A general thought about Doctor Thorne

Although there is no specific allusion to make an explicit link, part of the plot of Doctor Thorne seems to follow the pattern of a Roman comedy.  Roman comedy deals in stock characters, one of whom is often a young boy in love, and another of whom is the boy’s beloved of questionable social status.  By the end of comedies using this device, the girl’s heritage is revealed to be respectable, and an impossible marriage becomes possible.  In Doctor Thorne, nothing changes about Mary’s being an illegitimate child, but her inheritance of a fortune allows for a happy ending:  her economic status substitutes for her social status by birth.

Chapter 47 – How the Bride was Received, and Who Were Asked to the Wedding


For the classical meaning of Elysium, see the gloss in the commentary for Chapter 1 of The Warden.  This image is used here to describe the happy state of the squire’s mind when he goes to bed after discovering that Mary is the heir of the Scatcherd fortune. He has been troubled lately by pecuniary problems, and thus his relieved state is described in these exceptional terms.   [MD 2005]

Chapter 46 – Our Pet Fox Finds a Tail

the fox and the tail

A reference to one of Aesop’s fables, in which a fox loses her tail to a trap.  The fox then tries to convince other foxes that they should remove their tails likewise, having deemed tails unnecessary now that she lacks one herself.  The title of this chapter is an allusion to this story, and there are references to it within the chapter, as well.  This is the chapter in which Mary comes to find out about her inheritance, and thus she “finds a tail,” unlike the fox in the story.  Mary compares herself and her uncle to the fox in the fable, suggesting that maybe they only disdain wealth in others because they lack it themselves.  Dr. Thorne in turn wonders if he and Mary, should they suddenly find themselves wealthy, would not be as boastful of their newfound money as the fox would be of a tail.  Trollope asserts that all people are foxes looking for tails, i.e. wealth, either honestly or not; all foxes, says Trollope, would be happy to find a tail, no matter how much they may have despised or pretended to despise them before. [JM 2005]

Sources: A translation of the fable at Laura Gibbs’ Aesop site.


how the drop of water hollows the stone

Referencing Ovid, Gutta cavat lapidem, “a drop hollows a stone.”  Frank Gresham persuades his father to a sort of implicit consent, not by one eloquent speech, but by often repeating his appeals.  Thus his father is persuaded not all at once, but rather over time, bit by bit.  [JM 2005]

Sources:  Ovid, Epistulae Ex Ponto 4.10.5 (though Ovid may be repeating a common proverb).

Chapter 45 – Law Business in London

into the middle

Horace in the Ars Poetica advises that epic poets should hurry to the middle of the story (in medias res) where the action itself happens.  Otherwise, the writer will fall short of the audience’s expectations.  When Frank goes to meet with Mr. Bideawhile, he intends to “rush into the middle of his subject”–that is to say that Frank intends to go directly into the events that have led to his current predicament.  Frank is trying to take the advice of Horace.  [TH 2005]

Sources:  Horace, Ars Poetica 148.

Chapter 44 – Saturday Evening and Sunday Morning

clouded brow

When Frank is gloomy over his situation with Mary, Trollope uses this expression to describe his mood.  Horace uses the same image in a different way in book 1 of his Epistles when he says, “take the cloud from your brow.”  Trollope uses the image of the clouded brow repeatedly in his novels.  [JC 2005]

Sources: Horace, Epistle 1.18.94.


the Spartan matron

Trollope is referring here to a particular story in book 3 of Plutarch’s Moralia in which a grandmother whose grandson has died in battle notes that it is better that he has died honorably than if he had survived through cowardice.  Trollope compares this story with Lady Arabella’s wish for Frank to marry money.  It is an apt comparison in that in both cases it is a case of quid pro quo where the quid is family honor (which the Greshams stand to lose along with their property if Frank fails to marry money) and the quo is, in a sense, the son himself (although Frank’s situation is certainly more figurative than the Spartan soldier’s).  The reference to returning home on the shield is from another story also recorded by Plutarch in which the mother tells her son to either come back with his shield or on it.  [JC 2005]

Sources:  Plutarch, Moralia 3.240f and 3.241f.