Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

In his autobiography, Anthony Trollope wrote that it was impossible to write a novel 'without love' - that is, love as an intergral part of the plot. He claimed the one time he tried to write a novel without love in it it turned out a turkey.

He also insisted that anyone could write a novel, should they sit down at a desk every day and work at it. If he were alive today I would agree with him, but with this caveat: not everyone could write an Anthony Trollope novel.

Trollope seemed to be almost saying that writing love stories was a chore to him. Ironically, never did a man spend so much time writing stories about love! I suspect a closet romance novelist - of sorts, anyway.

I have always been intrigued by Trollope's women. He writes about women with a large degree of sympathy, and creates compelling female characters.

In the first few pages of The Small House at Allington he writes this terrific passage:

'Women at forty do not become ancient misanthropes, or stern Rhadamanthine moralists, indifferent to the world's pleasures - no, not even though they be widows. There are those who think that such should be the phase of their minds. I profess that I do not so think. I would have women, and men also, young as long as they can be young.'

Then there is this extraordinary line:

'But men are cowards before women until they become tyrants....'

I have read about a dozen of Trollope's novels. My favourite is The Way We Live Now, a doozie about political corruption that could have been written yesterday. The Small House, one of his pastoral novels, I found very enjoyable, but not on the level of his masterpiece The Way We Live.

It tells the story of love gone askew and has a realistic and depressing ending.

The main character, Lily Dale, is jilted by the shallow social climber Adolphus Crosbie. He throws her over for the dull yet socially superior Alexandrina de Courcy. Adolphus ends up unhappily married.

Lily Dale all the while had a more suitable prospect, the vigorous, straight down the line Johnny Eames. When Eames proposes, Lily Dale morbidly insists she must stay faithful to the memory of her first love, Mr Crosbie.

Lily turns into a young Miss Havisham, jilted, but clinging to the memory of her first love.

Trollope admitted to being impatient with Lily Dale. And my reading of the ending is that women should seek sexual fulfilment where possible, and not retain such a fundamentalist attitude to love and marriage.

Despite this, the 650 page novel ends unhappily, all of us wishing that Johnny Eames and Lily Dale could get it together!

The moral: take love where and when you can find it........

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