The Small House at Allington

small houseOh, Anthony Trollope! Just when I thought I knew what the Barsetshire formula was about — marriage proposals under the difficult circumstances of class and money troubles, among various levels of society, with generally happy endings — you do this to me! Yes, I’d gathered hints that The Small House was not the favorite Barsetshire novel of some faithful Trollope readers, but I’d never suspected such a twist: marriage proposals under the difficult circumstances of class and money troubles, among various levels of society, with blighted lives at the end! Oh dear, oh dear, never get over it mutter mutter my heart mutter mutter.

Not that The Small House doesn’t have a tremendous amount to offer. The squire at the Great House at Allington is very tender-hearted toward his nieces Bell and Lily Dale, but his behavior is cold, domineering, and severe, so that he is always misunderstood. The Dales at the Small House, despite their long relationship with him, misunderstand him like anyone else, and hurt him deeply with their apparently ungrateful behavior. Yet change and redemption is still possible: love can conquer the most ingrained habits.

And habits — habits of mind and body — are a force to be reckoned with, as Trollope (always such a student of human nature) will tell you. All the characters have taught themselves to behave in certain ways, whether it is a question of the income Adolphus Crosbie has learned to expect (and will not have if he marries Lily), or a question of the love Lily has learned to give Crosbie once they became engaged, or a question of the habits young hobbledehoy Jonny Eames falls into at his not-terribly-reputable rooming-house. It takes a great deal of effort and conviction to root out old habits, and not all the characters are successful at doing so. Those who find themselves able to try new ways of doing things, find themselves moving in new and happier circles by the end of the book. Those who cannot, out of cowardice, sloth, or moral conviction — well!

That rooming-house of Jonny’s was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in Trollope, barring the marvelous Miss Dunstable. It was like turning the corner, walking into Mrs. Roper’s establishment, and finding it was straight out of Dickens:

“Miss Spruce,” continued Lupex, “there are moments when the heart becomes too strong for a man.”

“I dare say,” said Miss Spruce.

“Now, Lupex, that will do,” said his wife.

“Yes, that will do, But I think it right to tell Mr. Cradell that I am glad he did not come to me. Your friend, Mr. Cradell, did me the honour of calling on me at the theatre yesterday at half-past four, but I was in the slings then and could not very well come down to him. I shall be happy to see you both any day at five, and to bury all unkindness with a chop and glass at the Pot and Poker, in Bow Street.”

“I’m sure you’re very kind,” said Cradell.

“And Mrs. Lupex will join us. There’s a delightful little snuggery upstairs at the Pot and Poker; and if Miss Spruce will condescend to –”

“Oh, I’m an old woman, sir.”

“No — no — no,” said Lupex, “I deny that.”

I believe that several of the reviews I’ve seen of The Small House have complained about it because of Lily Dale’s behavior (as well as the unresolved, or rather resolved but not entirely happy ending that one had been led to expect from Trollope’s Barsetshire novels.) Well, I’m not complaining. She doesn’t waft about, saying one thing and doing another. On the contrary! This young woman knows exactly what she wants and what she doesn’t want. And perhaps we, as readers, know better than she does, or we think we do: that guy was a jerk! You wouldn’t have been happy with him, Lily! You’d be better off with someone else! Get over it! But that’s not to the point, is it? If we’re going to let our female characters have agency, we have to let them have all the agency. If she chooses to live her life single and (eventually) cheerful, then that’s what she gets to do. I, for one, admire her for her forthrightness. She’ll be the aunt who always has gum, that’s for sure.

Trollope wrote fifty novels, or maybe more. He has to have written some clunkers, some that are boring, some that are no good at all. But this one — this one was a pleasure from first to last, from the earl escaping the bull to Plantagenet Palliser being saved from his own bull-headed behavior. All the strands are there, and Trollope, too, laughing as he pulls the strings. I look forward very much to reading the Last Chronicle, and seeing how it all comes out.

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23 Responses to The Small House at Allington

  1. boardinginmyforties says:

    Trollope has always been on my list and I can see that I am missing out by not having read any up to now.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, you are! I started with the Barsetshire novels, but you can’t go wrong with the Palliser novels, or a stand-alone like The Way We Live Now or He Knew He Was Right, either.

  2. I have been a little hesitant to start this one since finishing Framley Parsonage, knowing how other readers criticize it. But it sounds like I needn’t be so worried and should just get on with enjoying it!

    • Jenny says:

      Honestly, I don’t know what they’re on about. This is Trollope in fine form, always interesting, always keeping his themes weaving in and out. It’s sadder than some of his other books, that I’ll grant you, but it’s also all lit up with humor. It’s terrific.

  3. This one is going on vacation with me next week. When I finish it, I will return and leave a long, erudite, highly critical comment of some sort.

    I have read it before, but do not remember it so well; well enough, though, to be perpetually puzzled about the same kinds of responses you have found. Some fiction readers have quite narrow interests.

    • Jenny says:

      Hey, if you do that, people will come to see the comment rather than my post, which was completely frivolous. Well, that’s okay too.

      I wasn’t too nervous about reading the book, despite others’ responses, to be perfectly honest.

  4. Lisa says:

    I think The Last Chronicle is my favorite of all his books, though that’s a tough choice. It’s been a good while since I’ve read this, and now you have me questioning my remembered distaste for Lily – and I’ve forgotten all about the bull!

    • Jenny says:

      How could you forget the bull? That was one of the funniest scenes in the book! Oh, but I do have to stand up for Lily, who is strong-mindedly doing what she feels and believes to be right. I like her a lot.

  5. vanbraman says:

    As always now, I have some Trollope with me as I travel. Sir Alec Guinness always had a Trollope novel along with him when he travelled. I thought it was a good example :-).

  6. Tony says:

    It’s books like this that ‘Doctor Thorne’ fails to live up to ;)

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, Tony, and your vendetta against Doctor Thorne. I still think it was great. This one, too, though! So far, with Trollope, I haven’t put a foot wrong.

      • Karen K. says:

        I loved Doctor Thorne. I liked The Small House at Allington but I felt cheated when I read the ending, it just felt unresolved. (However, Lily’s story is finally resolved in The Last Chronicle).

      • Jenny says:

        I disagree with those readers I’ve seen (many of them) saying that it felt unresolved. I think it was resolved, just resolved unhappily. Lily is quite, quite clear about what she wants and plans to do: she is, in a word, resolved. Jonny Eames, too, is clear. I don’t think it’s unresolved just because everyone isn’t married. But I’m really glad to hear we see more of Lily in The Last Chronicle! I like her.

  7. Harriet says:

    I read this some time ago and loved it. Now I’m onto Doctor Thorne and despite Tony’s comment above, I am loving it. I haven’t read The Last Chronicle — maybe that should be up next. Thanks.

    • Jenny says:

      Harriet, Tony has a thing against Doctor Thorne. (You can read his comments on my review of it to see!) But I thought it was wonderful — so perfectly managed in every way. I’m looking forward to The Last Chronicle a great deal, and then I’ll probably read The Way We Live Now.

    • Tony says:

      I wonder if there’s a connection between the two, something that makes you love them and me dislike them? ;)

  8. Pingback: Luscious Lust | Michael Forman. Author of Naughty, Evil Little Thriller Novels

  9. Theresa says:

    In “Devices and Desires” by P.D. James, one of the characters kept a copy of “The Small House at A.” at her bedside, and I believe I read somewhere (maybe in her autobiography) that James did also. Her mysteries are so top-notch that, if she liked Trollope that much, I guess it’s time for me to try this one too.

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