Eliot’s character.

Many pages in “Time of Hope” are dedicated to the story of Eliot’s romantic love for Sheila Knights, the daughter of a well-to-do clergyman. Much attention is paid to the description of Sheila’s and Eliot’s feelings and their inner world. The reader takes into consideration the vast social background of the events.

A new stage on Charles Percy Snow’s literary career began with the publication of “Corridors of Power” in 1964. It depicts a gallery of people at the head of England who are responsible for the policy of the state. The reader visits the Parliament, listens to the speeches and becomes a witness to the “political kitchen”. The main character is Roger Quaife, a young politician. He is a realist, and he understands the danger of the production of nuclear weapons. He tries to prevent the country from unpredictable actions of this sort. But he fails, because the political leaders think only about own profits. They don’t take into consideration the interests of the common people. “Corridors of Power” is a masterpiece of critical realism; the author reveals the political essence of one of the powerful states of the world. The plot of the novel develops dynamically. The language of the book is rich, vivid and lively, and makes reading pleasant and interesting. The author is mostly concentrated on the revealing of the inner feelings and moral principles of his characters.

Charles Percy Snow had a unique personality because he managed to be a prominent scientist and an outstanding novelist simultaneously.

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