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Ayala’s Angel: A Tale of Two Sisters
In Anthony Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel, we are treated to a light-hearted account of several characters’ pursuit of marital bliss. Its main theme, that we often unknowingly entertain angels, is pursued through the development of its central character, Ayla Dormer. Ayla resists the straitjacket of cultural and gender stereotyping prevalent in nineteenth-century England by refusing to marry for money, choosing instead to wait for her “angel of light” regardless of the outcome. The book’s thesis is that by focusing on fancy castles built in the air, one runs the risk of becoming blind to the things that can bring the greatest happiness.
Dossetts and Tringles
In Ayala’s Angel, the eponymous Ayala, along with older sister Lucy, is orphaned at age 19. Ayala is sent to live with her sister’s aunt Emmeline, who is married to Sir Thomas Tringle, the town’s wealthy banker; Lucy’s lot is with their relatively poor uncle Reginald Dossett and his wife Margaret. Both adoptive families live in London, but otherwise lead vastly different lifestyles. The Tringles have every possible luxury in their opulent Queen’s Gate residence, as well as other homes and frequent trips abroad. The Doucets’ already stretched budget is further strained by Lucy’s arrival in their midst, with any holidays being mandatorily enjoyed “within the economic zone of Kingsbury Crescent,” their year-round home. However, Ayla’s spirit character causes many clashes with the Tringles and numerous arguments, especially with cousin Augusta. Matters come to a head when, during a family visit to Rome, Ayla scorns the undue attentions of her lover cousin Tom, calling him a “stupid lout” to her mother’s face. Enraged Aunt Emmeline quickly retaliates; After returning to England, he swaps the sisters, sending Ayla to live with the impoverished Dowsetts while quiet Lucy enters the luxurious lifestyle of Queen’s Gate.
A memorable cast of characters
In Italy, however, Ayala made a good friend in the half-English Marchesa Baldoni, who visited him in what is now Kingsbury Crescent and introduced him to numerous London connections. In between, he got on particularly well with Colonel Jonathan Stubbs, and with Lady Albury, the Marchesa’s sister and the Colonel’s close friend. Other distinct characters in the book include Frank Houston, a rakish, curious gold digger; The Honorable Septimus Traffic, Member of Parliament and Extraordinary Sponger; and Larry Twentyman, a gentleman farmer who rather shines in the book’s more important events. Notable portraits include Imogen Dossimmer’s steadfastness, Gertrude Tringle’s naivete, Captain Batsby’s baffling blunders and besotted Tom Tringle’s madness, all related in Trollope’s inimitable style:
“A policeman whom Tom punched in the stomach was not civil enough to accept this token of familiarity with good humor. He suffered greatly from the injury and insisted on testifying to this effect before the Magistrate.“
Tom Tringle doesn’t admit defeat at all, following Ayla to Kingsbury Crescent. The presence of two additional suitors equally desirous of her hand in marriage annoys rather than flatters our beleaguered heroine: neither of them is considered worthy of the title “corner of light,” which she surely recognizes. As he kept a look. Ayala initially comes off as a bit of a flibbertigibbet, but has great intelligence, insight and depth of character. The central storyline concerns how she ultimately chooses one of her various suitors.
A happy ending
The author skilfully moves through the story’s various settings, weaving its threads together to provide a sense of continuity, bringing us forward to weddings and other important events, returning at leisure to pick up the story threads of Aylar and others. There are the inevitable descriptions of the hunt and the ball, but also some engaging soliloquies. In this work, and particularly in the development of Ayla’s character, Trollope shows great insight into the human psyche. Detailed correspondence demonstrates the writer’s skill in portraying the entity’s condition. There are letters between the two sisters, between the helpless Isadore Hamel (Lucy’s suitor) and her choleric father, between the Marchesa Baldoni and her protégé Ayla. Things get complicated at times but, by the end of the book, all the main characters are safely married, ditched or sent away, and it’s a shame to say goodbye. This is definitely a book to read, savor and revisit.
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