The Small House at Allington
Read by David Shaw-Parker
The Small House at Allington tells of the Dale family --- Isabella ("Bell") and Lilian ("Lily") and Mrs. Dale. They live in the "dower house" intended for the widowed mother of the owner of the estate. The owner is the Squire of Allington, Christopher Dale. He has given over the house rent free to his widowed sister-in-law and her two daughters. He regularly reminds them of this fact.
Soon enough the youngest daughter, Lily Dale, becomes engaged to Adolphus Crosbie --- "Apollo Crosbie, as she still called him, confiding her little joke to his own ears."
And to her he was an Apollo, as a man who is loved should be to the girl who loves. He was handsome, graceful, clever, self-confident, and always cheerful when she asked him to be cheerful.
It is Lily that the reader comes to love, for she is charming. When Crosbie and the squire's nephew Bernard return from hunting, Lily complains to her uncle, "There men have shot nothing, and you cannot conceive how unhappy they are in consequence. It's all the fault of the naughty partridges."
"There are plenty of partridges if they knew how to get them," said the squire.
"The dogs are uncommonly wild," said Crosbie.
"The dogs are not wild with me," said the squire .... "The fact is, you young men, nowadays, expect to have dogs trained to do all the work for you. It's too much labour for you to walk up to your game." The squire, as it can be seen, is not given to playful games, never accepting anyone's failings . . . except his own.
The four of them --- Crosbie, Bernard, Lily and Bell --- are considering a game of croquet. This is her version of Crosbie's playing style:
"Mamma, Mr. Crosbie wants to play croquet by moonlight."
"I don't think there is light enough for that," said Mrs. Dale.
"There is light enough for him," said Lily, "for he plays quite independently of the hoops; don't you, Mr. Crosbie?"
"There's a very pretty croquet light, I should say," said Mr. Crosbie, looking up at the bright moon; "and then it is so stupid going to bed."
"Yes, it is stupid going to bed," said Lily; "but people in the country are stupid, you know ... Mamma, I wish you had a little smoking-room here for us. I don't like being considered stupid."
Lily, the perfect funny-scolding flirt. And it works. Her merry flirtations capture us all, and soon enough she and Crosbie are engaged.
Until another character moves into the book. A serious character, one that appears in all of Trollope's novels. A character by the name of worth, or annuity, or pounds-a-year.
As each person comes on the scene, we are presented with the question of net worth. Not internal worth; that comes later. No, all are introduced, in the second sentence, with question about the £. S. D., the flux that moves 19th century England ... pound, shilling, pence.
The week of his engagement to Lily, Crosbie, never faint-of-heart, meets with her uncle, the Squire of Allington. It's a delicious moment. He asks right off if he is to have the "accession of income" after he marries. "I wished to learn, sir, whether you intend to do anything for your niece?"
"In the way of giving her a fortune? Nothing at all. I intend to do nothing at all."
"Then I suppose we understand each other, --- at last," said Crosbie.
"I should have thought that we might have understood each other at first," said the squire. "Did I ever make you any promise, or give you any hint that I intended to provide for my niece? Have I ever held out to you any such hope? I don't know what you mean by that word 'at last' --- unless it be to give offence.
Promptly, Adolphus Crosbie goes off to the House of De Courcy, where he stumbles over Lady Alexandrina. Who, it seems, lacks a husband; but who, sometime in the future, depending on the health of the very wealthy Earl, could be worth a bundle. In time.
In some haste, Crosbie thus disentangles himself from Lily, who has no net worth, nor any prospect of one. For this Crosbie is denounced by almost all. Except for the De Courcys. Who think he is fine, and a fine match for the daughter. Outside of these nobles, he is thought to be a dastardly scoundrel.
He and Lady Alexandrina, it is announced, are to be wed in February. Lily gets the letter from him, reads it silently, and then says, of the new engagement,
"He has been very quick," she said, almost in a whisper; and then she finished the letter. "Tell him, mamma," she said, "that I do forgive him, and I will not hate him. You will tell him that, --- from me; will you not?"
Mother isn't so sure. She sure as hell hasn't forgotten, will not forget this sudden dumping of her sweet young child.Soon after, Lily falls sick with scarlatina --- now known as scarlet fever. We fear she will die of it, what with the fever, and her vexed love for Crosbie, that jackanape. But she bears up remarkably, finally gets well, all the while scolding those who speak badly of him. When offered a chance to marry the clerk, John Eames --- he has loved her from the start, when they were both young there in Allington --- she says it's impossible. She says that she is a widow now; that she has only loved one; and will continue to love him until she dies.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this could be a bowl of mush; but Trollope knows how to write of love and hope and devastation and sorrow with fine balance. He sets Lily up, honest and true, one scornful of martyrdom and self-pity.
She had declared to herself that she would conquer her misery, --- as she had also declared to herself during her illness that her misfortune should not kill her, --- and she was in the way to conquer it. She told herself that the world was not over for her because her sweet hopes had been frustrated.
