in Old Man's Love

Chapter 01 – Mrs. Baggett

on fate

At the novel’s outset, Mr. Whittlestaff “had during the last three months been asking himself the question as to what should be Mary Lawrie’s fate in life when her stepmother should have gone.” Trollope’s use of “fate” here and elsewhere in the novel is notable because although it seems like an invocation of a higher power at play in human life—the destiny overseen by the Classical goddesses the Fates—Trollope also signals that the “fate” of Mary (as well as other characters) is in very human hands: those of Mr. Whittlestaff. The novel will repeatedly show how Mr. Whittlestaff’s privileges of class and gender give him a fate-like power over others. [RR 2018]



Trollope is fond of the tricolon figure, and this first chapter has several. A tricolon is a rhetorical figure composed of three equivalent parts—three words or three phrases or clauses, often called tricolon crescens, meaning that the tricolon grows in impact, as in “I came, I saw, I conquered.”  But often too the three elements simply make something clear and easy to grasp without undue complexity.

The first tricolon comes late in Emma King’s letter: “You did not like Mrs. Lawrie, nor did I; nor, indeed, did poor Mary love her very dearly.” This tricolon is nicely complex: neither the writer nor the recipient liked Mrs. Lawrie, and Mary did not “love her very dearly.” Mr. Whittlestaff’s expression to Mrs. Baggett, “Here she is to come, and here she is to remain, and here she is to have her part of everything as though she were my own daughter,” follows the same pattern:  the first two elements are brief, the third one elaborated, but each is anchored with the expression “here she is to….” Again, with the same pattern in the tricolon that expands the third element, Mr. Whittlestaff asks Mrs. Baggett with impatience, “Haven’t you got enough to eat, and a bed to lie on, and an old stocking full of money somewhere?” [CMS 2018]