Monday, March 25, 2013

Some Small House at Allington notes - my story will be nothing to him if he do not love Lily Dale

What I do not want to do is spend a week writing about Anthony Trollope’s The Small House at Allington (1862-64) which is a Trollope novel like many Trollope novels, except for all of the differences.   I will wander over some of those here.

Early in the book Trollope, introducing his heroine, declares:

Lilian Dale, dear Lily Dale – for my reader must know that she is to be very dear, and that my story will be nothing to him if he do not love Lily Dale…  (Ch. 2)

It turned out that his readers did love Lily Dale even more than they loved earlier Trollope heroines.  I do not think that Trollope is right, though (and I do not think that he thinks he is right – the Trollope narrator often lies), since the two other stories of the novel are also quite good.  But I am not the one to ask about “loving” characters.

Immature nitwit John Eames (a “calf,” Trollope often calls him) would like to marry Lily Dale, but she is swooped up by the man about town Adolphus Crosbie.  He quickly jilts her, though, in favor of the daughter of an earl and a countess.  I think I have taken the plot to about the one-quarter point, which is far enough.  An impatient reader, despairing that the novel will have any plot at all, will have likely chucked it around the one-fifth mark, a healthy 120 pages.

In the remaining 450 pages, I mean after the story gets moving:

a, b) Lily Dale and Adolphus Crosbie, neither of whom appear to be too complex at the beginning, reveal their characters, with Lily showing herself to be tougher and more interesting than she seemed, while Crosbie, who imagines himself a great man, turns out to be altogether smaller than he knew;

c) John Eames changes his character; he develops or grows.  He ends the novel in a hotel restaurant, by  himself, eating a mutton chop, at which moment “he entered on his manhood” (Ch. 59).  Small House can be a pleasingly understated novel.  So I am as happy with John’s story as with Lily’s.

As happy with Crosbie’s, for that matter, since he allows Trollope to tell the story of a bad marriage.  After the incessant proposals and climactic marriages of the earlier Barchester novels, not to mention the six proposals in Orley Farm, it was about time – time to see what happens after the wedding, and time to anatomize a marriage that fails.  I will not say this often, but for this strand of the story it is a shame that the constraints on writing about sex were so strong.

Shelf Love Jenny recently wrote something more like an orderly review of the novel.  She includes an excerpt from one of the book’s funniest settings and scenes.  More or less what she said, is what I should have written, aside from one curiosity that I will save for tomorrow.


  1. One of my favourite Trollope books (I hate to admit that I am immature enough to consider the fight scene one of my faves...).

  2. Is that immaturity? Then I am similarly immature. And the reactions of other characters to the fight are excellent, too.

    I suppose it must come up again in the next book. I know J. Eames and L. Dale are back in Last Chronicle, but have no memory whatsoever of what happens to them.

    One reason I wrote this rambly post was to have a memory aid. After 20 years, the distinctions between Trollope heroines got kind of blurry.

  3. Gah, orderly review indeed; more like a lucky dip than a review. (I think the fight scene and the scene with the bull are about tied for funniest.)

    I'm interested in the bad marriage. Middlemarch does bad marriage, and Hardy does bad marriage. Hardy thinks about bad-marriage sex (from a middling distance.) Does Eliot? I think Trollope hints at it, as you say; the cold, cold house is where it's at.

  4. I detected a more or less logical progression of thought in your piece which, given what I wrote, is an achievement.

    It is easy enough to imagine that in the marriage of Lydgate and Rosamund, sex is not a problem, that other issues like money are all that matter. While in the Crosbie - Lady Alexandrina match, there is clearly something wrong from the beginning, something wrong at the honeymoon, and I presume that some of Crosbie regrets over Lily are sexual. But it is all in a code I am not so adept at reading.