The Small House at Allington did much to restore my faith in Trollope, which I admit was wavering a bit after Doctor Thorne and not quite steady even after Framley Parsonage. It is a brilliant book, though like most brilliant things, not always entirely comfortable.
It has the largest cast of characters yet, including a number of memorable characters. As Trollope writes of the hero, "that part in the drama will be cut up, as it were, into fragments. Whatever of the magnificent may be produced will be diluted and apportioned out in very moderate quantities among two or more, probably among three or four, young gentlemen—to none of whom will be vouchsafed the privilege of much heroic action." All the major characters from previous books make at least a cameo appearance, and then there are the central characters of the Dale family, their close friends, and the inhabitants of a boarding house in London. Geographically, it is also the most ambitious of the series so far, covering several country houses of varying degrees of wealth plus the aforementioned London boardinghouse, a city office, and assorted smaller places.
In keeping with the ambitious goal, there are multiple plots. There are love stories (Barsetshire wouldn't be the same without them), but also promotions, family reconciliations and separations, and the advancement of several series-long subplots. The characters are given a dept they haven't had since Barchester Towers, even a greater depth, in fact. There are more and less likeable characters, characters of greater and lesser heroism or villainy, but everyone has a multitude of motivations and desires. Even the De Courcy family, consigned to the role of generic aristocratic villains for the last two books, at long last gains some much-needed shading.
The narrator is in fine flow here, commenting on this "fraction of a hero" or "dear Lily Dale—for my reader must know that she is to be very dear, and that my story will be nothing to him if he do not love Lily Dale," and moralizing where appropriate, usually in a wry, spiky fashion that keeps him as one of my favorite characters.
For all of that, I will admit to some small sadness: As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a brilliant book and an engrossing read. I am glad I read it, but... I miss the coziness of The Warden. Ah well. I am human and therefore contrary. I still highly recommend the book; in most ways, it's the best of the series so far.
A note on editions: The library copy was without notes (Yes, I generally pick my editions based on what the library has). I missed them, even though the book was entirely readable without them, so if you're buying or have a choice, I'd suggest either the Penguin or the Oxford World's Classic edition, either of which is likely to have a good introductory essay and notes. For those of you with ereaders, Project Gutenberg has multiple formats.. Librivox also has audio versions available for download.
(1) I started my grand read-and-review of the Barsetshire Chronicles over at The Geek Girl Project. My review of The Warden is up there, as is my review of Barchester Towers. My reviews of Dr. Thorne and Framley Parsonage were on this blog.