“They were standing in the narrow pathway of the gate leading from the bridge into the gardens of the Great House, and the shadow of the thick-spreading laurels was around them. But the moonlight still pierced brightly through the little avenue, and she, as she looked up at him, could see the form of his face and the loving softness of his eye.” Illustration by Alexy Pendle from the Folio Society edition of The Small House at Allington
Lily Dale is like Marmite. She polarises opinions. Trollopians either love her or loathe her. Sir John Major, President of the Trollope Society and former UK Prime Minister is in the former camp. His Desert Island Discs book choice when he appeared on the show in 1994 was The Small House at Allington because “In Lily Dale there is my favourite heroine in all fiction.” Others find her irritating beyond measure and, it must be said, that Trollope himself seems to have ended up in the latter camp. “In the love with which she has been greeted, I have hardly joined with much enthusiasm, feeling that she is somewhat of a female prig. She became first engaged to a snob who jilted her, and then, though in truth she loved another man who was hardly good enough, she could not extricate herself from the collapse of her first great misfortune to be able to make up her mind to be the wife of one whom, though she loved him, she did not altogether reverence.”(7)
We first meet Lily aged nineteen in The Small House at Allington, set in the late 1850s, and she disappears from our view at the conclusion of The Last Chronicle of Barset in the the mid-1860s when she is still in her early twenties. There is, therefore, precious little time to see the longer lasting effects on her character which the emotional trials she has to undergo might have had on her character. She progresses rapidly from virgin to, in her own words, “widowed” (5) with very little time for us to observe the development.
Born about 1840, Lily is the younger daughter of Philip Dale and his wife Mary. Philip was the younger brother of Squire Christopher Dale who now lived in the Great House at Allington. Philip had quarrelled with his older brother over his choice of wife and had died relatively young, some fifteen years before the commencement of the story in The Small House at Allington leaving a widow and two young daughters, Bell and Lily. The family were poor, living largely upon the income derived from Mrs Dale’s wealth, but the Squire allowed them to move into the Small House after the death of his mother who had lived there previously. They had little income but there was speculation that the Squire would be generous to both girls on their marriages when the time came. In fact his intentions in that respect were confined to Bell, whom he wished his nephew Bernard, the son of a second of the his brothers Orlando, to marry. For Lily he intended to make no provision. This may in part be attributable to Lily’s habit of speaking her mind a little too freely on the subject of her uncle’s failure to treat her mother – his sister-in-law – as Lily felt she ought to be treated. The quieter Bell was therefore the Squire’s preferred niece.
Trollope has, through this back-story, set up one of his classic pairings of contrasting sisters. Lily is the headstrong, impulsive, outspoken younger sister to Bell’s more demure, considered, conforming to expectations of a nice young lady, elder sister. As Margaret Markwick points out in her book, Trollope and Women, Trollope frequently employs this device to illustrate the potential risks and rewards of each approach. Emily Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right is more forthright and unconventional than her more passive sister Nora Rowley and suffers in consequence the tribulations of her unhappy marriage to Louis Trevelyan whereas Nora enjoys the prospects of a blissful union with Hugh Stanbury. Similarly Ayala Dormer is much more lively and impulsive than her elder sister Lucy in Ayala’s Angel and must undergo a rather painful growing up process before she attains happiness with Colonel Stubbs.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the path of Lily’s story does not run smooth.
The absence of a dowry rankled with Adolphus, who proposed to Lily after a brief courtship on successive visits to Allington to stay with his friend Bernard. Having been at first in favour of setting an early date, he then prevaricates and seeks to put off the wedding before finally jilting Lily in favour of a more auspicious marriage to Lady Alexandrina de Courcy in the expectation that her family will be more generous in the money they will make forthcoming to their daughter and her new husband.
This clears the way for Johnny Eames, a more lowly government clerk than Crosbie, who has loved Lily from the first but Lily cannot get over her first romance and persistently refuses him through the remainder of The Small House at Allington and on into The Last Chronicle of Barset.
As Lily’s story progresses through these two novels, the reader is faced with three questions:
- Will she or won’t she marry Johnny Eames?
