in Old Man's Love

Chapter 02 – Mr. Whittlestaff

infernal gods

Mr. Whittlestaff’s father had not supported Mr. Whittlestaff’s academic aspirations and had “sent literature to all the infernal gods.” Despite the elder Mr. Whittlestaff’s disapproval of his son’s desire to pursue a fellowship (presumably in Classical literature) at Oxford, Trollope’s very phrasing of the disapproval has Classical overtones: the “infernal gods” recall the di inferi or Roman gods of the underworld. [RR 2018]



Trollope describes Mr. Whittlestaff’s sporting disposition, before and after the rejection by Catherine Bailey, with two related tricola. First, before the misfortune Whittlestaff is a moderate sportsman “fishing a good deal, shooting a little, and devoted to hunting,” but afterwards, Trollope says crisply, “he never fished or shot, or hunted again.” See the entry on the tricolon rhetorical figure in the commentary for Chapter 1. [CMS 2018]


Mr. Compas

It is attractive to think Trollope is punning with the name of the winning suitor here, if only because the name Compas sounds invented. Mr. Compas is missing the double s of compass, which would have made the name seem directed.  The Greek verb kompazō means “boast” (with an aorist stem kompas- meaning “upon boasting,” “just having boasted”) while the noun kompos is a noise that can also be a boast; thus is Mr. Whittlestaff’s rival degraded (on the next page Compas is overtly referred to as “so poor a creature”).  Possibly, however, the name describes the man’s conquest of Catherine Bailey: the Latin adjective compos means “in possession of”, or “having control over;” we reason that Trollope has put us off the scent by changing the vowel in Compas’ name, or has made a small joke of his possession of Catherine. [CMS 2018]

Sources: OLD, LSJ.


Classics and consolation

Mr. Whittlestaff has taken his loss so hard that he silences his mother when she brings up Catherine Bailey, and then “was not seen for many hours.” He intimidates others with his grief, a way for us to see his solitude.  He considers murder, then suicide, then he takes “to his classics for consolation” and reads the Roman prose authors Cicero, Caesar, and Livy. Trollope calls Cicero’s De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) “more effective.” It is a discussion of theology in three books, from the ancient philosophical points of view of an Academic, a Stoic, and an Epicurean, in which Cicero ultimately favors the Stoic perspective. [CMS 2018]



The English use of the verb abstract reflects the word’s Latin etymological components: abs (away from) and tract (from trahere, draw or drag). It is fitting that Trollope uses a Classically resonant word when describing how pursuits like fishing and fox-hunting cannot engage Mr. Whittlestaff’s mind after his disappointment in love, but Classics can. [RR 2018]



Mr. Whittlestaff does not speak about his mother to Mrs. Baggett, and Trollope attributes the reticence to there being “something too reverend to him in the idea of his mother” for Mr. Whittlestaff to speak of her to his serving woman. Trollope’s use of reverend relies on the force of the Latinate suffix –end, conveying a sense of necessity: Mr. Whittlestaff’s image of his mother must be revered. [RR 2018]


naming the name

Trollope’s English phrasing here recalls the use of internal or cognate accusatives found in both Latin and ancient Greek: the verb-based form (naming) and its object (name) have the same etymological origin. [RR 2018]

While the unusual construction, for English, is worth noting here, the phrase also elaborates the force of words already alive in this paragraph. The words of classical writers, and Cicero’s theological meditations in particular, have saved Whittlestaff from “an idea of blood.” While he could not have words about his mother “with a servant” after her death, yet Mrs. Baggett could herself speak of Mrs. Whittlestaff, and by such words he was comforted. The pain caused by Catherine Bailey consists in that she had given him up “after receiving the poetry of his vows” [my italics]. The power and powerlessness of words, their exchange, their failure and their blockage, here suggest the intense, and somewhat restrained, relationship Whittlestaff has to his emotional life. [CMS 2018]


agony, despair, pain, grief

These are the near-synonymous nouns that tumble out of Whittlestaff’s ruminations in a single paragraph as he contemplates whether to propose to be Mary’s lover not her father; he imagines a recreation of the old anguish with Catherine Bailey. All of these words are Greek or Latin in derivation, and perhaps the high diction of tragedy reflects the intensity, and what feels like the cosmic reach, of Mr. Whittlestaff’s pain. [CMS 2018]


great nasal prolongation

Mr. Whittlestaff’s face avoids the undesired effect of a long nose. Trollope’s description gains texture and humor from the polysyllabic Latinate nasal prolongation after the monosyllabic and Germanic great. [RR 2018]