Friday, December 26, 2014

The Small House at Allington By Anthony Trollope

My commentary contains major spoilers.

The Small House at Allington  by Anthony Trollope is the fifth novel in the "Chronicles of Barsetshire" series.  Perhaps wanting to inject variety into the series, this entry takes what is, for Trollope, a fairly dark, or at least grey, turn. This is another superb novel in the series.

The story centers on the Dale family, who reside in the small house of the title. Mrs. Dale, a widow, resides there with her two daughters, Lilly and Bell. The plot revolves around the marital prospects of both. Each has what I would call a “good” suitor and a “bad” suitor. This is Trollope, and as usual the “good” suitors have some very negative character flaws and the “bad” suitors some good character traits. 

Lilly and her wooers are the primary focus of the plot, and they are more interesting characters than Bell and her suitors. Thus, I will concentrate on them. 

Both of Lilly’s love interests are complex and realistic literary creations. Adolphus Crosbie, her “bad” suitor, becomes engaged to Lilly for complex reasons, which include his desire for financial and social advancement. Despite the fact that he does begin to really fall in love with Lilly, when it becomes clear that Lilly’s uncle will not come up with the hoped for dowry, Crosbie reluctantly breaks off the engagement.   This betrayal devastates Lilly, and her ensuing depression is a major factor in the story. He quickly becomes engaged to the shallow and materialistic Lady Alexandrina de Courcy. He spends the remainder of the novel regretting his decision, both before and after his marriage.

John Eames is Lilly’s “good” love interest. A man of lower social status as well as one with less confidence than Crosbie, he has been in love with Lilly for years. An imperfect creation, though often brave and virtuous, Eames shows character flaws, which he seems to work out throughout the story. He behaves dishonestly with another girl named Amelia Roper.  Though Amelia is aggressive in her pursuit of Eames, he is at times false to her regards to his feelings. This provides Trollope with another opportunity to display his marvelous meta-fiction and odd point of view. At several points in the book, the usually unseen narrator shows himself and lectures Eames from afar on his behavior. This suddenly obtrusive narrator even calls Eames an “Ass” and a “Blockhead.”

As is typical with Trollope, there are numerous additional characters and subplots. Once again, there are so many areas that I could talk about that I could write an entire series of posts. This book is different from the previous entries in the series. Not only are there dark moments, but, unlike the other books, there is no really happy ending here. Though there are signs of hope, several of the characters end the story in a state just short of melancholy.

I do want to focus a little on one extraordinary and important passage. It is the carriage ride that Alexandrina and Crosbie take from their wedding to their honeymoon lodgings. This is my fifth Trollope novel, and I find it to be perhaps the darkest passage that I have encountered thus far in my readings of the author. It is deeply affective and brilliantly written.

It is clear that there is no affection between the two newlyweds despite some half-hearted attempts at tenderness by Crosbie. Personally, if I took a carriage ride with a pleasant person that I just met, I think that there would be more human connection involved. Making matters worse, Crosbie understands that he has made a terrible mistake, and it is Lilly who is on his mind.

Just a part of it is below,

And as he seated himself opposite to Alexandrina, having properly tucked her up with all her bright-coloured trappings, he remembered that he had never in truth been alone with her before. He had danced with her frequently, and been left with her for a few minutes between the figures. He had flirted with her in crowded drawing-rooms, and had once found a moment at Courcy Castle to tell her that he was willing to marry her in spite of his engagement with Lilian Dale. But he had never walked with her for hours together….as he had walked with Lily. 

The tragedy here is that although Crosbie has done a terrible thing by abandoning Lilly, he has a lot of substance to him.  He is intelligent and cultured, and he can be thoughtful and sensitive. 

Another part the passage highlights this, 

He had never talked to her about government, and politics, and books, nor had she talked to him of poetry, of religion, and of the little duties and comforts of life. He had known the Lady Alexandrina for the last six or seven years; but he had never known her,— perhaps never would know her,— as he had learned to know Lily Dale within the space of two months… It was in this that Crosbie's failure had been so grievous,— that he had seen and approved the better course, but had chosen for himself to walk in that which was worse. 

Even though he has acted abominably, these thoughts, as well as the mood that Trollope creates, manifest upon Crosbie’s wedding day and reach a very high level of pathos. 
The scene goes on for multiple pages. I find it to be a gem, and it alone would make the book worth reading.