- Did she or didn’t she with Adolphus Crosbie? (The slightly prurient “How far did she go?” question of burning interest to teenagers in the 1950s and beyond.)
- What is the psychology of her behaviour?
The three are of course inextricably linked with one another but for the purposes of untangling Lily’s character and development across the 1400 or so pages of the two novels I will address them in turn, starting with the second of them as it occurs very early in proceedings and all else follows from it as a consequence.
Given this is a nineteenth century novel, written for a family audience, Trollope is never going to be explicit. The reader is, therefore, left to fall back on their own judgment as to what might be inferred from the text.
The key scene, depicted in the illustration by Alexy Pendle, occurs at a small party given by Mrs Dale and her daughters. After some attempts at dancing on the lawn, Lily disappears into the garden followed by her fiancé Adolphus and there is a romantic scene in which Lily expounds on the delights of moonlight, poetry and romance and which Adolphus joins in, reluctantly at first, as he has recently learned that his must take Lily without any accompanying money from her uncle, but he is seduced by her mood and responds passionately. “He stooped over her and pressed her closely, while she put up her lips to his, standing on tiptoe that she might reach his face. ‘Oh my love!’ she said. ‘My love! My love!'”(5)
How are we to interpret this? Are her words those of a young girl following romantic conventions in addressing her lover? Are they whispered as she finds expression to her state of dawning sexual arousal at the close physical presence of her “Apollo”(5).
Trollope now quite deliberately draws a veil over the following moments. The length of this gap is never made clear. It is certainly many minutes – since there was no social concern at two betrothed lovers being alone together for even quite long periods. Certainly time enough, in the privacy of the secluded part of the garden, for them to indulge in what might be coyly described as “heavy petting” but equally sufficient, should they have wished, for them to have full intercourse, if her words are taken by the reader to be an indication of arousal on her part.
The very next paragraph begins with Crosbie’s reaction afterwards: “As Crosbie walked back to the Great House that night, he made a firm resolution that no consideration of worldly welfare should ever induce him to break his engagement with Lily Dale. He went somewhat further also, and determined that he would not put off the marriage for more than six or eight months, or, at the most, ten, if he could possibly get his affairs arranged in that time.” Evidently he is now very much taken with Lily and whatever happened between them when they were alone together in the garden. Was his response due to wanting to have unrestricted love-making opportunities to repeat what he had just experienced, or to fulfil the tantalising promise to which he had enjoyed a foretaste only?
It becomes important at this point to consider how sensual Lily might be. Here we must refer to Trollope’s description of her for clues.
Trollope tells us that Lily and her sister “were fair-haired girls, very like each other…something below the usual height, being slight and slender in all tgeir proportions. Lily was the shorter of the two…[a]nd when I said that Bell was the prettier, I should, perhaps, have spoken more justly had I simply declared that her features were more regular than her sister’s. The two girls were very fair, so that the soft tint of colour which relieved the whiteness of their complexion was rather acknowledged than distinctly seen…The hair of the two girls…was not flaxen hair, yet it was very light. Nor did it approach to auburn; and yet there ran through it a golden tint that gave it a distinct brightness of its own. But with Bell it was more plentiful than with Lily, and therefore Lily would always talk of her own scanty locks…[n]evertheless Lily’s head was quite as lovely as her sister’s; for its form was perfect, and the simple braids in which they both wore their hair did not require any great exuberance in quantity. Their eyes were brightly blue; but Bell’s were long, and soft, and tender, often hardly daring to raise themselves to your face; while those of Lily were rounder, but brighter, and seldom kept by any want of courage from fixing themselves where they pleased. And Lily’s face was perhaps less oval in its form – less perfectly oval – than her sister’s. The shape of the forehead was, I think, the same, but with Bell the chin was something more slender and delicate. But Bell’s chin was unmarked, whereas on her sister’s there was a dimple which amply compensated for any other deficiency in its beauty. Bell’s teeth were more even than her sister’s; but then she showed her teeth more frequently. Her lips were thinner, and, as I cannot but think, less expressive. Her nose was decidedly more regular in its beauty, for Lily’s nose was somewhat broader than it should have been. It may, therefore, be understood that Bell would be considered the beauty by the family.”(5) But, as Trollope also points out, Lily “perhaps was more attractive”.(5)
Even though they are physically very similar, Trollope shows how on all points of detail Lily is more earthy and robust while her sister is refined and elegantly symmetrical. Bell has something of the distant reserve and glacially perfect beauty of Griselda Grantly (Lady Dumbello). Lily’s courage, in contrast to Bell’s passive timidity, implies she will be an active, uninhibited sexual partner. The key feature, though, is the dimple. This is Trollope’s code for a sensuous nature. Many of Trollope’s young heroines who go on to enjoy fulfilling physical sides to their marriages have this feature. On this evidence, Trollope may be implying that Lily would be ready to explore the physical side of their relationship with her husband-to-be when this opportunity presents itself.
