in Old Man's Love

Chapter 06 – John Gordon

habitation of the blest

Mrs. Baggett’s impression of reality is presented with much irony. Croker’s Hall is heaven and Portsmouth hell, for reasons outlined, but not so-called. Croker’s Hall is given a Vergilian cast, recalling the sixth book of the Aeneid and the “isles of the blest” where the shades of heroes live, whereas Portsmouth is “the other place”, beyond naming even Classically. [CMS 2018]


book of Fate

Mrs. Baggett is committed to leaving Croker’s Hall if Mary Lawrie marries Mr. Whittlestaff. While she may consider her departure to be as fixed as something “written in the book of Fate,” Trollope makes it clear that such would be her own decision, not the dictate of a higher power. As he does with Mr. Whittlestaff, Trollope invokes the Classical Fate in a way which may highlight the opposite: the ability of humans to shape their trajectories in life. See the entry on fate in the commentary for Chapter 1. [RR 2018]



In Julius Caesar Shakespeare has Brutus say of Caesar, “as he was / valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I / slew him.”  In Republican Rome the Latin word ambitio, which means “a going around,” expressed the movement of a political candidate going about canvassing for votes; while it also could refer to striving for honor or to the darker senses of ambition, it is very much an idea attached to public life. In Trollope’s world, the range of motion for a woman is so constrained that the word ambition, as Mr. Whittlestaff applied it to Mary’s options (governess, or his wife) in Chapter 5, or as Mary applies it to her dream of John Gordon, seems nearly perverse. Mr. Whittlestaff comes to recognize some of this constraint as the novel proceeds. See the related gloss in the commentary for Chapter 4 of Framley Parsonage. [CMS 2018]

sources:  Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 3.2.


dreamed a dream, dreaming of that dream

These phrases arise in adjacent sentences, are cognate, or internal accusatives again, in which the object of the verb is the same word as the verb. (See the entry on “naming the name” in the commentary for Chapter 2.) Here “dream” seems opposed to “ambition”, and the repetition makes a problem out of Whittlestaff’s view that a dream is passive and insubstantial, in contrast to ambition. Both terms are Whittlestaff’s, to describe Mary’s experience, and as if she were then unable to do away with his terminology she tries in her thinking to object that the dream has more aspect of ambition than Whittlestaff’s arrangements for her do. The four repetitions of dream seem to protest against Whittlestaff’s insistence that Mary see her own life as he would see it. [CMS 2018]


John Gordon’s fate

At the chapter’s end Trollope provides a quick sketch of John Gordon’s time in Africa. We find here another instance in which a character’s so-called “fate” is the result of human decisions and determinations; see the commentary on “the book of Fate” earlier in this chapter. [RR 2018]