Committed for Better Business


In The Angel of Ayala, by Anthony Trollope, we are offered a lighthearted account of the search for marital happiness by various characters. Its basic theme, which we angels often inadvertently entertain, is fleshed out through the development of its central character, Ayala Dormer. Ayala resists the straitjacket of gender and cultural stereotypes prevalent in 19th-century England by refusing to marry for money, preferring to wait for her “Angel of Light,” no matter the consequences. The thesis of the book is that by remaining focused on luxury castles built in the air, one risks blinding oneself to the things that would bring the greatest happiness.

The Dosetts and the Tringles

In Ayala’s Angel, the eponymous Ayala, along with her older sister Lucy, is orphaned at age 19. Ayala is sent to live with the sisters’ aunt, Emmeline, who is married to the town’s wealthy banker, Sir Thomas Tringle; Lucy’s lot is with her relatively poor uncle Reginald Dosett and his wife Margaret. Both adoptive families live in London, but otherwise lead very different lifestyles. The Tringles enjoy every possible luxury in their opulent Queen’s Gate residence, as well as other homes and frequent trips abroad. The Dosetts’ already stretched budget is further constrained by the arrival of Lucy in their midst, and any holiday is compulsively enjoyed “within the cheap precincts of Kingsbury Crescent”, their year-round abode. However, Ayala’s energetic character causes many confrontations with the Tringles and numerous arguments break out, especially with cousin Augusta. Things come to a head when, during a family visit to Rome, Ayala spurns his crushing cousin Tom’s stubborn attentions to him, calling him a “stupid jerk” to the face of his doting mother. An offended Aunt Emmeline quickly retaliates; upon her return to England, she swaps her sisters and sends Ayala to live with the impoverished Dosetts, while a calmer Lucy enters the luxurious lifestyle of Queen’s Gate.

A memorable cast of characters

In Italy, however, Ayala had made a good friend in the half-English Marchesa Baldoni, who now visits her in Kingsbury Crescent and introduces her to numerous connections in London. Of these, she gets along particularly well with Colonel Jonathan Stubbs and with Lady Albury, sister of the Marchioness and a close friend of the Colonel. Other distinctive characters in the book include Frank Houston, a rakish and curiously likeable gold digger; The Honorable Septimus Traffick, Member of Parliament and sponger extraordinaire; and Larry Twentyman, a gentleman farmer who shone in the most momentous events of the book. Notable portrayals include the constancy of Imogene Docimer, the recklessness of Gertrude Tringle, the grave mistakes of Captain Batsby, and the lunatic acts of lovelorn Tom Tringle, all told in Trollope’s inimitable style:

A policeman Tom had punched in the pit of the stomach hadn’t been courteous enough to accept this show of familiarity with good humor. He had been very upset about the blow, and he had insisted on testifying about it before the magistrate.

Tom Tringle doesn’t admit defeat at all, chasing Ayala all the way to Kingsbury Crescent. The appearance of two additional suitors equally eager for her hand in marriage further irritates, rather than flatters, our beleaguered heroine: neither of them are deemed worthy of the title “Angle of Light”, that ethereal being whom she would surely recognize. as soon as possible. her while she introduced herself. Ayala initially seems a bit ditzy, but she turns out to have great intelligence, insight, and depth of character. The central story concerns how she ultimately chooses among her various suitors.

A happy ending

The authors expertly move through the various settings of the story, providing a sense of continuity as they weave their threads together, rushing us to weddings and other urgent events, quietly returning to pick up the threads of Ayala’s and others’ stories. There is the inevitable description of hunts and dances, but also some gripping soliloquies. In this work, and particularly in the character development of Ayala, Trollope shows great insight into the human psyche. The detailed correspondence shows the author’s ability to represent states of being. There are letters between the two sisters, between the destitute Isadore Hamel (Lucy’s suitor) and her angry father, between the Marchioness Baldoni and her protégé Ayala. Things occasionally get messy but, by the end of the book, all the main characters are married, shaken up, or safely shipped off, and it’s a shame to say goodbye. This is definitely a book to read, savor and revisit.

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