We can also consider what Lily herself says later to her mother after Crosbie has broken off the relationship.
“I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. When he kissed me I kissed him again, and I longed for his kisses. I seemed to live only that he might caress me.”(5) This is a frank description of the physical desire she felt for him. Of ourse there is ambiguity in the words Trollope chooses to have her say. In what sense are we to understand she has given herself to him? It may be taken to mean an emotional commitment but might imply she has surrendered her virginity to him. And we are given no indication of precisely how intimate those caresses were so must infer what we will.
Lily goes on to say, “All that time I never felt myself to be wrong – because he was all in all to me. I was his own. That has been changed – to my great misfortune; but it cannot be undone or forgotten. I cannot be the girl I was before he came here…I am as you are, Mamma – widowed.”
Markwick asserts that this language is tantamount to a confession that she is no longer a virgin and that Lily does not feel ashamed of this even though she was not married and so was placing herself well outside acceptable conventions for a respectable young woman of the time. She suggests that Trollope here is equating girlhood with a state of virginity which, once lost, cannot be recovered so that now the daughter is a sexually experienced woman just as her mother is.
It is interesting that Lily chooses to call herself “widowed” in this discussion with her mother. She has by this stage passed through the phase of being ill – taking to her bed, prostrated with grief at the wreck of her marriage hopes. She has indeed “lost” a husband, but not to death but to another more glittering prospective partner. So her grief is in fact for her shattered dreams and the fall from grace of her “Apollo”.
To be confined to her bed when faced with an emotional upheaval was an accepted convention, if not of the actual lives but at least of the imagined lives as projected in works of fiction, of a disappointed middle class woman of the period. But Lily had never seriously believed she might fade away and die, as convention might have permitted in the fairy tale world she had built for herself and Crosbie in her mind. So she duly recovered and went on with life. But her life choices indicate that she has not moved on, as we might now call it, from her first love.
She refuses the offer of marriage which Johnny Eames makes, arguing to herself, and to her mother when questioned on the point, “‘Why should you set yourself against him in so fixed a manner?’ ‘Because I love another man.’ Those words she spoke out loud in a steady, almost dogged tone”(5).
There seems to be a self-contradictory inconsistency here. She feels “widowed” but will not allow herself the privilege granted to widows to love again. Trollope’s choice of the word “dogged” here is interesting. Lily seems to be persevering in holding to a feeling that she could let go without it appearing to show a lack of constancy on her part. Yet it is this argument that she should not be inconstant that she uses in her internal debate, asking herself, “What can a heart be worth if it can be transferred hither and thither as circumstances and convenience and comfort may require?”(5)
Lily seems to have an almost pathological determination to adhere to the convention of romantic fiction, as written by Trollope and others at that time, that a woman, a romantic heroine, should give her heart but once in her lifetime if she be a true woman.