Her mother confirms this, and hopes "with stronger hope from day to day, that her child might live to remember the story of her love without abiding agony."
That nobody should talk to her about it, --- that had been the one stipulation which she had seemed to make, not sending forth a request to that effect among her friends in so many words, but showing by certain signs that such was her stipulation.We have cooked down a huge novel, with over 100 characters, into a little pot pie. This is not easy with Trollope. The Small House at Allington in the Oxford University Press edition runs to almost 700 pages. The spoken word version here runs to 20 discs, lasting almost twenty-six hours.
This is Trollope's fifth of the six Chronicles of Barsetshire. He wrote dozens of novels in all, setting us to wonder when he had time to sleep, much less eat: he was somewhat roly-poly, loved his mutton, venison, beeves, chyne, snipe and pease soup. We may also wonder how he had time to gad about all over much of England during his many years as a postal surveyor's clerk in County Offaly, Ireland (where he took up fox-hunting, of all things); then go off to Scotland, Egypt, Malta, Gibraltar and India to reorganize various colonial post-office services, to make them more efficient. He was what we would now call a business consultant, and he was a talented and valued one.
How did he do all this, and at the same time, polish off forty-seven novels, much less write eighteen non-fiction books, essays and articles on various subjects, accompanied by long letters to friends and fans, plus, my god, two plays?
And, mind you, novels, some of them ok, some fine . . . a few of them great. I include in that last The Small House at Allington. I am not alone. Critics call it one of the best of his output, and Wikipedia tells us that "It enjoyed a revival in popularity in the early 1990s when the British prime minister, John Major, declared it as his favourite book." Perhaps one of his best decisions during his six years in office was to boost the sales of this terrific novel.
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I have stuck with The Small House at Allington in sickness and in health, in good times and lean --- no mutton for me, thanks: and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I worked my way through it twice: first, listening to it on disc, narrated by David Shaw-Parker; then, by going through parts of it in the Oxford University Press volume.
As often happens with a sterling novel on disc, in my tri-weekly commute, I would find myself driving to my destination and then sitting there like an idiot in the car, not willing to get out, stuck there by the sheer narrative force of Trollope and in this case, this elegant and opulent reading by Shaw-Parker. He's a narrator who's all over the place, at home with any of the many accents and asides that constitute the class and social diversity of 19th century England.
He and Trollope take us to Barsetshire, into several other West Midlands villages --- the real Dorsetshire, off to London, briefly and thereby into the heads and hearts of the many characters.
Allington is a novel of great loves and great sorrows; and greed and kindness and wisdom and foolishness, making it a study of class, and greed, and elegant poverty, and sacrifice, and petty lust, and don't-have-money. And, one of the worst sickness of them all: I am a man of high standing, but I don't have enough money. I must better myself. (Or, at best, my bottom line).
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Along with net worth, accent is key to novels from England before the mid-20th century, especially the spoken-aloud novel. This class difference is something that Trollope's readers would have heard, because of the verbal clues embedded in the class system that was England. Without our having grown up there, we readers --- especially the clueless American reader --- might miss this delicate interplay on class differences. (Note that I am beginning to write like Trollope; don't blame me; it's his fault: he is an infectious writer.)I count eight or ten distinct accents, all delivered in this recording by Mr. Shaw-Parker:
- The Vociferous Upper Class (talking through --- or down --- the nose): Adolphus Crosbie, Countess De Courcy, Lady Griselda Dumbello, Lady Clandidle, Lady Alexandrina.
- The Gentry: Christopher Dale (the Squire of Allington), Bernard (his nephew), the Earl De Courcy, the Duke of Omnium, Lady Glencora Palliser, Plantagenet Palliser;
- The Enthusiastic Cow Country Folk: the Earl Theodore De Guest;
- The snooty servant class: Ralph, Richard, Twitch, Vickers;
- The Middle Middle Class: Lily, Bell, their mother, John Eames, Dr. James Crofts (courting Bell);
- The of-the-earth gardener at Allington: Hopkins;
- The hard-nosed working class: the post-mistress, Mrs Crump, Mrs. Frummage;
- The bottom of the heap London poor, Jemima;
- The London Drinking Class: painter Orson Lupex;
- The Clawing Up from the Bottom London Types: Mrs Roper who runs a boarding house; her daughter Amelia who, almost, (whew) wheedles John into marriage; Joseph Cradell, who works with him at the Income-Tax office;
- The Bored Civil Service: Mr. Rafferty, Mr. Optimist, Mr. Love;
- The Appointed Royal Civil Service: Sir Raffle Buffle, Major Fiasco.
Note the names. Like Fielding and Dickens, Trollope has a great time with names, uses their oddities tell you something of what they are: "Major Fiasco," "Mrs. Crump,"" Lady Clandidle," "The Duke of Omnium," "Twitch," and, at the top of the list, right up with Tom Jones' Rev. A. W. Allworthy . . . Lady Griselda Dumbello.
