Chapter 43 – A Parting Interview

not impossible

Trollope effectively uses litotes (the negation of an idea to communicate the opposite) to convey Mrs. Woodward’s cautious hope that Katie may recover. [RR 2017]

Chapter 42 – The Old Bailey

yielding the palm

When Mr. Chaffanbrass says, “I yield the palm,” he means that he will concede victory to Alaric’s prosecutor (specifically in a contest of meanness). In ancient Rome and Greece, palm fronds were associated with the goddess of victory and were given to the winners of athletic competitions. In this context, yielding the palm gives Mr. Chaffanbrass the advantage of distinguishing himself morally from the prosecutors and making us feel negatively about the prosecuting party. [GZ 2016]


black and white

Mr. Chaffanbrass attempts to persuade the jury of the innocence of Alaric compared to Undy Scott, thereby lessening Alaric’s apparent guilt. To do this, Mr. Chaffanbrass must whiten the relative “blackness” of Alaric’s crimes by comparing them to the crimes of Undy. This notion, mentioned earlier in a gloss from Chapter 41, comes from the writing of the ancient Roman author Juvenal which laments the state of Roman affairs by mentioning Romans who turn “black into white.” Although we might wish that Alaric will be acquitted of his charges, the use of Classics, with its elevated moral associations, cues us in to the fact that acquitting Alaric would be problematic for the overarching moralized themes of the novel. For this reason, we are made subtly aware that his acquittal is unlikely. See the gloss in Chapter 41 for more detail. [GZ 2016]

source: Juvenal, Satire 3.30.


whitewash and Excelsior

During Mr. Chaffanbrass’ questioning of Undy Scott Alaric had begun to imagine that he would be “whitewashed” by Mr. Chaffanbrass’ blackening of Undy (see preceding gloss) and that he would once again urge himself on with the Latin motto Excelsior, or Higher. [RR 2017]

Chapter 41 – Mr. Chaffanbrass

corpus delicti

The Latin phrase corpus delicti, translated as “body of crime,” is a common legal term used to indicate the material evidence of a crime. Alaric, having just begun his trial, says that he wouldn’t be surprised if he were found guilty because the corpus delicti was visible to everyone in the court. The use of the Latin in the passage directly follows a string of the various hurdles that Alaric will face in his trial, namely the many ways in which Alaric has blatantly misused Clementina’s trust money. Using Latin to punctuate this list of Alaric’s misdeeds adds to the severity of the situation. [GZ 2016]

source: Dictionary of Law (Oxford UP).


cock of this dunghill

Mr. Chaffanbrass, Alaric’s fierce defense lawyer, is described by the narrator as “the cock of this dunghill” when he enters the courtroom. This is a reference to a phrase used by the Roman author Seneca, and it refers to the idea that a person is most confident when they are in familiar territory. The court is Mr. Chaffanbrass’ territory, and his comfort in navigating such a space and Alaric’s defense give us hope for Alaric. See the gloss in Chapter 10 for more. [GZ 2016]

source: Seneca the Younger, Apocolocyntosis 7.


torture and truth

Though it’s likely not an intentional reference to ancient practices, Trollope’s conjunction of torture and truth while describing the rough handling of courtroom witnesses recalls ancient Greek trials, in which torture was sometimes a touchstone or guarantee of truthfulness. [RR 2017]

source: Page duBois, Torture and Truth (Routledge 1991).