She intends to follow through with this single-minded course to the extent that she confesses to her mother that in this respect “I shall have my own way…That is all I want; to be a tyrant over you”(5). She says this as her mother “is weeping over her – whereas Lily’s eyes were dry.”(5)
This stern visage gives outward appearance of having overcome the emotional inner turmoil but this is not the case. “She had declared that she had conquered her unhappiness; but there were moments in which she was almost wild with misery. ‘Tell me to forget him!’ she said. ‘It is the one thing which will never be forgotten.'”(5) In fact Lily is determined to the point of monomania that she shall not let go of this brief period when she was engaged and it shall be the one great romance of her life. “She walked on eagerly, hardly remembering where she was, thinking over it all, as she did daily; remembering every little thought and word of those few eventful months in which she had learned to regard Crosbie as her husband and master.”(5)
However, perverse this might seem to the modern reader, who might regard it as wallowing in self-pity, it has the ring of psychological truth about it. It may be easier for the girl of scarcely twenty at this point to declare to herself that her life is over, at least so far as romance is concerned, than to accept that she is fallible and has made a dreadful mistake about what is arguably the most significant decision she was likely to make in her life at that time.
This certainly accounts for her refusal of Johnny Eames, even when his prospects have been improved by the sponsorship of the Lord de Guest following his brave rescue of the older man from the perils of the rampaging bull which had trapped the landowner in a field. Indeed, it is wholly consistent for Lily to regard such a change in Johnny’s prospects as irrelevant to the question of whether or not she should marry him. She has already mentally consigned herself to a life of genteel poverty with her mother. A change in Johnny’s financial circumstances is no more likely to make her love him than his own dogged devotion to her which has singularly failed to move her thus far. She cannot love him because she loves another – or at least her illusion of the other which she knows to be a false illusion but nevertheless one to which she can cling to avoid the cognitive dissonance of recognising that her own behaviour with Crosbie might give grounds for reproach (however far or not she allowed things to go physically).
This is more than simple embarrassment at being seen publicly to have been played for a fool – even if she did make what with hindsight might appear to be embarrassingly public displays of affection (such as that extravagant courtesy to him as he arrived for the party at the Small House). She is aware that all the people whom she meets around Allington will regard her as the innocent victim of a heartless jilt but even this may be hard to bear. To be pitied is difficult.
Her mother “was driven to acknowledge to herself that she must be silent. Years as they rolled on might make a change, but no reasoning could be of avail.”(5) But time heals only those who are determined to heal. Lily’s sense of self is so bound up in this being the wife of her supposed “Apollo” that she cannot allow this wound to heal for that would undermine her sense of who she is.
It is no surprise therefore, when we meet her four years later, offering shelter to her friend Grace Crawley when the latter’s father is accused of theft, she jokingly refers to herself and her mother, with whom she now lives alone following Bell’s marriage to Dr Crofts (rewarded for her compliance just as Lily has been punished for overstepping the boundaries), as “not mother and daughter, but two loving old ladies”(6). In spite of the amusing tone, this reveals an underlying truth. Lily has mentally transposed herself to the older generation and is prematurely middle-aged so that love and romance are no longer part of her expectations in life. This is a denial of the vitality and life force which she exhibited so strongly when we first met her. It is hard to reconcile this persistent change of state with one who is at this stage scarcely more than twenty-three.
If we listen to Lily’s exchanges with Mrs Boyce over the church Christmas decorations, they are the banter of equals – like two middle-aged members of the W.I. (Women’s Institute – an august institution whose membership comprises mainly women of a certain age, famed for their cakes and jam-making skills) rather than the cheekiness of a young girl even though Mrs Boyce initially addresses Lily and Grace as “Girls”(6). Indeed, Lily retains the spark of her wicked sense of humour in her amusing description to Grace of the shortcomings of the fat, lazy local vicar. This irreverent approach – so like her choice of the slang expression “a swell”(5) by which term she dismisses Crosbie from serious consideration in the opening conversation about him with Bell at the start of the events described in The Small House at Allington – indicates that she has not given up on life as a whole but rather has chosen to close down that part of it to do with love and romance.
