This book is fifth in the six-book Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Although I really enjoyed the whole series, which largely focuses on the clergy in Barsetshire, a fictional English county, this book was my favorite of all of them. Maybe because it had a bit of a Jane Austen feel to it, with most of it focused on the romantic lives of some of the young gentry.
And, if I have to choose between romance or the feud between the Bishop of Something and the Vicar of So-and-so over how many hymns should be sung in a proper Anglican service, well then I’ll choose the romance. Believe it or not.
It’s also former British PM John Major’s favorite book. Weird.
The Small House at Allington revolves around the Dale family- a widow and her two pretty daughters, Bell and Lily. They live on a small house on the Allington estate, owned by their uncle/brother-in-law, Squire Christopher Dale. Bell is already in love with the local doctor, while Lily has been admired from afar by the awkward, yet lovable John Eames, a clerk at the tax office.
Their quiet world is turned on its ear by the arrival of handsome, glamorous Adolphus Crosbie, a friend of the squire’s nephew. Even though Lily has no money, Crosbie is smitten, and proposes to her rather quickly. Lily really falls for him, but Crosbie’s feelings aren’t quite as strong. Within a few days of leaving Allington, his head is turned by the apparently wealthy Alexandrina de Courcy (the de Courcys are a staple in this series) and he jilts Lily for her.
Of course, Lily is heartbroken yet saintly, but the rest of us eagerly await Crosbie’s comeuppance. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait too long, because even before the wedding, Crosbie can’t help but make unfavorable comparisons between his fiancée and Lily Dale.
He thought this marriage would further his career, but he managed promotion on his own, with a raise that would have made marriage to Lily possible almost right away, if he’d bothered to wait more than a week before throwing her over. So of course, he’s miserable and his marriage is a personal and financial disaster, since his wife brings him no money, but expects him to maintain her in the style to which she is accustomed. Also, her family is awful.
Lily is sweet and patient and almost nauseatingly perfect throughout. It’s almost upsetting that she never has a real tantrum, but Eames steps in and beats up on Crosbie the first chance he gets, since Lily has no other male relatives willing to punish him for the broken engagement. Unfortunately, no one ever tells Lily that Eames is her knight in shining armor, so she continues to regard him as a friend, and their romance never develops.
All that is a bit frustrating, but in a fun way, and Trollope has such a way with words and engaging characters, that there is never a dull moment. At least Bell finally marries her doctor, although they’re both pretty boring.
A lot of the fun with Trollope is his minor characters that populate the entire series. They create an entire community of interesting people who give what appears to be a sleepy countryside some real drama and fun.
I’ll probably gladly re-read the whole series again at some point. If you’re looking for a “light” classic, The Barsetshire Chronicles are just right.