in Dr. Wortle's School

Chapter 02 – The New Usher

Mr. Peacocke’s Classical career

While Dr. Wortle is searching for a new teacher with a wife who could undertake domestic duties for the school, Mr. Peacocke—an Oxford-educated Classicist who became the vice-president of a Classical college in Missouri—is looking for employment.  In the 19th c., for a Classical scholar to move from Oxford, with its legacy of Classical scholarship, to a college in America with no comparable history at all, would have been considered a downgrade in terms of both quality and reputation.  For Mr. Peacocke to have made the move willingly could be viewed as a rather foolhardy choice.  Trollope describes Dr. Wortle himself as “a thorough-going Tory of the old school” who “considered himself bound to hate the name of a republic” and who “loved Oxford with all his heart.”  Yet, while he “had been heard to say some hard things” about Mr. Peacocke’s move to America, Dr. Wortle is prepared to forgive the man when he returns to the English fold and meets Dr. Wortle’s requirements.  [JE 2014]


hate the name of a republic

Trollope explains Dr. Wortle’s dislike for America by mentioning that as “a thorough-going Tory of the old school” Dr. Wortle “considered himself bound to hate the name of a republic.”  Trollope’s turn of phrase here recalls expressions of the Romans’ dislike of monarchy once they had founded a republic.  In Cicero’s De Re Publica we read that “once Tarquin was expelled, the Roman populace had such great hatred for the name of king.”  Trollope’s twist here on the Classical formulation is clever, as it employs a Classical prototype but inverts its political orientation:  the conservative Dr. Wortle supports monarchy and is skeptical of a republic.  [RR 2014]

Source:  Cicero, De Re Publica 2.52.


Mr. Peacocke’s Classical library

Mr. Peacocke’s small but comprehensive library shows that his Classical interests are focused on scholarship.  The collection’s lack of grandiosity indicates that Mr. Peacocke is not attempting to use his work with Classics to appear more cultured.  Trollope may be suggesting that Mr. Peacocke’s attitude toward scholarship is purer than that of Dr. Wortle, who is very concerned with his own public image.  [BL 2013]


Lady Altamont

Lady Altamont makes a brief appearance at Dr. Wortle’s school when her son, a pupil at the school, falls ill.  Her name underscores her lofty position in society, since alt- in Latin means “high” and mont– means “mountain.”  Her appearance in the novel provides an opportunity for readers to see the self-possession of Mrs. Peacocke in action:  when the high-placed Lady Altamont tries to give Mrs. Peacocke money for nursing Lady Altamont’s son, Mrs. Peacocke refuses it in such a way that Lady Altamont “blushed, and stammered, and begged a hundred pardons.”  Mrs. Peacocke may not have the social status of the marchioness, but her personal bearing is considerable.  [RR 2014]


decent people

Dr. Wortle is exasperated that the Peacockes will not dine at the Wortles’ house “like any other decent people.”  Mr. Peacocke explains that they are “not like any other decent people.”  Perhaps “decent” here is carrying some of the force of its Latin forebear decens, decentis, “fitting, proper.”  The Peacockes do not socialize with other “decent” people because their marital situation does not conform to social expectations of what is fitting or proper.  [RR 2014]



Although the Wortles’ choice to name their dog “Neptune” after the Roman god of the sea may seem a somewhat arbitrary use of Classics, Trollope has Neptune live up to the aquatic associations of his name when the dog pushes a young student into a stream.  [RR 2014]

When Mr. Peacocke rescues the boy, he shows a human capability above a god, even if it is just a dog named after a god.  This incident, along with the influence Mr. Peacocke has over the Jupiter-like Dr. Wortle and the esteem Dr. Wortle has for him, casts the quiet Classical scholar in the unlikely role of semi-Classical hero, though he is still only a hero in a humorous world where Dr. Wortle and Neptune the dog are gods.  [JE 2014]