Thus, when Grace urges Lily to reconsider the possibility of marrying her cousin Johnny Eames, Lily says this is impossible because “when one thinks of going beyond friendship, even if one tries to do so, there are so many barriers!” One of these by this time is that Crosbie is now himself a widower, the wife he took in Lily’s stead, Alexandrina having (conveniently for the sake of the story) died prematurely in the intervening period (another example of Trollope’s absolute ruthlessness with characters both minor – Mary Flood Jones – and major – Glencora Palliser – who are removed to suit the needs of the plot of the next novel before its tale is even commenced). Johnny when he hears this phrase thinks Lily may be contemplating marrying Crosbie but in this, as in other aspects of Lily, he misjudges her. Lily is not in love with Crosbie as he is now but with her idealised Crosbie of the past – the “Apollo” who proposed to her.
Crosbie does, of course, write with a view to the possibility of resuming their relationship and Lily seriously entertains the possibility. she tells her mother “I would go to him as a gambler goes to the gaming-table, knowing that if I lost everything I could hardly be poorer than I was before. But I should have better hope than a gambler is justified in having.”(6) Once again, Trollope puts words in Lily’s mouth which reflect, perhaps Lily’s own sub-conscious understanding of her situation. She is addicted to him and feels pulled to him as a gambling addict is drawn to the table. Victorian understanding of the psychology of addiction was but little advanced compared to modern understanding but I do not believe Trollope’s choice of metaphor was accidental in this respect.
Lily after much reflection (a change from her impetuous teenage self) decides that if she were to allow him back into her life that he would eventually come to view this is weakness on her part and despise her for failing to rebuff him as he knew he really deserved. She cannot bear to live with the prospect of losing his respect – and with it what is left of her own self-respect. She therefore tells him, through her mother, that she does not wish to see him again. She acknowledges though to her mother that she still loves the man.
When they do eventually meet, it is by chance as Lily is out riding on Rotten Row in London as Crosbie happened to be walking in the park. Then we see Lily through Crosbie’s eyes rather than the reverse. We are not privileged to see how she now views her “Apollo”. He, however, notices that “she was as pretty as ever, that she was but very little altered. She was, in truth, somewhat stouter than in the old days, but of that he took no special notice.” How much of that is the natural transition from a “slender”(5) teenager to young woman and how much might be attributable to comfort eating in her depression is impossible to determine but that he, with his eye for an attractive woman, should perceive the change suggests there is at least some element of the latter.
In presenting this complex psychology of Lily, so much more than the victim of a teenager’s broken heart but a woman deeply traumatised by the whole experience, Trollope shows insights which were ahead of the state of psychological thinking at the time. Such obsessive behaviour was not begun to be properly understood until the twentieth century study pf psychology. Trollope nevertheless portrays it. To do so, he shows an ability to depict behaviours, which he will have seen without perhaps fully comprehending the roots, and reproduce it accurately in his prose. As such, this portrayal should be considered alongside that of Louis Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right or Countess Lovel in Lady Anna as a significant achievement in the depiction of psychologically damaged characters.
There is also, no doubt, a commercial as well as an artistic motive. Not only does he achieve a level psychological verisimilitude that surpassed almost all of his peers, but used it in a way which undoubtedly reaped for him financial benefits. He was clearly aware that his readers were wrapped up in the story of Lily Dale and the repeatedly unsuccessful wooing of Johnny Eames – a popular character, a hobbledehoy who was making something of himself in the end (and not therefore unlike Trollope). He was even able to spin this story out into a second volume as a secondary-plot in The Last Chronicle of Barset. In his Autobigraphy, Trollope observed of his heroine and, with remarkable acumen, his audience, “Prig as she was, she made her way into the hearts of many readers – both young and old- so that, from that time to this, I have been continually honoured with letters the purport of which has always been to beg me to marry Lily Dale to Johnny Eames. Had I done so, however, Lily would never have so endeared herself to these people as to induce them to write letters to the author concerning her fate. It was because she could not get over her troubles that they loved her.”(7)
Numbered references in the text indicate the source of the quotation among the novels of the Barsetshire series.
(5) The Small House at Allington, published in 1862-64 in Cornhill Magazine
(6) The Last Chronicle of Barset, published in 1867 by Smith Elder.
Also cited is the non-series book which I have also numbered for ease of reference:
(7) An Autobiography, published posthumously in 1883 by William Blackwood and Sons.
Lily doesn’t appear in the earlier Barsetshire books and there are therefore no references to the first four books in the series.