~ The Chonicles of Barsetshire ~
The Small House at Allington | The Last Chronicle of Barset
The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope (1864) is the penultimate part of the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, which I've been reading along with Melissa and Amanda since March. It follows The Warden (1855), Barchester Towers (1857), Doctor Thorne (1858), and Framley Parsonage (1861).
This is a novel endorsed by Virginia Woolf, who wrote in a letter to Hugh Walpole (28th February 1932),
I think the Small House at Allington perhaps the most perfect of English novels along with Jane Austen - I cant explain now why.
And, in an interview with Sue Lawley for Desert Island Discs, former Prime Minister John Major said it would be the book he would take on a desert island (John Major is a notorious Trollope fan, and though he makes no mention of The Small House of Allington in his 1999 autobiography, he speaks very highly of Trollope's 'Palliser novels', 1864-79, particularly Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux).
Unfortunately, for me, it was not a favourite; nay, it was not even a success. I believe I began reading it late August, gave up on it, began it again in the middle of September, once again put it down, then spent most of October just trying to get half way through. Had it not have been for the readathon on Saturday I wouldn't have finished it yet. It was certainly Trollope, Trollope with his typical dash of Jane Austen, but I couldn't engage with it, feel excited by it, or even feel anything from it: I didn't even hate it. Trollope himself acknowledged he had "created better plots" (mentioning also Can You Forgive Her?, 1864). I may be inclined to agree.
But because I love Anthony Trollope's novels I am forced to conclude that I simply did not read it at the right time. I am only now tenuously coming out of one of the worst reading ruts I have ever been in, so I would suggest that if ever I influence your choice of reading materials, do not let this be a time! I won't dwell on my personal feelings therefore, and one day, perhaps in a few years, I will revisit this novel and I hope I will have a similar experience to re-reading Barchester Towers, a novel I once hated and now love.
So, instead of paraphrasing other people's descriptions and pretending it wasn't nearly all lost on me, let me recommend a few reviews:
And, as ever, I'll finish with some illustrations, these by John Everett Millais (who also illustrated Framley Parsonage, Orley Farm, Rachel Ray, and Phineas Finn). I love Millais, and so did Trollope, writing in his 1883 Autobiography,
I do not think that more conscientious work was ever done by man. Writers of novels know well—and so ought readers of novels to have learned—that there are two modes of illustrating, either of which may be adopted equally by a bad and by a good artist. To which class Mr. Millais belongs I need not say; but, as a good artist, it was open to him simply to make a pretty picture, or to study the work of the author from whose writing he was bound to take his subject. I have too often found that the former alternative has been thought to be the better, as it certainly is the easier method. An artist will frequently dislike to subordinate his ideas to those of an author, and will sometimes be too idle to find out what those ideas are. But this artist was neither proud nor idle. In every figure that he drew it was his object to promote the views of the writer whose work he had undertaken to illustrate, and he never spared himself any pains in studying that work, so as to enable him to do so.