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I once got involved in a ferocious Internet argument about Lily Dale. In a few words, somebody was claiming that Lily Dale isn't a realistic character, but male fantasy. That is, from the point of view of the unreconstructed male, she's a portrayal of how we'd like a woman to behave, or how we think a woman ought to behave.
Interestingly, the person I was debating with was male, as am I. (Well, I think he was, but you never can be totally sure of these things on the Internet, can you?)
I'd be interested to know what other people think. There is a relevant passage in Trollope's Autobiography on the subject. In case you haven't read it, here it is (By the way, why 'French' prig, I wonder? Did Trollope differentiate between French and English prigs?):
The Small House at Allington redeemed my reputation with the spirited
proprietor of the Cornhill, which must, I should think, have been
damaged by Brown, Jones, and Robinson. In it appeared Lily Dale,
one of the characters which readers of my novels have liked the
best. In the love with which she has been greeted I have hardly
joined with much enthusiasm, feeling that she is somewhat of a
French 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 sufficiently 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. 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.
As a 21st century woman, I find Lily's obsession with Crosbie rather destestble, yet I've known women (and men for that matter) who have trouble getting over being jilted. Once she finally sees Crosbie again in Last Chronicle, she suddenly faces reality. But that doesn't mean she should have married Johnny, a guy she obviously doesn't find sexually attractive. The only problem I really have with Lily's ultimate story is that it seems she ends up an old maid. She's a lively, intelligent and sexy girl, she deserved better.
As to her being a "male fantasy" sadly I'd have to say no. The fascination with the Twilight novels should be all anyone needs as evidence that many women (and I'm a woman) are total idiots when it comes to men. But vice versa, guys, you can be idiots, too, and Johnny and Crosbie are perfect examples of this.
I'm a woman but I didn't find Lily and her angst too irritating in The Small House. Having said that, I did feel slightly exasperated when she showed up again in The Last Chronicle, I guess Trollope wanted to wrap things up and leave her in her old maid martyrdom. Here is another quote about Lily Dale I found on anthonytrollope.com:
"Lily Dale ... was, by inference, the novelist's own ideal, and many readers worship in his company. Certainly Lily is perfect - whether, as at first, she is blithely mischievous; whether ...she is reserved and watchful; whether ... she walks with head bravely high, but with a broken heart." - Sadleir
The quote from Sadleir is interesting, because Trollope in the Autobiography seems flatly to contradict it: you don't call your 'ideal' woman a 'French prig' - or any other kind of prig!
I suspect that Trollope may have been handicapped by the conventions of his day - if paterfamilias is going to read your book to the assembled family, you have to be careful! Perhaps what he really meant to suggest was that Lily felt she had 'given herself' to Crosbie and that what she had done was irrevocable. And I think that he sympathised, but disagreed: there was no reason why she shouldn't have gone on, if she had wanted, to marry somebody else, though not necessarily the feeble Johnny Eames.
By 'give herself' I don't mean that Trollope was saying that they had a physical relationship, and that may be part of his meaning: in his view of things she had nothing to reproach herself for. The word prig seems to have had a wide variety of meanings, but it could be used to refer to someone with an over-active conscience, or an over-active sensibility.
As far as I can recall, the closest Trollope gets to saying this is where Crosbie comes to the Small House (incidentally, I think it's an amazingly sexy piece of writing, by the standards of the day):
At last the two heroes came in across the lawn at the drawing-room window; and Lily, as they entered, dropped a low curtsey before them, gently swelling down upon the ground with her light muslin dress, till she looked like some wondrous flower that had bloomed upon the carpet, and putting her two hands, with the backs of her fingers pressed together, on the buckle of her girdle, she said, "We are waiting upon your honours' kind grace, and feel how much we owe to you for favouring our poor abode." And then she gently rose up again, smiling, oh, so sweetly, on the man she loved, and the puffings and swellings went out of her muslin.
I think there is nothing in the world so pretty as the conscious little tricks of love played off by a girl towards the man she loves, when she has made up her mind boldly that all the world may know that she has given herself away to him.
I seem to recall finding Lily interesting mostly as a foil to her sister. I certainly think that Trollope made the correct decision in keeping her single rather than marrying her off to Eames.
I'm new to Trollope and quite amazed by how 'realistic' the female characters are (with the exception of the monstrous Mrs Proudie!). Compare Lily Dale and her quiet determination not to submit to her infatuation for Mr Crosbie with, say, Miss Havisham with the cobwebs and the wedding dress...
I believe Great Expectations and The last chronicle of Barset were published in the same decade, but Trollope somehow feels so much more modern.
Yes, I agree completely about the modernity. For example, 'The Last Chronicle' has two quite different and detailed portrayals of what we'd call mental illness: in Josiah Crawley, and in Bishop Proudie (when he has a nervous breakdown caused by his wife's behaviour). Both are completely realistic.
Whereas, Miss Havisham is simply an old-fashioned stage looney ...