Friday, 12 June 1998

Anthony Trollope: The Small House at Allington (1864)

Edition: Penguin
Review number: 66

This was the most popular of Trollope's Barsetshire novels at the time when it was written, though critical opinion would not generally give it so high a position today. The romance between the main characters really caught the public imagination when the novel was published in serial form, though subsequent commentators have seen it as rather sentimentalised.

The book really centres around three people, though Trollope emphasises (as part of the narrative) that he didn't want to have a conventional hero and heroine as the main characters. Indeed, the major achievement of the novel is to present fully rounded characters that are not perfect nor completely imperfect.

These three characters are Lily Dale, the young niece of the squire of Allington (the Great House is the squire's home; the Little House is the home of Mrs Dale and her two daughters, the children of the squire's brother); Adolphus Crosbie, fashionable young man who proposes to Lily while staying with the squire's son and is accepted, though he later has second thoughts; and Johnny Eames, another young man who has loved Lily from afar for a long time but is too shy to have done anything about it.

A major theme is that of growing up; the novel is in some ways a precursor of "coming of age" films. Johnny Eames in particular is described as a "hobbeldehoy" at the beginning, a lad lacking in experience who has yet to become a man. His growth is through the experience of working in London, subject to the temptations of the great city, and responding to the events in Allington. Lily Dale grows up through her experience of rejection, and Crosbie grows up as he experiences the effects that his marriage to another woman whom he does not love have on his life.

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