‘Christine Poulson’s wonderful sense of place brings Cambridge to life. Cassie overcomes the problems facing her with wit and guile aplenty and ensures the reader’s empathy from first word to last . . . an enthralling and engaging read that underlines Christine’s burgeoning reputation as a crime novelist to watch.’ [Stage Fright]


I Blame the Parents

31Qa0Mje8OL._AC_US218_Who would have thought I’d be stricter than a Victorian mama?

One of the pleasures of getting older is rereading old favourites and finding that you see them from a different angle. I am currently listening to Timothy West reading (superbly) The Small House at Allington, which I first read in my twenties. I naturally identified more with the two young women, Lily and Bell Dale, than I did with their widowed mother, Mrs Dale. The family live in the eponymous Small House and Mr Dale, the girls’ uncle, lives in the Great House. When the novel opens their cousin, Bernard, and his friend, Adolphus Crosby, are staying with Mr Dale. Crosby is there for a few days only, but he gets on well with the family at the Small House and returns for a month of his two months leave from his Civil Service office (those were the days, when civil servants had two months off a year!). By the end of that month he is engaged to Lily.

What were you thinking, Mrs Dale! That is the question I find myself asking. Lily is only nineteen and she has known Crosby for rather less than five weeks. All they know of Crosby is that he is Bernard’s friend and has enough money to support a wife. I don’t think we are given his age but I guess it to be around thirty. We are privy to Crosby’s thoughts and are aware from the start that he is already beginning to have – if not regrets – then is at least not quite satisfied to learn that there will be no money coming with Lily. He has a comfortable life in London, but will have to make economies and will have give up the enjoyable life of a successful man about town.

Mrs Dale is too delicately minded to question Crosby, to offer her daughter any advice, or to insist (as she had a legal right to do) that they wait longer before getting engaged. I would certainly have something to say to a daughter of mine, who wanted to marry a man that she’d known for only a few weeks, especially if she was just nineteen. There is of course trouble ahead – serious trouble – and to my mind Mrs Dale has to take some, perhaps much, of the blame for this. I found myself thinking something similar when re-reading Middlemarch a few years ago. Why didn’t Mr Brooke at least insist that Dorothea came of age before she married Casaubon? But Mr Brooke is presented as being negligent, too lazy to make a fuss about anything, whereas it’s clear from the way Trollope describes Mrs Dale that he regards her as a good mother.

Often in Trollope’s novels stern parents or guardians do stand in the way of young love – and are invariably forced to relent in the end. So perhaps the truth is that parents can’t win whatever they do. No change there then . . . Nevertheless I do think that Mrs Dale should not have allowed such a rapid courtship. So there you: stricter than a Victorian mama and as I write this, I can picture my daughters rolling their eyes and agreeing. What’s your view on Mrs Dale?


  1. Margot Kinberg
    June 6, 2017

    Interesting question, Christine! One would think she would have stepped in. But then, if she thought he was a ‘man of means,’ she might have that that she was being a good mother by consenting to the marriage. Her daughter would be ‘taken care of” for life, and perhaps that’s what she wanted?

    • Christine Poulson
      June 6, 2017

      Good point, Margot, and Trollope is very aware of the economics of the situation. Mrs Dale is poor in middle-class terms, living on 300 a year for the three of them with the cottage rent-free. Crosby has eight or nine hundred a year. On the other hand, Mrs Dale is very much against marrying just for money and I think it is misplaced delicacy that keeps her quiet. Lily loves Crosby and that is enough. I sympathise to some extent, but those of us who have daughters know that sometimes a frank conversation is in order. And of course that is something I wouldn’t have appreciated as a young woman!

  2. Sue
    June 8, 2017

    Firstly, so glad you enjoyed Timothy West reading Anthony Trollope – he is the best reader of Trollope. You have many more treats in store with other Trollope novels read by Timothy West.

    Secondly, the point you make about re reading novels is such an interesting one. We are different people every time we re read a novel. We bring age ,different experience, different tastes and that is part of the joy of re reading…

    Recently,I listened to an audio recording of Mansfield Park and even though I’ve read the book several times, the audio book was a revelation – how funny were the amateur theatricals, they really were and to hear it spoken rather than reading it made all the difference. I laughed out loud.

    • Christine Poulson
      June 8, 2017

      Thanks, Sue. Yes, it is an unexpected pleasure of getting older. Glad you agree. As I listen to more and more of The Small House, I am more and more surprised by Mrs Dale’s non-interventionist policy! I am working my way through the West recordings: loved Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux.

      Which recording of Mansfield Park did you listen to? It is a novel I go back to again and again. I think it is perhaps my favourite of all the Austen novels

  3. Sue
    June 9, 2017

    The recording I listened to was by Frances Barber. The blurb says ” Frances Barber offers a sterling performance, bringing life and sparkle to each character…”

    I bought this CD which is published by Brilliance Audio, Grand Haven, Michigan.

  4. moira@clothesinbooks
    June 17, 2017

    I haven’t read Small House… (though now I want to) but I can so recognize that feeling when you’re suddenly reading (listening) as an older person/mother rather than that young one you’ve left behind.

    Or – like seeing that Mr Bennett is actually a really bad, lazy, father? Who doesn’t care enough about the future of his daughters…

    One of my all-time favourite books is I Capture the Castle, and I re-read it every few years – so I started off at Cassandra’s age, and was absolutely astounded when I found myself a lot older than stepmother Topaz at some later point. (She is – and I couldn’t’ve been more astounded – 29… she seemed so old when I first read it. And, a lot more sensible than Cassandra gives her credit for.)

    • Christine Poulson
      June 18, 2017

      The Small House is good, but Lily Dale is an awfully annoying heroine (if that is what she is).

      Yes, Mr Bennett! Of course those girls must marry – what else is there for them? Mrs Bennett, though she is so silly, is quite right about that.

      I was already older than Topaz when I read I Capture the Castle, which I am sorry about. It should first be read as a young person.But yes, what a strange feeling that is when you read an old favourite and suddenly see it in a different light.


Leave a Reply