Friday, March 20, 2015

Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington (1864)

Okay, let’s go.  So there’s the Squire of Allington, who lives in the big house, whereas his brother’s widow and daughters, Lily and Bell, are suffered to live in the small one.  Lily has a romance with one Adolphus Crosbie, and they get engaged.  However, Adolphus, is not as constant as he might be, and ends up breaking off the relationship so he can make what he sees as a more advantageous marriage.  Meanwhile, we have John Eames, a somewhat awkward young man (and if you didn’t know the word “hobbledehoy,” or you weren’t quite sure what it meant, this’ll set you right straight), who is desperately in love with her in spite of not really knowing how to go about courting.

So that’s what it is.  The best thing this novel does is really put Crosbie through hell, you have no idea.  He’s engaged to Lily, assures her, when she tells him that he’s free to break off the engagement if it’s not working for him, that no, he’ll always be there, filling her with all kinds of rapturous love, and then when he laboriously convinces himself that, no, it would be better for him to marry this Alexandrina de Courcy (the de Courcies having previously appeared in Doctor Thorne), that de Courcy influence would help him to get a hoped-for promotion, and he’s stuck with having to break off his prior engagement, after which he learns that he would’ve gotten the promotion anyway and he neither loves nor likes nor has really any interest whatsoever in Alexandrina and the feeling is mutual—it’s really something, let me tell you, and even if he’s been a big jerk, you can’t not feel for him.

The other good portrayal in the novel is that of John (or Johnny) Eames, and his coming-of-age.  Mirroring Crosbie, he foolishly professes his love for the daughter of the keeper of the boarding-house where he’s staying, and has to deal with that; he also has to deal with his own awkwardness and uncertainty.  That works well.

What doesn’t work well—and what, I’m sorry to say, goes a good ways towards ruining the novel entirely—is the portrayal of flippin’ Lily Dale.  So, okay: when Crosbie breaks off with her, sure, you expect her to feel devastated for a while.  But she’s a teenage girl, this is her first-ever romance, and she only knew Crosbie for like six months, she’s going to get over it, right?  Wrong.  Instead, we get this truly insufferable “BLARGH I LOVE HIM STILL I CAN NEVER LOVE ANOTHER” stuff, which would be okay if Trollope acknowledged it as silly—but this he does not do.  It’s clearly supposed to be noble and shit, and it’s not, it’s just ridiculous.  And let it also be noted that if he wanted this particular romance to be the exception to the rule, to show that it really was serious business, he does a really bad job of demonstrating that: basically, we see a bit of low-level flirtation between Lily and Crosbie, then, bam, they’re engaged, and that’s all there is.  We never see anything that remotely justifies her behaving the way that she does.

Spoiler alert: she does NOT marry Eames at the end, for the aforementioned reasons.  If she didn’t marry him because, in spite of liking him a lot, she just doesn’t like like him, it would interestingly play with our expectations for a novel of this sort.  But that’s not it at all, and the only expectations that get played with are our expectations that a novel shouldn’t be dumb.  Seriously, it’s really annoying.  And if this is John Major’s favorite book, so much the worse for him.

Sheesh.  Only one left, but at almost a thousand pages, The Last Chronicle of Barset is by far the longest in the sequence, and I’m feeling decidedly Trolloped out.  I suppose it would be kinda dumb to leave the series unfinished, but it may be a while before I feel up to it.  We’ll see.


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