52 Books Challenge: #14 Time of Hope

Time of Hope is the first in the Strangers and Brothers series of novels written by CP Snow and published in 1949. This book, and therefore the whole series of 11 books begins in 1914 just at the beginning of WWI and charts the beginning of the life of Lewis Elliot, in a small English town in Leicestershire, living in poverty.
The first part describes the school days of Lewis living with his mother and father in a modest terraced house; his father is a fairly happy-go-lucky man, easy going, earning enough to “survive”, his mother is a fairly typical housewife of the era, doting on her son and being very ambitious for him. On leaving school Lewis begins working as a clerk in an office where he collates education statistics before presenting them to his supervisor who takes all of the credit. But …… he has ambition.
In the second part of the book Lewis meets someone who, as a mentor, will change his life. George Passant is a clerk in a solicitors office (He is also the subject of the second book in this series) and forms a friendly and caring relationship with Lewis who has begun night classes studying law at the local college. They meet regularly as part of a group of young people who enjoy each other’s company discussing law, politics, art, morality and so on. It is through another member of the group that Lewis also meets Charles March, the reluctant heir to a Jewish banking dynasty, and from this point Lewis decides to make law his chosen profession and seeks ways of funding his entry into a major law firm to study and gain experience.
Throughout the final part, Lewis begins to develop a successful law practice, an aunt had died and left him a sufficient sum of money to fund his journey towards becoming a barrister. He gains clients and his reputation grows, but he has become infatuated with a young woman, Sheila Knight, who to put it mildly is neurotic and deeply self obsessed. Against all advice Lewis marries Sheila and his social and business life degrades. Something has to give!

I first read this book over 40 years ago and continued to finish the whole series. Although set between the two World Wars it seemed to perfectly fit the period of my own upbringing in the 1950s and 1960s; living in a working class home struggling to make ends meet, leaving school early, further education via night classes, couldn’t afford to go to university, meeting a good mentor. Also however it is written in a language and style reminiscent of the other books I had read at school …. but didn’t get much pleasure from. This time it was different, I could identify with the characters and the plot of not only this book but the whole series as Lewis Elliot grows his career through different era and social strata. Although each book connects to the others several can be read as standalone novels, the absolute masterpiece being The Masters which describes the politics and infighting of two men each vying to become the Master of a Cambridge college, possibly Christ’s College, which was Lewis Elliots college in the series and set in 1937. This was also the actual college of the author, CP Snow, and the book taught me a lot about how factions arise and align themselves with candidates for internal promotion, something I was to witness and be involved in several times in my own corporate life.

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4 replies

  1. It is good to reread these books. Here is a quote you may like. “When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before.”
    – Clifton Fadiman I am reading “How Green Was My Valley” for the first time. Don´t know why I waited so long.

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