Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I wrote this whole post about two long novels and now I have to come up with a title?! It just never ends

Once upon a time a million years ago, Alice and I were at a bookstore where I was buying a volume or two of Trollope, and she asked me something to the effect of "should I try this author." (I know, I ought to cherish every word from her mouth but it was a long time ago and I can't remember how it was phrased.)

Trollope is an author I enjoy but generally do not recommend. I can appreciate that people could very much not like him and be entirely right. I can pass over his political chapters without letting them get me down, and his ludicrous bourgeois-ness is a bit endearing to me; but I know that these things would be poison to others, and probably they're right. But I like him, so I read his books.

V. comfortable

The Small House at Allington is the exception I would make. I do think Small House at Allington is worth anyone's time. It's a very unusual plot, almost your standard Victorian-novel love story turned inside out. (Note that I will be discussing the plot and its outcomes below.)

Lily Dale is the heroine, and she gets jilted. Her engagement to Adolphus Crosbie almost starts the novel, and then Trollope tells how Crosbie's head gets turned, how he is lured away from Lily, and follows his pride and ambition into marital ruin. Lily's childhood friend John, who has always been in love with her but is something of a late-bloomer*, goes after Crosbie and avenges her. Everyone rallies around Lily and her very public humiliation.

But here's the thing that strikes me: the novel does not end with a wedding for Lily. John has stepped up and become the knight in shining armor, but he does not get the girl. I thought this was just breathtakingly unexpected.

John, rejected, counseled by a neighbor

It doesn't end there, though: in the next novel (and last of the series), John becomes even more of a hero, and Lily sees Crosbie (now widowed) and refuses his return. And yet the novel (and series) ends with Lily rejecting John yet again. Trollope tells us Lily will probably always be an old maid (nice of him to give the romantics an out). Once again: astonishing. I wouldn't be able, as an author, to resist putting John and Lily together. Lily is a really lively, likable person (she shades into being annoyingly perky, very lifelike), and John has clearly grown up so much. But Trollope shows quite masterfully the way particular circumstances can prevent a match that's perfect on paper from being possible.

I've read that Trollope wanted his novels to reflect the "unevenness" of real life, and in Lily's story I think he really knocks it out of the park. The introduction in my edition of Last Chronicle of Barset made me angry on this point:
The suggestion that Lily will not marry John because she is frightened of sex seems so obvious to us...
Dumbass! (ahem.) This is on a par with saying that if a woman won't go out with you she must be a lesbian. Although Lily can see how much John has matured, she stills remembers him as her awkward childhood friend. He's "like a brother" as she herself says many times. And in spite of Victorian novels' assertions that one kind of affection can transform into another easily enough, in this case it can't, very understandably. On top of this, John himself and every one of their relatives and mutual friends pesters Lily directly and indirectly, constantly, about what a great match it would be. Lily isn't puffed up with pride, but she isn't passive and submissive enough to go along with this when her heart isn't in it. Moreover, she's never really given a chance to change the way she feels because she's constantly having to give a decision and/or ward off well-meaning advisors. Meanwhile, while John is a good guy by this point in his life, he still is hanging around with dubious people and, as I said, being something of a pest. So to boil down Lily's fate to a fear of sex is just ridiculous. Aaaaaand it kind of says a lot about you if that's your "obvious" interpretation, Mr Introduction Writer.

Cat gif break
There's a lot else in these two hefty novels besides John and Lily, and I enjoyed all that stuff too for the most part; but this particular storyline I thought was especially noteworthy, particularly since Trollope seems, very often, to be just writing to entertain.

*the word Trollope uses is hobbledehoy. If you want to see the word hobbledehoy used over and over and over read this book.



    Imma read some Trollope. Eventually. He's one of those authors where I'm like "I'll bet I'll REALLY like him when I'm 50." So we shall see.

  2. I love me some Trollope. The Barsetshire novels are better than the Palliser ones - mostly because I don't understand enough about the British government system and how it changed during the 19th century to get a good handle on what's going on in the latter.

    Yay Trollope! Also his name makes me giggle.