Charles Percy Snow

The English novelist and physicist Charles Percy Snow (1905-1972) wrote "Strangers and Brothers," a series of novels depicting the professional and intellectual classes and detailing the struggles involved in the pursuit of ambition and the exercise of power.

On Oct. 15, 1905, C. P. Snow was born into a working-class family in Leicester. He graduated from Leicester University with a first in chemistry and a master of science degree in physics. In 1930 Snow received a doctorate in physics from Cambridge, where he remained until 1950 as a fellow and as an administrator.

Deeply involved in molecular research during the 1930s, Snow turned to writing fiction for relaxation. His first novel, Death under Sail (1932), was a detective story. His second, The Search (1934), concerning scientific research, began the novelistic exploration of the personal lives and public ambitions of the British professional and intellectual classes that later achieved its fullest expression in the novels of the "Strangers and Brothers" series. In 1940 the first novel of this series, from which it takes its title, was published. Strangers and Brothers introduced many of the characters who appeared in the later novels, particularly Lewis Eliot, the narrator of all of them and the subject of two.

During World War II Snow gave up writing to become the director of technical personnel for the Ministry of Labour. In 1943 he was made a commander of the British Empire, and in 1945 he was named a civil service commissioner with the responsibility of selecting scientists for government projects, a post he held until 1960.

After the war, Snow returned to writing and published the second volume in his series, The Light and the Dark (1947). Lewis Eliot's struggles for happiness in love and success in his career were recorded in Time of Hope (1949) and Homecoming (1956).

In 1950 Snow married the English novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson. In 1951 the fourth novel of the series The Masters, was published. The New Men (1954), which dealt with scientists involved in developing the atomic bomb, was the fifth novel in the series. In 1957 Snow was knighted. A year later the seventh novel in the series, The Conscience of the Rich, appeared. It concerned the struggle for independence of a talented young man who resists his wealthy father's attempts to dominate him.

During the 1950s Snow lectured frequently. His most controversial lecture, "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution," concerned the dangerous communication gap between humanist and scientific intellectuals. In 1960 he published The Affair, the eighth novel in his series. Corridors of Power, a study of the exercise of power at the highest levels of government, appeared in 1964. The Sleep of Reason, issued in 1968 as the tenth novel in the series, concerned the details of a lurid torture-murder. Snow also published lectures, criticism, and a volume of biographical studies, Variety of Men.

Further Reading on Charles Percy Snow

Two worthwhile studies of Snow's work are Frederick R. Karl, C.P. Snow: The Politics of Conscience (1963), and Jerome Thale, C. P. Snow (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

De la Mothe, John, C.P. Snow and the struggle of modernity, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

Halperin, John, C.P. Snow—an oral biography: together with a conversation with Lady Snow (Pamela Hansford Johnson), New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

Snow, C. P. (Charles Percy), The physicists, Boston: Little, Brown, 1981.

Snow, Philip, Stranger and brother: a portrait of C.P. Snow, New York: Scribner, 1983, 1982.