It feels like an age since the New Year (certainly more than 3 weeks) and my trip up north. I took a pile of books confidant through the haze of ill being that constituted ‘The Cold’ that I would work my way through them. Alas my eyes were bigger than my desire to concentrate and I didn’t do very well. It also seems that packing with a bad cold is very like packing when blind drunk, so for a winter stay in Scotland with a New Year’s party I forgot gloves, the top half of my pyjamas (which I thought I remembered packing and eventually found under a cushion on the sofa when I got home – no idea what happened there). I neglected to take any sort of semi formal party wear of the sort approved of by my father (though I did remember pearls which I feel went a long way towards making things proper), didn’t manage to wrap my sisters Christmas present but found sachets of instant yeast at the bottom of my weekend bag - although the shampoo I was looking for would have been a better item to take and finally and surely even more inexplicable than the pyjama episode I took the wrong Trollope.
It should have been ‘Framley Parsonage’ but turned out to be ‘The Small House at Allington’. I was a hundred pages in before I realised my mistake which left me with a dilemma of sorts – put the book down and wait until I could read them in order or carry on regardless? After plenty of dithering and a bit of advice which suggested that reading the books the wrong way round wouldn’t matter too much I carried on and finished ‘The Small House’ (it has meant spoilers for ‘Framley Parsonage’ but hopefully nothing to central to the main plot).
After ‘Dr Thorne’ ‘The Small House’ feels like a very different beast – in short it’s a much better book; the plot is tighter, there’s much more action, less repetition, perhaps more human interest, and a scene with a bull. The heroine of the piece is Lily Dale (good family, no money, attractive) who meets and falls in love with Adolphus Crosbie (limited but comfortable means, ambitious, able) a friend of her cousins. Within a few weeks they are engaged and Lily has given herself heart and soul to Crosbie. Crosbie who isn’t exactly a bad man proves to be entirely unworthy of Lily’s love when within a week of leaving her side he engages himself to a woman of better birth.
Lily is publically humiliated and privately broken hearted as befits a young woman who’s been dumped and effectively lost her job in one fell swoop, but she carries on loving Crosbie all the same feeling herself to be almost his widow and won’t hear a word against him. I found myself with a degree of sympathy for Crosbie; carried away on a holiday romance he clearly proposes before he’s really ready to commit himself and when he finds Lily will bring nothing but herself to the marriage he gets cold feet, but this is part and parcel of his ambitious nature and then Lily throws herself so entirely into the affair it would be hard to resist the momentum she creates. Even after she’s jilted Lily persists in forgiving Crosbie for his crimes against her and in loving him as wholeheartedly as ever regarding herself in the light of a widow, nor will she allow anyone else to speak against him in her presence. I couldn’t help but feel that Miss Dale was treated with altogether too much forbearance by her family and friends; if ever a girl required a good talking to Lily does.
And now for the rest of the book – there is the fate of Lily’s sister Bell to be decided (Bell is a far more interesting heroine to my way of thinking; she has self control and a radical turn of mind), there are a host of characters to be introduced or disposed of including Plantagenet Palliser which has thoroughly whetted my appetite for the Palliser series, and the De Courcys who I’m always happy to be outraged by. There is also the hero; a young man who loves Lily but has somehow entangled himself in a sort of engagement to his landlady’s daughter, and who acquits himself well in the adventure with the bull.
For me Trollope’s strength as a writer lies in his exploration of the everyday, I really believe in the protagonists in ‘The Small House’, I can love them for their flaws and share in their dilemmas. There might not be many surprises but the world he creates is as absorbing as it is comfortable and ‘The Small House at Allington’ has certainly fed my enthusiasm for the man.