The Small House at Allington, Barchester #5 by Anthony Trollope

The Small House at Allington - Julian Thompson, Anthony Trollope

Constancy is the word of the day in 'The Small House at Allington' (1864). There are, of course, dozens of characters and motives and several subplots, but the main thrust of the book comes from hobbledehoy Johnny Eames and his love since early childhood, Lily Dale. Unfortunately for Johnny, Lily has been offered, and accepted, a marriage proposal from man of fashion and all-around stud Adolphus Crosbie.

There is some background necessary. Lily is a Dale. The Dales of Allington are an ancient family, etc., etc. who are known for their unswerving character. The current Squire, Christopher Dale, was rejected in love and thus decided to never marry. One brother of his eloped with the daughter of a nearby Earl and the other married a respectable woman with little money. I don't need to explain to you which was the worse match.

The youngest brother's death left Mrs. Dale with her small means and two daughters, Belle and Lily. In their interest Mrs. Dale accepted the offer of living in the "small house" rent-free. The squire was pleased to give his nieces attention and presents and other favors to their advantage, but failed to extend any affection to their mother. She feels obligated to refuse his cold invitations to join them for dinner, etc. Her life is often a lonely one, but to her it is a price worth paying. His nieces, observing this, are fond enough of their uncle, but keep their own distance.

We have now on both sides of the family an obstinacy that gets in the way of their happiness. The novel begins when Adolphus Crosbie joins his friend Bernard Dale, the son of the other brother and heir to the estate, on a summer's visit to Allington. He falls in love with Lily, and thinking she will have a marriage settlement from her uncle, proposes marriage. There is no settlement. To marry on the several hundred pounds a year of his current income would mean disaster to his career and his important position at the center of other ladies' drawing rooms. Lily senses his distress and offers freely to let him go, despite her love for him, but he refuses. While he remains at Allington he goes forward with the engagement. He does cut his visit short by a week to accept an invitation from the Countess to De Courcy Castle where her so very eligible daughter Lady Alexandrina could see him.

It is obvious. From the moment Crosbie was introduced as something like the most decorative man in London the reader knows that Lily Dale and her zero pounds stands not a chance, no matter how lively and sweet she is. Trollope is sympathetic to all concerned in the matter, he explains the good intentions, the unwillingness of the characters to cause each other pain at each and every moment they cut each other deepest.

But there's Johnny Eames! He has only offered a small sentence or two to her confessing his deep feelings for her, and she acknowledges them, but she cannot tear herself from the thought of Crosbie. She had professed to love him for eternity and eternity it will be. Eames has his own problems brewing - he's been a little too free with the disgracefully free Amelia Roper, daughter of his landlady - but he has everything in him of the great man, if he could just get over the hurdles of youth without tripping. Events and most of the cast of the novel conspire to bring Johnny and Lily together, will they? won't they? Trollope's triumph here was in making me wish for the inevitable and then denying it to me. By the end of the novel as he sits eating his pork chop - how one eats is so very revealing - the reader knows.

I have cut this novel down to nothing. One subplot touched on the Grantleys and introduced Plantagenet Palliser of Trollope's other great series, the Palliser novels or the Parliamentary Chronicles. Society has chosen to believe he is having an affair with the serene Lady Griselda Dumbello (née Grantley) who married so magnificently in Framley Parsonage. This leads Palliser to wonder that if society believes it, why not give it a try?

Is constancy in love is a virtue? The Victorians had no qualms about moralizing, but occasionally, as here, the medicine goes down smoothly.

Next: The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

or Can You Forgive Her? (1865), if I want to leave Barchester for awhile.