The Small House at Allington, the fifth novel in the Barsetshire series, introduced possibly Trollope’s most popular character, Lily Dale, whom readers either love or find maddening and whom Trollope himself called a “prig.”
Lily, her mother Mary, and her sister Bell live in the small house on the property of Squire Dale, the brother of their late husband and father. The women are not well-to-do, but living rent-free, they live well enough. Bell and Lily are of marriageable age, and their marriage prospects make up the main plotlines of the book.
The squire hopes that Bell, the elder sister, will marry her cousin Bernard, the son of another Dale brother, but Bell—who loves a local doctor—won’t go along, causing tensions with the squire. Lily falls in love with a friend Bernard brings to Allington to visit, Adolphus Crosbie, but he dumps her for an aristocrat. John Eames (some say he was based on Trollope as a young man), a friend of Lily’s from childhood who has loved her nearly ever since, hopes to win the heartbroken Lily’s hand. But even though she says she loves Johnny dearly and everyone who loves her want to see her with him, Lily stubbornly vows that she will love the faithless Crosbie forever.
If this were Jane Austen—or maybe even another Trollope novel—the reader would expect two marriages at the end. Trollope in his autobiography admitted that “I have been continually honoured with letters, the purport of which has always been to beg me to marry Lily Dale to Johnny Eames.” But he judged readers' wishes differently: “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.”
Trollope’s comment offers a clue about the continuation of the Lily and Johnny story—among much else—in the final Barsetshire novel, The Last Chronicle of Barset.
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