Short summary - Corridors of Power - Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow

British literature summaries -

Short summary - Corridors of Power
Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow

The action of the novel by C. P. Snow «The Corridors of Power» takes place in Great Britain in 1955–1958. The protagonist of the novel is a young conservative politician representing the left wing of his party, Roger Quayfe. The narration is conducted on behalf of his colleague, and subsequently friend of Lewis Eliot

In the spring of 1955, the Conservative Party won the parliamentary elections and was given the opportunity to form a government. The young ambitious politician Roger Quayfe gets the post of fellow minister in the newly created Ministry of Arms. This does not please everyone. Thus, officials of the State Administration — a department partially duplicating the functions of the new ministry, partially competing with it — which were bypassed in allocating seats in the government, and in particular Lewis Eliot chief Hector Rose, are clearly disappointed. In their opinion, the new ministry only spends huge sums of money, but cannot imagine anything to justify its expenses.


Roger Quayfe believes that in a situation where the two superpowers have long possessed nuclear weapons, the work on creating them in the UK is meaningless: their continuation means only crazy spending, and it’s still impossible to catch up with the USA and the USSR. However, he cannot openly state his position, because the problem affects the interests of many too powerful forces - politicians, officials, scientists, large industrialists are involved in the confrontation on this issue. The closure of nuclear programs for many of them means millions of losses. Roger's goal is to gain power, and then use that power properly, while something else can be done. To do this, he often has to wage a behind-the-scenes struggle, hiding his true views.

As an immediate goal, Roger outlined the ministerial chair, which is still occupied by the aging and sick Lord Gilby. To achieve his goal, he skillfully uses the discontent of the «hawks», led by an emigrant from Poland, a certain Michael Brodzinsky, an extremely right-wing politician. Without revealing his full political line, Roger nevertheless managed to attract politicians and influential businessmen from various camps to his side. In the end, Roger succeeds: Gilby receives his resignation, and Roger takes his post.


However, such an outwardly duplicitous policy of Roger Quayfe has its costs. His friends and supporters begin to look askance at the same time, while at the same time the «hawks» and the same Brodzinsky have unjustified hopes that the new minister will begin to pursue a tough line in matters of British nuclear policy.

The "socio-political" storyline mixes with personal. Roger Quayfe is married to the beautiful Caroline (Caro, as her friends call her), the daughter of the Earl, who belongs to an ancient aristocratic family. According to all acquaintances, this is a happy marriage, which is not in danger. However, one day Roger confesses to Lewis that he has a lover - Helen Smith. Having met her, Lewis recalls the phrase Caroline, once jokingly dropped at one reception: "Wives should not be afraid of stunning beauties, but quiet gray mice that no one notices."

Roger's personal and political problems are tied in a tight knot. In the bill he is working on, he is trying to propose a new national policy on nuclear weapons production, pointing out the unjustified expenses that the country incurs. However, the closure of the production of nuclear weapons will inevitably entail the loss of work by several thousand people. Roger is opposed by the Department of Labor. He openly opposed Roger and Brodzinsky, calling his position defeatist and pouring water on the Moscow mill. Various «pressure groups,» including clearly inspired from Washington, are beginning to act.

At the same time, Roger, publicly advocating the idea of preventing a nuclear arms race, is becoming popular in a liberal environment. He is readily quoted by newspapers, as well as independent and opposition politicians.

Roger's opponents do not disdain by any means. Helen Smith receives anonymous letters with threats and demands to influence Roger. A number of defense scientists must undergo a humiliating security check procedure.

The action reaches its climax when the bill prepared by Roger is published, and an open political struggle begins on the issue of its adoption. A compromise was worked out, according to which the cabinet would not object to the bill, but Roger should abandon the idea of completely stopping the production of nuclear weapons. Roger does not agree to do this, although it is obvious to everyone, including himself, that in the specific conditions of the Cold War, the real realization of his idea is simply impossible. A friend of Roger, American physicist David Rubin, advises him to quit this venture, motivating his advice by saying that Roger was ahead of his time, and there is no hope of victory. «Your point of view is correct, but the time has not come yet,» he says. Roger stands firm and ready to defend his position to the end.

Shortly before the parliamentary debate on the bill, the opposition is introducing a resolution «on a reduction of ten pounds» - this formula hides a vote of no confidence in the government. Roger’s opponents inside the Tory party conspire with the opposition.

Meanwhile, Caro receives anonymous letters about her husband’s infidelity. She is furious, but continues to support her husband as a politician.

Roger makes a brilliant speech in defense of his position, but in vain - even people close to him speak against him, in particular, Brother Caroline, the young Lord Sammykins Houghton, whom Roger has repeatedly defended from party comrades who criticized Sammykins for not orthodox views. MPs speak of a "restraining principle," of a shield and sword, and strongly oppose a real reduction in the nuclear program. Even the terminally ill former minister, Lord Gilby, personally arrives at the debate, so that, as he puts it, «to give battle to adventurers».

The bill failed. Roger is forced to resign. But he remains convinced that his position is the only correct one, that our descendants, if only we have them, will curse us for not abandoning the production and testing of nuclear weapons. The belief that someday someone else will still achieve what he failed to achieve remains unshakable.


Roger's successor as minister becomes former Lewis Eliot chief Hector Rose. Lewis himself, after several years of working with Roger Quayfe very close to him, also decides to leave the civil service.

Once, a year and a half after the events described, Lewis and his wife Margaret go to a dinner party, where the whole color of the British establishment is present. Not only Roger. He completely retired, divorced the beautiful aristocrat Caroline, married Helen Smith and lives very modestly, avoiding meeting with past acquaintances. He still remains a member of parliament, but divorce actually put an end to his political career - even his own constituency refused to nominate him in the next election. Yet Roger himself and his friend Lewis believe that their struggle - even if it ended in defeat - was not in vain.