§ § §
Being Trollope, we get a passel of his usual novelistic gifts here: a dozen subplots, which may or may not have anything to do with the Crosbie/Lily affair. The best of them comes with our loser in the win-Lily contest, John Eames (called by Trollope, repeatedly, a "hobbledehoy" --- 1542, source unknown, "a clumsy or awkward youth.") Early on, John Eames works diligently to get on with, and then, almost as quickly --- because of his love for Lily --- disentangle himself from the heir of the boarding house at Burton Crescent. How he extracts himself, despite her constant finagling, is a wonder . . . for Amelia Roper is a true London cowgirl, damn near lassoing the poor innocent, trying valiantly to dehorn him.
There is, too, another tale right out of the cow country. John Eames, at home in Allington, happens upon the Earl, Theodore De Guest, being attacked by an angry bull. Eames takes on the creature, chases him away, and wins himself a patron. De Guest is a riotous character on his own; the blustering, funny, opinionated, great-hearted squire of the countryside. De Guest, we are told, is
"...an unmarried nobleman, who devoted himself chiefly to the breeding of cattle.... He was a short, stumpy man, with red cheeks and a round face; who was usually to be seen till dinner time dressed in a very old shooting coat, with breeches, gaiters, and very thick shoes.... There was not much of nobility in his appearance; but they greatly mistook Lord de Guest who conceived that on that account his pride of place was not dear to his soul. His peerage dated back to the time of King John, and there were but three lords in England whose patents had been conferred before his own"
§ § §
Finally, there is Eames' coup de grace, a turning point in The Small House, where the hobbledehoy is able at last to get vengeance on Crosbie; and with it, avenges all of us, those who have fallen in love with sweet Lily Dale.
Getting off the train in London, John finds himself on the train platform facing Crosbie. He yells out, filled with frustrated rage, "'You confounded scoundrel!' and seized him by the throat, throwing himself upon him, and almost devouring him by the fury of his eyes ... Crosbie, in his dismay, retreated a step or two, and his retreat was much accelerated by the weight of Eames's attack,"
The bystanders, taken by surprise, had allowed the combatants to fall back upon Mr. Smith's book-stall, and there Eames laid his foe prostrate among the newspapers, falling himself into the yellow shilling-novel depôt by the over fury of his own energy; but as he fell, he contrived to lodge one blow with his fist in Crosbie's right eye, --- one telling blow; and Crosbie had, to all intents and purposes, been thrashed.
Thrashed indeed! In every telling and retelling, there is the picture, clearly given, of Crosbie being "thrashed" --- which in the various accounts, comes to seem the near-destruction of Crosbie by an irate young man. With Crosbie's silence --- he almost seems to think he deserves the thrashing --- Eames wins the affection of all, especially the two squires.
Did it help him with lovely Lily? Not at all, for we learn soon enough that she still loves her scoundrel; and she thus has nothing to give to the one who worships her still.
Except that old courtship bug-a-boo, eternal "friendship."Footnote:There are many good
from Trollope, available at an on-line
Trollope hoard, courtesy the Anthony Trollope Bicentenary.
Sit down and write your letter; write it with all the venom in your power; spit out your spleen at the fullest; 'twill do you good ... say all that you can say with all your poisoned eloquence, and gratify yourself by reading it while your temper is still hot. Then put it in your desk; and, as a matter of course, burn it before breakfast the following morning.--- The BertramsOr,
Remember, I do not recommend motion at all. Repose is my idea of life; repose and grapes.--- Madame Max Goesler in Phineas Finn
Young men are pretty much the same everywhere, I guess. They never have their wits about them. They never mean what they say, because they don't understand the use of words. They are generally half impudent and half timid ... Indeed there is no such thing as a young man, for a man is not really a man till he is middle-aged.--- The Duke's Children
§ § §Finally, I have this quote from my brother, one not given to overstatement of the worth of most literature. When I told him of my pleasure at being entranced by The Small House at Allington --- I had miscast Trollope as another wordy product of 19th century English fiction --- he responded
When you bring up Anthony Trollope, you are hitting a tender spot. In my view, he had greater insight into the human heart (especially of women) than any other novelist before or after him.
If you are into him, you ought to meet Phineas Finn, Lizzic Eustace, Glencora Palliser, the Duke of Omnium and an assortment of others who wander in and out of the Parliamentary novels, starting with The Eustace Diamonds and ending with The Duke's Children.
If you really want a rich tour of the human heart, read Barchester Towers --- the mean, the weak, the manipulative, oily, bombastic, heartless, pretentious, shallow, vain, etc. and the good are all there in plain sight. Together with the Bishop's wife, Mrs. Proudie, whom you will never forget.--- L. W. Milam