As in every other book that I have read in this series, there are a lot of other good reasons to read this novel. It rises to the level of Trollope’s usual typical high quality. There are so many great characters and interactions worth noting, including the incredibly complex relationship between the Dale women and Mrs. Dale’s brother-in-law, The Squire of Allington. What I would describe as a grey ending fits in well both with the themes and with the characters. In my opinion, the sad outcomes raise this novel up a couple notches on the aesthetic scale. I still think that Barchester Towers is the best in the series so far, but this one comes in a close second for me.

Although this is the fifth book in the series, it can be read as standalone. Characters from the other books take on small to moderately important parts here. I have just one more book to read in the Chronicles of Barsetshire" series, The Last Chronicle of Barset . I cannot wait to delve into that one!

My commentary on the first book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, The Warden is here.

My commentary on the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Barchester Towers is here.

My commentary on the third book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Doctor Thorne is here.

My commentary on the Fourth book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Framley Parsonage is  here  and as it relates to gender roles here.

My commentary on Trollop’s unusual Pont of View is here.


James said...

Great commentary on Trollope. This is another of the Barchester novels that I skipped going directly from Barchester Towers to The Last Chronicle. Some day I will have to fill in the blanks because, as you point out, they are filled with the wonderful characters and interactions that Trollope is known for.
I think I have a copy of this one someplace on my shelf, now if I can only squeeze another hour into each day. Maybe 2015 will have longer days!

Happy Holidays!

@parridhlantern said...

Not read this one by Trollope, in facase it's been years since I've read any. Hope you're having a great holiday season.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph, I have not read anything by Trollope, but I appreciate your thoughtful post. I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas.

Guy Savage said...

I haven't read this but
absolutely must.
The part about the carriage ride--you know I just finished Anna Karenina which brings home the marriage for status idea. Hard to imagine really finding yourself alone with a person you barely know and saying to yourself 'well here goes a lifetime."....

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James- The issue of not having been enough time to read is an ongoing one for me.

Though there is some repetition in this series I have found reading all of these in order to be very rewarding.

Have a happy New Year!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Gary - This one is deep into the series so I think that a lot of folks who do read Trollope have not gotten to it.

As I mentioned above I thinlk that the entire series is worth it.

Happy Holidays to you!

Brian Joseph said...

HI Suko- I highly recamend Trollope as he is accessible and fun while also being wieghty.

Happy holidays to you and your family!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Guy- Indeed that must be some empty and scary feeling. As we know it does happen in real life.

Happy Holidays to you!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Thanks for the warning about spoilers. I've just purchased this series so I won't read your post until after I read the book. Then I look forward to see you what you have to say about it. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I would always put a warning up :)

I am really looking forward to reading what you think about this series.

JacquiWine said...

Great review, Brian. I've yet to read Trollope, but given that you feel this could be a read as a standalone novel I might give it a try at some stage. I'm attracted to the darkness here and the relationship between Alexandrina and Crosbie. Your quotes highlight the sadness and emptiness as they embark on a life together.

Wishing you and yours all the best for the festive season.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui - Thanks for the good word.

As I alluded to, though a very 'serious" artist, on the surface most of Trollope is no so grim on the surface. In this book a bit more of the darkness seems to come to the surface.

Have a very Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Like Guy, the first thought that came to my mind when reading your review was Anna Karenina (since I've been giving that a shot myself). Those two excerpted paragraphs are spectacularly good, not just for what they say, but for the heavy silence that they leave. After all, what is being in love about, but long walks and conversations about politics and poetry? :)

- Gautam

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Gautam - I really need to read Anna Karenina sooner rather then later.

The mention of conversation on Books, Government, Religion Politics and Poetry with a life partner is something that I considered delving into more. On a personal level it says to me that at least in some ways Crosbie is like myself.

Maria Behar said...

As usual, I have really enjoyed reading your excellent, very insightful analysis of another Trollpe novel!

After mulling over your points about this particular novel, I have to say that one of the things I dislike about classics and literary fiction, although I do love to read books in these genres, is that they mimic life's sadness and tragedies much too often. There's no guarantee of 'a happy ending' with these books, just as there isn't such a guarantee in real life. When I was younger, this did not deter me from reading such books, but now, having experienced a few of life's more unpleasant moments, I am much more inclined to read a novel that will guarantee me a happy ending. (Mom used to tell me this very thing years ago, and now I understand what she was talking about. Lol.)

It's wonderful when a classic or literary novel does offer up happiness for the characters at the end of the book. Such is the case with "Jane Eyre", for instance, although poor Rochester had to suffer horribly for it. "Jane Eyre" is my favorite classic precisely because it ends on a happy note, even though it does have a slight melancholy one, too.

