[Although Isabella Dale speaks the very first words of the second chapter of The Small House at Allington, Trollope (or Trollope's narrator) does not describe her until chapter 6, “Beautiful Days.” Somewhere — I believe it's in the Autobiography but it could be in several places — he explains that he likes to begin by setting the scene, because sooner or later one has to do it, and one might as well get it out of the way immediately. Insofar as one considers providing characterization of major characters to be part of exposition, that need is certainly true. Note how much attention the speaking “I” devotes to the sisters' physical appearance before moving to character or personality. — George P. Landow]

I am well aware that I have not as yet given any description of Bell and Lilian Dale, and equally well aware that the longer the doing so is postponed the greater the difficulty becomes. I wish it could be understood without any description that they were two pretty, fair-haired girls, of whom Bell was the tallest and the prettiest, whereas Lily was almost as pretty as her sister, and perhaps was more attractive.

They were fair-haired girls, very like each other, of whom I have before my mind's eye a distinct portrait, which I fear I shall not be able to draw in any such manner as will make it distinct to others. They were something below the usual height, being slight and slender in all their proportions. Lily was the shorter of the two, but the difference was so trifling that it was hardly remembered unless the two were together. And when I said that Bell was the prettier, I should, perhaps, have spoken more justly had I simply declared that her features were more regular than her sister's. The two girls were very fair, so that the soft tint of colour which relieved the whiteness of their complexion was rather acknowledged than distinctly seen. It was there, telling its own tale of health, as its absence would have told a tale of present or coming sickness; and yet nobody could ever talk about the colour in their cheeks. The hair of the two girls was so alike in hue and texture, that no one, not even their mother, could say that there was a difference. It was not flaxen hair, and yet it was very light. Nor did it approach to auburn; and yet there ran through it a golden tint that gave it a distinct brightness of its own. But with Bell it was more plentiful than with Lily, and therefore Lily would always talk of her own scanty locks, and tell how beautiful were those belonging to her sister. Nevertheless Lily's head was quite as lovely as her sister's; for its form was perfect, and the simple braids in which they both wore their hair did not require any great exuberance in quantity. Their eyes were brightly blue; but Bell's were long, and soft, and tender, often hardly daring to raise themselves to your face; while those of Lily were rounder, but brighter, and seldom kept by any want of courage from fixing themselves where they pleased. And Lily's face was perhaps less oval in its form—less perfectly oval—than her sister's. The shape of the forehead was, I think, the same, but with Bell the chin was something more slender and delicate. But Bell's chin was unmarked, whereas on her sister's there was a dimple which amply compensated for any other deficiency in its beauty. Bell's teeth were more even than her sister's; but then she showed her teeth more frequently. Her lips were thinner and, as I cannot but think, less expressive. Her nose was decidedly more regular in its beauty, for Lily's nose was somewhat broader than it should have been. It may, therefore, be understood that Bell would be considered the beauty by the family.

But there was, perhaps, more in the general impression made by these girls, and in the whole tone of their appearance, than in the absolute loveliness of their features or the grace of their figures. There was about them a dignity of demeanour devoid of all stiffness or pride, and a maidenly modesty which gave itself no airs. In them was always apparent that sense of security which women should receive from an unconscious dependence on their own mingled purity and weakness. These two girls were never afraid of men,—never looked as though they were so afraid. And I may say that they had little cause for that kind of fear to which I allude. It might be the lot of either of them to be ill-used by a man, but it was hardly possible that either of them should ever be insulted by one. Lily, as may, perhaps, have been already seen, could be full of play, but in her play she never so carried herself that any one could forget what was due to her.


Trollope, Anthony. The Small House at Allington. Project Gutenberg E-text prepared by Andrew Turek and revised by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D., and an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer.

Last modified 26 September 2013