TheSmall House at Allingtonintroduces Trollope's most beloved heroine, the charming Lily Dale, to the Barsetshire scene. Lily is the niece of Squire Dale, an embittered old bachelor living in the main house on his property at Allington. He has loaned an adjacent small house rent-free to his widowed sister-in-law and her daughters, Lily and Bell. But the relations between the two houses are strained, affecting the romantic entanglements of the girls.
Lily has long been unsuccessfully wooed by John Eames, a junior clerk at the income tax office. The handsome and personable Adolphus Crosbie looks like an enticing alternative; but Adolphus has his eye on the rigid Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, whose family is in a position to further his career. Bell, meanwhile, must choose between the local doctor, James Crofts, and her wealthy cousin, Bernard.
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"The Small House at Allington is a marvelous and quite serious book. It is structurally interesting and protrays characters who change in well-described radical ways. As to structure, the novel is two stories told one after the other and not simultaneously. In this respect, the first half of the book is taken up with the complexities of Mr. Crosbie's "relationship" to Lily Dale and the second half to the single-minded relationship of John Eames to Lily Dale. Essentially, Mr. Crosbie's story ends with the jilting of Lily Dale. Of course, he reappears later as a minor and passive character as fate evolves its somewhat satisfying vengeance on him. John Eames's story begins with the jilting. Of course, John Eames has appeared in the first part of the book as a minor and passive character. What appears to be the dramatic apex of the book --- the jilting --- appears in the middle. Accordingly, the continuation of the story into the drama and suspense of John Eames' relationship to Lily Dale seems at first to be an anticlimax. But I think that this impression derives from Mr. Trollope's perhaps deliberate misdirection of the reader in the book's first half to the extent that he/she thinks that the book is about Lily Dale when really it is not.
The book's weight is the characters of Adolphus Crosbie and John Eames. As I wrote above, each changes in radical ways. As to Crosbie, the change is a change in circumstances, though not in character. As to Eames, the change is a growth of character. Crosbie is fascinating as an example of the banality of cadishness. His intense vanity --- even narcissism --- controls his actions, his words, his decisions, and even his thought processes given the marvelousness of his rationalizations. Accordingly, his change of circumstances is his lowering on the scale of social regard to a point below his position on the scale of vanity. Eames changes from a callow youth (hobbledehoy) to manhood. In this respect, he deals realistically with the failure of his suit for Lily and the other circumstances of his life (Amelia Roper's predatory manipulation, his advancement in his career, etc.). He ends up much higher on the scale of social regard than his virtual zero on the scale of vanity. He is therefore the successful character while Crosbie is a failure in human terms.
As to Lily Dale, the point of the triangle, we know very little of her. This is not because of our popular view of women's relative seclusion in the Victorian world. Mr. Trollope has written very engaging and strong women in his books. Perhaps, it is because she is so young and so inexperienced and really benighted. Her continuing, intense attachment to Crosbie is so singular as to make her seem mentally ill. Her position is neither supported not understood by anyone around her, neither her mother, her sister Bell, nor the squire, nor persons at greater distance, like Earl De Guest and his sister Julia. It is an obsession or idee' fixe. Given the surprising inconclusiveness of the novel's ending, one can extrapolate and hope that she recovers and that John Eames might have another chance.
Mr. Trollope's ability to describe humans is a gift. I always "get" what the people in Trollope are like or what they are going through. This includes Lily Dale whom we can rightfully see as deluded. I also love his style. His asides and comments run from funny to right on --- and one should have some knowledge of Scripture to appreciate how funny they are. I also liked very much the involution (did I make this word up?) of Mr. T's asides on novels and novel writing as put into the mouths of a couple of characters discussing the latest novel to come out."
Lawrence (5 out of 5 stars)