Mr. Chaffanbrass, one of Alaric’s lawyers, is described by the narrator as a gladiator. In ancient Rome, gladiators were fighters and a source of entertainment, battling other gladiators or even animals in arenas like the Colosseum. To call Mr. Chaffanbrass a gladiator who continues to fight even when he doesn’t have to paints a vivid illustration of a bloodthirsty lawyer. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that his defense of Alaric is a performance that eager spectators line the courtroom to watch, much like ancient Romans would have filled the Colosseum to observe gladiatorial games. [GZ 2016]



Mr. Chaffanbrass shines when he argues difficult cases in which Justice, Truth, and Mercy seem aligned against him. Trollope’s personification of these abstractions continues ancient practices and animates the principles opposing Mr. Chaffanbrass. [RR 2017]


black into white

Mr. Chaffanbrass takes pride in his career and in his ability to turn “black into white.” This refers to his ability to rescue his clients from a guilty verdict by arguing for their innocence (white) in spite of their apparent guilt (black). This phrase comes from one of Juvenal’s satires, in which the author’s friend decries the declining state of Rome and the Romans who turn “black into white,” referring to public men and their ability to influence popular opinion as they see fit. The irony is that we are made to delight in the possibility that Mr. Chaffanbrass can effect a not-guilty verdict for Alaric, while Juvenal expresses dislike for people who do this. [GZ & RR 2016]

Source: Juvenal, Satire 3.30.


basilisk eye

Trollope describes Mr. Chaffanbrass’ “basilisk eye” trained intently on a witness during questioning. According to Pliny the Elder, the basilisk is a reptile having the ability to kill with its sight; Mr. Chaffanbrass’ courtroom practices are thus given a gloss of the legendary. [RR 2017]

source: Pliny the Elder, Natural History 8.78.


domestic tyranny

While Mr. Chaffanbrass’ public performances in court are formidable, at home he is “devoid of any feeling of domestic tyranny.” In ancient Greece, a tyrant was a ruler above the laws; in contrast, at home Mr. Chaffanbrass “chooses to be ruled by his own children.” [RR 2017]

Chapter 40 – The Last Breakfast

hero worship

Despite Alaric’s loss of status among others, Gertrude still idolizes him: she “looked up to him as though he were a hero whom she all but worshipped.” Hero worship was a common cultic practice in antiquity, and here Gertrude is presented as nearly having her own form of it. Compare this with her apotheosis of Alaric in Chapter 37. [RR 2017]

Chapter 39 – Alaric Tudor Takes a Walk

“It would be needless to describe”

Although the narrator asserts that “it would be needless to describe” all of the proceedings of Alaric’s commital, he gives a description of it nonetheless. This literary device, called praeteritio, calls special attention to something that the narrator has said that they won’t talk about. Ancient Greek and Roman authors regularly used this device which allowed them to make claims, yet, by asserting that they wouldn’t make them in the first place, enabled them to distance themselves from possibly negative connotations of such claims. In this passage in The Three Clerks, the narrator’s use of praeteritio lets him distance himself and readers from negative feelings and descriptions of Alaric on trial. Throughout the novel Trollope has tried to limit negative judgment about Alaric from the reader, and the use of praeteritio here is a continuation of this theme. [GZ 2016]


Excelsior and sic itur ad astra

Trollope contrasts two Latin expressions of ascendancy—“higher” and “thus a going is made to the stars”—with Alaric’s present situation. Sic itur ad astra is taken from a scene in book 9 of Vergil’s Aeneid in which the god Apollo addresses Iulus, Aeneas’ son who was just successful in battle. Iulus’ victory leads to glory and justifies his place in a family of gods and humans who will become gods; Alaric’s foray, however, has led him “in quite a different direction.” Though Alaric aimed high, his actions have brought him low. [RR 2017]

source: Vergil, Aeneid 9.641.


worse than Greek to Gertrude

When Alaric attempts to explain his exact financial situation to Gertrude, the narrator states that it “was worse than Greek to Gertrude.” By this the reader is led to believe that Gertrude had a difficult time understanding everything that Alaric just explained to her. “It’s all Greek to me” is a common saying that connotes a similar meaning. Furthermore, because she is a woman, Gertrude would not be expected to be involved in her husband’s finances—a comparison is thus made between two spheres, the academic and the economic, in which Victorian gentlewomen were not expected to be competent participants. The sentiment that she knows even less about Alaric’s money troubles than a difficult ancient language is humorous, albeit in a sad way. [GZ 2016 & RR 2017]