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Money, money, money,
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This review is from: The Small House at Allington (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Money was terribly important to Anthony Trollope who never quit his day job at the British Post Office but laboured industriously both at his novels and at his career in the British civil service.
A typical Victorian civil servant in London worked from 10 to 4 for a little over a hundred pounds a year, wages with which a gentleman could pursue a comfortable life occupying a room in the city while dining at clubs, but wages at which he might not marry and raise a family without abandoning this high life. Having both required a much higher revenue, say a thousand a year. A family required a house not rooms, a carriage, not cabs, a housemaid for the wife not chores for the housewife. And there you know all you need to know of Adolphus Crowley, the man who jilts the novel's heroine, Lily Dale, when he learns she comes with no dowry.
A hundred pounds a year also amounted to the wages of Doctor Crofts, a young country doctor with only poor patients. He feels it's not quite enough to allow him to pursue Bell, Lily's older sister. It was also the fantastic sum promised the wards of Hiram's Hospital in the earlier Barsetshire novel, the Warden. Johnny Eames, Lily Dale's other suitor, also belongs to the civil service but at somewhat under a hundred a year and lives in a boarding house in rather unpleasant company.
And yet, money can't be everything. Lily Dale lives rent free with Bell and their widowed mother Mary in the small house of the title, while her bachelor uncle, the Squire of Allington whose land brings in some four thousand pounds a year, lives in the larger house. But when the childless uncle hints that their living there gives him some fatherly authority, the women refuse to recognize this and move out. On principle. We easily recognize Trollope in this careful working out of what actions are right and wrong, of how higher principles translate into practical everyday decisions.
Trollope does paint his characters with more contrast here than in his other Barsetshire novels, making his villain a little more villainous than Sowerby in Framley Parsonage and his heroine Lily Dale purer than Mary Thorne in Doctor Thorne. But I can't say I liked Lily very much. I certainly sympathized with her plight and admired her fortitude, but I think Trollope idealized her too much and turned fortitude to stubborness. Fortunately, other characters make up for a priggish Lily.
Since Trollope is Trollope, we end up sympathizing a little with the villain as he finds no solace in the woman for whom he left Lily. Uncle Christopher Dale relents somewhat in his position and acknowledges he loves his nieces, regardless of whatever duty he might or might not owe them. Johnny Eames, apparently more a more than slightly autobiographical character, grows up achieving something resembling manhood.
And we meet Plantagenet Palliser, the hero of Trollope's other great series, the Palliser novels, who appears scandalously often with the young Lady Dumbello. What will we make of that, now?
Vincent Poirier, Dublin
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Initial post: Sep 7, 2008 2:05:07 AM PDT
Vincent Poirier says:
I've just finished The Way We Live Now, and come to realize Trollope is a rather poor guide to morality. Lily Dale should not necessarily have married Johnny Eames, not if she didn't love him, but certainly she should have admitted she made a serious mistake in judgement in loving Adolphus Crowley, and so shouldn't she unlearn the love she gave him? Trollope is conservative simply because he doesn't want to rock the boat and liberal because he's too honest to blind himself to injustice. He lacks courage, even if many of his characters do not... Still, his Barset novels are lyrical and beautiful.
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