in Dr. Wortle's School

Chapter 09 – Mrs. Wortle and Mr. Puddicombe

Horace echoed

When the Peacockes discuss their situation, Mrs. Peacocke asserts that she is not ashamed of herself.  Mr. Peacocke assures her that he is ashamed of neither her nor himself.  Their conversation echoes the sentiment which Mr. Peacocke used Horace to express in Chapter 8 (see commentary on nil conscire sibi).  Mr. Peacocke’s use of Horace in conversation with Lord Carstairs consolidates the gentlemanly bond between them; when talking with his wife, Mr. Peacocke does not have recourse to Latin.

Mr. Peacocke complicates Horace’s sentiment somewhat here.  Although the Peacockes can take some comfort from their clear consciences, Mr. Peacocke reminds Mrs. Peacocke that the mores of their social context also matter, and their living situation runs counter to those norms.  [RR 2014]



There are many variant accounts of the phoenix in Greek mythology, but they hold in common that the phoenix is a long-lived bird, bursts into flames on its death, is reborn from its ashes, and is associated with the sun.  By calling Mr. Peacocke “the very phoenix of school assistants,” Trollope is connecting Mr. Peacocke to a rare mythical beast and to the sun itself; Mr. Peacocke is a shining paragon in his field whose equal it would be difficult to find.  Trollope could also be foreshadowing Mr. Peacocke’s own “rebirth” after his “annihilation,” that annihilation being the revelation of his uncertain marital status and the destruction of his reputation.  [JE 2014]

Phoenix is also the name of Achilles’ tutor, so perhaps Trollope is making a double Classical allusion here:  As “the very phoenix of school assistants,” Mr. Peacocke is both a rare bird and the equal of a famous mythological teacher.  [RR 2014]



Dr. Wortle thinks of himself as if he were in a battle against the bishop’s phalanx.  The phalanx was the primary military formation used in classical Greece.  It was an interlocking block of hoplites, citizen-soldiers armed with spears and shields.  Each hoplite was protected by half of his own shield and half of his neighbor’s shield.  As a result, the phalanx relied heavily on group coordination.  Dr. Wortle’s solitary stand against the phalanx may reflect the clash between individualism and collectivism that is present throughout the book.  Another important aspect of the phalanx is its rigidness.  The phalanx excelled at charging straight forward.  However, its interlocking structure made it difficult to change directions fluidly.  In this way, the likeness between the church and the phalanx may also show the church’s difficulty in adapting to the complexity of Mr. and Mrs. Peacocke’s situation.  [BL 2013]


Fortune and sin

When the Wortles are discussing Mrs. Peacocke, Dr. Wortle ask his wife, “Ought we not to be kind to one whom Fortune has been so unkind?”  Mrs. Wortle responds, “If we can do so without sin.”  While Dr. Wortle’s description of Mrs. Peacocke employs the Classical personification of Fortune, Mrs. Wortle’s response takes its key from Christianity.  The tension between these perspectives epitomizes the conflict of views about the Peacockes’ situation.  [RR 2014]