A Trollope Binge: The Small House at Allington

Bingeing on Anthony Trollope’s novels has its pros and cons. He was one of the most prolific Victorian writers, and he wrote some masterpieces and some duds.

Yet fans cannot get enough of him.  They are almost as keen on The Vicar of Bullhampton as The Way We Live Now.  “I love Mr. Trollope!!!” one enthusiastic fan posted.

And I tend to agree.

You won’t find a better Victorian novel than He Knew He was Right, but in my twenties, when I began to read Trollope,  only the Palliser series and the Barsetshire series were in print. I devoted a mellow summer to the six-book Barsetshire series, completely enthralled, completely uncritical; I walked around clutching  Framley Parsonage to my breastBut to mention Trollope in an English lit class would have been to invite darts and arrows.  I had been called “a naive reader” for bringing up Mrs. Oliphant. (What were they reading, Barthes?  I do not doubt it!)

Trollope’s brilliant Barsetshire series (The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset) was tremendously popular in the 19th century.  Earlier this month, I decided to go back to it.  I began in medias res, with Framley Parsonage, the fourth novel in the series (which can be read as a standalone, and is one of my favorites–I wrote about it here).  It was so much fun that I went right on to the fifth book, The Small House of Allington.

The Small House of Allington is a stunning novel, because Trollope really knew how to write by this point.  His interweaving of dramatic scenes within a tightly plotted book is expert. The novel  revolves around the marriage plot:  there are engagements, marrying for money, jilting, and separations without divorce.  When it was serialized in the Cornhill magazine (1862-64)  readers wrote letters begging Trollope to marry off the popular heroine Lily Dale to Johnny Eames, her lifelong swain. But it is difficult to imagine Lily marrying a man she calls a hobbledehoy, even though she has been jilted by her lover, Crosbie. 

Trollope was crazy about Lily–crazier than I am.  In Chapter 2, he praises his charming, saucy heroine and sketches her swains.

Lilian Dale, dear Lily Dale—for my reader must know that she is to be very dear, and that my story will be nothing to him if he do not love Lily Dale—Lilian Dale had discovered that Mr Crosbie was a swell. But I am bound to say that Mr Crosbie did not habitually proclaim the fact in any offensive manner; nor in becoming a swell had he become altogether a bad fellow. It was not to be expected that a man who was petted at Sebright’s should carry himself in the Allington drawing-room as would Johnny Eames, who had never been petted by any one but his mother. And this fraction of a hero of ours had other advantages to back him, over and beyond those which fashion had given him.

Such good writing! But Lily is not my favorite heroine.  I prefer Lucy Robarts in Framley Parsonage.

There are many, many characters in this novel.  I love Lily’s sister Bell, who refuses to marry her cousin Bernard because she doesn’t love him.  She is as honorable as Lily but more sensible.I fail to understand how Lily can continue to love the no-good Crosbie after he jilts her and marries someone else. And yet I am also fond of the woman he marries instead, the “horrible”  Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, who, at 30, is so desperate to marry that she gets engaged to Crosbie, even though he is jilting Lily.  Trollope caricatures Lady Alexandrina, and thinks she is an apt punishment for Crosbie, but I think her lot is much worse!

One important point:  Trollope introduces Plantagenet Palliser, who is one of the stars of the Palliser books.  “Planty Pal!” I said excitedly.

One of the best of the Barsetshire books.  And it can be read as a standalone.

14 thoughts on “A Trollope Binge: The Small House at Allington”

  1. I love Trollope but Lily Dale gives me a pain. Not that I want her to marry the hobbledehoy, but she represents one of Trollope’s most-loved, unrealistic character types: the woman who holds steadfast to her first love no matter what develops. (Lady Anna is another example.) This goes on for two books, and you can tell Trollope delights in her self-sacrifice on the altar of pointless fidelity. His men can fall in love any number of times and still remain admirable (Phineas Finn), but women were supposed to be truer. For a writer who captures women perfectly in so many ways, his love of a character like Lily–even to the point of annoying his readers–is a real head scratcher.

    I love Framley Parsonage, though. It was the first Barsetshire novel I read and made me devour the series. Not sure I would have if I’d started at the beginning.

    1. Liz, I do find Lily unsympathetic, perhaps because I am told to love her, but also because her behavior does not make sense. What strong woman would nurture such a pointless love! And it doesn’t fit with her character. I do remember her in The Last Chronicle,. but fortunately there are other plots and characters I prefer.

      I enjoyed ALL these books when I was very young, but now I do stick my head up occasionally if something doesn’t hold up in Trollope, whether it be characters or just plain writing.

      On Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 10:53 PM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  2. I recommended He Knew He Was Right to a friend of mine who is almost blind and does all of his ‘reading’ through audiobooks a couple of months ago and he has loved every minute of it. My favourites will always be The Pallisers.

    1. Trollope’s best are so very great! I also love the Pallisers. Meeting Plantagenet Palliser in The Small House at Allington was the best thing about it.

      On Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 2:42 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  3. I love all Trollope and have a life project to read everything he wrote. Now I participate in a Trollope listserv group, TrollopeAndHisContemporaries@groups.io. I heartily agree that Trollope got no respect with the English literature establishment, at least when I was in school. I discovered him on my own when they ran the Pallisers series on PBS. I started reading then and never stopped.

    1. Honestly, those PBS series were great. I hear there’s one about the Barset books, too, but I haven’t watched it.

      I do approve of your Life Reading project. Trollope is just delightful! I have read most of his books, because I found them over the years at the Planned Parenthood sale. But he does seem so popular these days that most of them do seem to be in print, or at least available at Project Gutenberg. One of the advantages of the internet…

      On Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 7:21 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  4. My favorite Trollope woman, how to choose between Mrs. Hurtle (TWWLN) and Lady Arabella Trefoil (American Senator), between Lady Glen herself and Madame Max? they are each wonderful. I don’t care much for Lily Dale, myself, but the Signora Madeleine Vesey de Neroni is a different matter. Having oneself borne along on a sofa is so much to be preferred to a wheelchair. Small House has that first meeting with Planty Pal and the wonderfully-named Griselda Dumbello.

    1. Oh, I agree with you! Mrs. Hurtle! What a woman! And Mrs. Max: actually, Phineas Finn is lucky in all his women. Lily is a conundrum: strong but weak. I love The Small House at Allington, but will never understand Lily.

      On Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 7:39 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


      1. One toys with the idea of writing a TWWLN steampunk fan-fic with Mrs. Hurtle, Marie Melmotte, and Hamilton Fisker forming a menage and becoming crime/finance/high society barons of fin de siècle San Francisco.

        1. Gina, that would be so clever! I don’t think anyone has done a sequel to Trollope let alone a steampunk version.

          On Wed, Jun 26, 2019 at 8:15 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


    1. Doctor Thorne is thoroughly enjoyable, if you can get through the first 30 rambling pages of background. (And I’m sure you will.)

    1. She also wrote an entertaining essay about footnotes: she argued with a Trollope group about whether they were necessary or not. Like Walton, I skip most of them.

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