One novel I simply could NOT get through was "Anna Karenina", as I've mentioned to you before. I don't know why I even attempted it! I have absolutely NO sympathy for anyone who cheats on their spouse!!

Another classic novel that I still regard very highly, in spite of its tragic ending, is "Tess of the D'Urbervilles". That's because it makes a VERY important feminist statement. You DEFINITELY should read it!!

Another classic I regard very highly is "A Tale of Two cities". The ending is tragic, but not for all the characters. Yet, it's admirable because it's also heroic.

Another aspect I heartily dislike in classic/literary fiction novels is when characters marry the wrong people, abandoning those they SHOULD have married, because of love and close affinity. Such is the case here.... I wish I could grab Crosbie by the shoulders ahd SHAKE him!!!! What a HUGE fool!! You see? I haven't even read the book, and already I'm upset with one of the characters! Lol. That's because of your great commentary on this part of the novel. It's also due to my own life experiences. To me, there's NOTHING in the world to equal the happiness to be found when you marry the RIGHT person for YOU. Riches don't matter if you're miserable in a marriage!

So I don't think I will ever read this particular Trollope novel. I'm glad you warned your readers about the plot's dark elements! I had quite enough of THOSE when I read "Wuthering Heights", which is possibly the classic I HATE the most!

Thanks for another GREAT review!! : )

Maria Behar said...

P.S. I went back and read the other comments, and discovered that two other people had also mentioned "Anna Karenina". What a I wonder what their take on it was.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria -Thanks for the good word.

As I am getting older I can relate a little more to finding unpleasant things in fiction so disturbing that I do not do not want to or regret reading a book. Certain bad outcomes involving marriage and relationships bug me a lot too. I complete agree with you on the issue of marriage.

With that said I do strongly believe that it is vital for art to reflect the sadness and darkness of real life.

I have not read Anna Karenina. Obviously that passage that I quoted has some similarities. This novel was written first.

This is the only Trollope novel that I have read thus far that did have a fairly unhappy ending. His other books had endings closer to the Jane Austin books, Emma Nd Pride and Prejudice. I am reading the next book in the series as we we speak and I am thinking that there is a good a chance it will end in a way that the people who Crosbie hurt, will at least end up happy.

I think that one thing that makes "A Tale of Two Cities" is indeed the great moral victory at the end. I hope to read "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" at some point.

JaneGS said...

I am so looking forward to reading this one, especially after your review. It does sound darkish and complex and unresolved. The passages you quoted are wonderful.

Trollope's narrators are so interesting, and this one sounds true to form in that!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - I know that we are more or less reading this series along at the same pace. Indeed this is the darkest book so far.

The meta fictional nature of the narrator is also some of the strongest of the series in this one.

Heidi’sbooks said...

Brian, I so love reading your reviews on this series. I convinced my book club to read The Warden this year. So, I hope it is earlier in the year rather than later. I also bought The Palliser Novels by Trollope and have the 6 book series on my shelf. I'm looking forward to those as well. This book that you review here really sounds great.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the good word Heidi!

I really am looking forward to reading your thoughts on the Warden.

I guess that the Palliser novels take place in the same universe as the Chronicles of Barsetshire. As I am on the last book of this series I believe that I will be reading those soon.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

Hi Brian,
Thanks for the spoiler warning. I read just the beginning of your commentary and I think I might like this. I love dark, tragic stories, and reading Maria's comment about hating Wuthering Heights (which I loved) made me even more curious about this novel.
I also recommend Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Great book.

@Maria - I've read Anna Karenina but the politics side of the book made me dislike it so I ended up ploughing through to the end but it wasn't pleasant.

Have a great 2015, Brian!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Delia - I would love to read what you think if you read this. I should not over exaggerate my point, this is Trollope, it is not THAT dark. Relative to his other books it is.

I really need to get around to reading all the books that have been mentioned.

Have a Happy New Year!

Harvee said...

Happy holidays to you and your family. Happy reading in 2015!

Brian Joseph said...

Happy New Years to you and your family Harvee!

Caroline said...

I'm glad to read this could be read as a standalone. I've come across this novel a few times and was always tempted to pick it up.
Somebody should write a post on all the important carriage rides in 19thCentury literature. It's an awful idea to marry someone you hardly know.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline- The post on the carriage ride is a great idea.

One thing that makes this marriage so bad is that he knew enough about Alexandrinia that he should have not married her.