Victorian soap

I do love Anthony Trollope. The small house at Allington is one of his most enjoyable books - no wonder it was John Major's book of choice to take to a desert island. And yet, at heart, it's a very simple book. It is basically a Victorian soap opera.

Small house is the fifth in the series of Barchester Chronicles. It's set some way from Barchester, although many of the favourite characters have a walk-on role, there's even an early glimpse of a young Plantagenet Palliser too, just prior to his entering the literary world stage in Can you forgive her? (both novels were published in 1864).

The novel follows the Dale family - crotchety Squire Dale and his slightly dippy son, Bernard, who live in the Great House at Allington, and sweet Mrs. Dale, the widow of Squire Dale's brother, and her daughters, Bell and Lily. Lily falls in love with Crosbie, who's a bit of a cad. Crosbie proposes, Lily says yes, but then Crosbie decides he has better fish to fry, and starts pursuing the obnoxious Lady Alexandrina, who has nothing going for her except a title. Lovelorn Lily declares herself out of the marriage market, but John Eames, her childhood friend has different ideas.

There's not going to be any happy ending for Lily in this novel, but it does leave a lovely cliffhanger going into the final Barsetshire chronicle. This is such a happy novel in spite of the lovelorn couples. Trollope's characterisation is wonderful. I loved the relationship between Mrs. Dale and her two daughters, John Eames is a lovely character, and I would have happily lodged with Lord De Guest, and the scary, but actually seriously nice, Lady Julia.

There is the odd caricature character, but it is nowhere near as caricatured as Dickens - this is Ronald Searle territory, not Gerald Scarfe. It is at times gloriously funny, but has a real heart to it. Lovely, lovely book. Barchester Towers remains my favourite Trollope novel - I've yet to find the moment that beats Mrs. Bold boxing the odious Slope's ears; but Small house at Allington is a very close contender.


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