Ayala’s Angel: A Tale of Two Sisters


In Ayala’s Angel by Anthony Trollope, we are treated to a light-hearted account of the pursuit of matrimonial happiness by several characters. Its basic theme, that we often entertain angels unawares, is pursued through the development of its central character, Ayala Dormer. Ayala resists the straitjacket of cultural and gender stereotyping prevalent in nineteenth century England by refusing to marry for money, choosing rather to wait for her “Angel of Light,” whatever the consequences. The book’s thesis is that in remaining focussed on fancy castles built in air, one runs the risk of being blinded to the very things that would bring the greatest happiness.

The Dosetts and the Tringles

In Ayala’s Angel, the eponymous Ayala, together with older sister Lucy, is orphaned at age 19. Ayala is sent to live with the sisters’ Aunt Emmeline, who is married to wealthy City banker Sir Thomas Tringle; Lucy’s lot is with their relatively poor Uncle Reginald Dosett and his wife Margaret. Both adoptive families live in London, but otherwise lead vastly different lifestyles. The Tringles have every possible luxury at their opulent Queen’s Gate residence, as well as other homes and frequent trips abroad. The Dosetts’ already stretched budget is further straitened by Lucy’s arrival in their midst, with any holiday being compulsorily enjoyed “within the economical precincts of Kingsbury Crescent,” their year-round abode. However, Ayala’s spirited character causes many clashes with the Tringles, and numerous arguments erupt, especially with Cousin Augusta. Things come to a head when, during a family visit to Rome, Ayala scorns the obdurate attentions of her lovelorn Cousin Tom, calling him a “stupid lout” right to his doting mother’s face. The offended Aunt Emmeline retaliates swiftly; upon their return to England, she swaps the sisters, sending Ayala to live with the impoverished Dosetts while the quieter Lucy enters into 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 at Kingsbury Crescent and introduces her to numerous London connections. Of these, she gets on particularly well with Colonel Jonathan Stubbs, and with Lady Albury, sister of the Marchesa and close friend of the Colonel. Other distinctive characters from the book include Frank Houston, a rakish, curiously endearing gold-digger; the Honourable Septimus Traffick, Member of Parliament and sponger extraordinaire; and Larry Twentyman, a gentleman farmer who rather shone at the book’s more momentous events. Notable portraits include the constancy of Imogene Docimer, the fecklessness of Gertrude Tringle, the ponderous blunders of Captain Batsby and the lunatic acts of the besotted Tom Tringle, all related in Trollope’s inimitable style:

A policeman whom Tom had struck with his fist in the pit of the stomach had not been civil enough to accept this mark of familiarity with good humour. He had been much inconvenienced by the blow, and had insisted upon giving testimony to this effect before the magistrate.

Tom Tringle admits defeat not at all, pursuing Ayala right up to Kingsbury Crescent. The appearance of two additional suitors equally desirous of her hand in marriage further irritates, rather than flatters, our beleaguered heroine: none of them is deemed worthy of the title “Angle of Light,” that ethereal being whom she was sure to recognise as soon as he put in an appearance. Ayala initially comes across as a bit of a flibbertigibbet, but turns out to have great intelligence, perception and depth of character. The central storyline concerns how she eventually makes a choice from among her various suitors.

A Happy Ending

The authors moves expertly through the various settings of the story, providing a sense of continuity while weaving its threads together, rushing us forward for weddings and other pressing events, returning in leisurely fashion to pick up the threads of Ayala’s and others’ stories. There is the inevitable description of hunts and balls, but also some gripping soliloquies. In this work, and particularly in the development of Ayala’s character, Trollope shows great insight into the human psyche. Detailed correspondence showcases the author’s skill in depicting states of being. There are letters between the two sisters, between the indigent Isadore Hamel (Lucy’s suitor) and his choleric father, between the Marchesa Baldoni and her protégée Ayala. Things occasionally get convoluted but, by the end of the book, all the main characters are safely married off, shaken off or shipped off, and it is a shame to say goodbye. This is certainly a book to read, to savour and to revisit.


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