I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
The Small House at Allington – Anthony Trollope
In this, the fifth novel of the six Barsetshire Chronicles, a young woman that is packing an heirloom bowl unwittingly comments on us fickle irrational human beings thus:
Whenever I handle anything very precious I always feel inclined to throw it down and smash it.
Lily Dale is only one of many otherwise bright articulate people who are always taking the illogical unreasonable action contrary to their own best interests.
Johnny Eames loves Lily Dale who loves Adolphus Crosbie. Both suspect that Crosbie is a conceited climber that’s not to be trusted but Lily is crushed when Crosbie jilts her. Lily masochistically wallows in her wound, still in love with Crosbie while selfishly leaning on her mother and sister’s incessant petting and mollycoddling. Though witty, Lily, the “wounded fawn” becomes quite tedious.
I have to wonder at the fact that so many readers, from Trollope’s day to ours, find Lily Dale so enchanting. I don’t like it when healthy self-denial turns into sick obsession, especially over love for worthless people. By the end, I was ill-wishing Lily who felt that not loving Crosbie would be a betrayal of her own integrity. Fine, be a spinster. Be celibate. Descend into religious melancholy. Keep 25 cats.
Though Crosbie detests the cold, ratty, snotty de Courcy family, he marries the frigid Lady Alexandrina, the eldest and shopworn daughter. On the train to their honeymoon, Crosbie contemplates his new wife and thinks the bleakest line I’ve ever read in a Trollope novel:
Of what use to him in life would be that thing of a woman that sat opposite to him?
With such a lack of warmth and respect for each other, they end up in a marriage more like a business partnership where the partners don’t speak to each other. The marriage ends up so bad after only 10 weeks of it, we readers almost feel sorry for the husband and wife.
Plantagenet Palliser is their heir of the rich and powerful Duke of Omnium. He starts making eyes at another man’s wife Lady Dambello, born Griselda Grantley, though she has no discernible personality attributes and has established a reputation for having zilch conversation in her. In a rare burst of candor, the Duke of Omnium warns him off and so does the Duke’s hatchet man Mr. Fothergill. But against all reason Palliser persists in his pursuit.
Johnny Eames, too, perversely toys with the affections of older Amelia Roper, though he regards her a pain in the neck. By the end, Amelia observes “I don't know what's the good of feelings. They never did me any good.”
Amelia’s mother runs a London boarding house on the way out of respectability. The tone of the place is brought down by a running flirtation between Mrs. Lupex and Eames’ friend Cradell. Cradell’s fascination is odd considering that Mrs. Lupex is married, malcious and monstrous.
When the unfortunate moth in his semi-blindness whisks himself and his wings within the flame of the candle, and finds himself mutilated and tortured, he even then will not take the lesson, but returns again and again till he is destroyed. Such a moth was poor Cradell. There was no warmth to be got by him from that flame. There was no beauty in the light,—not even the false brilliance of unhallowed love. Injury might come to him,—a pernicious clipping of the wings, which might destroy all power of future flight; injury, and not improbably destruction, if he should persevere. But one may say that no single hour of happiness could accrue to him from his intimacy with Mrs. Lupex. He felt for her no love. He was afraid of her, and, in many respects, disliked her. But to him, in his moth-like weakness, ignorance, and blindness, it seemed to be a great thing that he should be allowed to fly near the candle. Oh! my friends, if you will but think of it, how many of you have been moths, and are now going about ungracefully with wings more or less burnt off, and with bodies sadly scorched!
Some people like Trollope for his coziness but I think he will ask hard questions, like “when have you, dear reader, been a moth and how did it feel and did you go back for more.”
Anyway, there’s no space to go over the actions contrary to themselves of the squire, the earl, the earl’s sister, head gardener Hopkins, Lily’s mother and sister Bell, who like Mary Thorne and Lucy Robarts spend a lot of our time staving off totally worthy suitors. Or Mrs. Roper the put-upon landlady. Trust me that they are perverse too.
This is an excellent novel full of great characters, willful and awkward though they may be. Framley Parsonage and this novel were first written as serials. As such, Trollope tightens up the plotting and characterization. I’ve found FP and this one to be much smoother to read and I’ve developed an appreciation for Trollope’s steady, measured, unassuming prose.