in Bertrams

Chapter 15 – Mr. Harcourt’s Visit to Littlebath

Mr. Die’s prophesying

Trollope describes George as working quite hard with Mr. Die the barrister, and Mr. Die prophesying greater and greater things for him.  Prophecy in the ancient world was notoriously difficult to interpret and often frustrating.  Further, it often came without stipulations as to when the events foretold would occur.  This could reflect George’s frustration with his current work situation, in which he is told he will be great by Mr. Die, but he has yet to see anything materialize.  [CMC 2012]


Penelope Gauntlet

Penelope Gauntlet is the aunt of Adela.  She lives in Littlebath, and allows Adela to visit and thus be with Caroline.  In Greek mythology, Penelope is the name of Odysseus’ extremely dutiful wife.  This aspect of the name does not appear to be used by Trollope.  However, Penelope Gauntlet is seen later in a manner not befitting the character she was named for:  when Adela needs her after the death of her father, her aunt is not at home but traveling.  This is in contrast to the Penelope of the Odyssey, who stayed at home while waiting for Odysseus to return.  [CMC 2012]



Upon meeting Caroline, Harcourt is actually charmed and seems to fall into easy conversation with her.  This greatly delights George, as he sees himself as having conquered Harcourt’s earlier apparent determination to not like her (if not outright judge her unworthy of George).  This use of “triumph” as well as the victorious language employed by Trollope to describe George’s feelings point to the Classical associations of the word, involving a Roman general who has defeated an enemy and been afforded a triumph by the Senate.  [CMC 2012]



Harcourt, upon meeting Caroline, is rendered speechless by her entrance into the room, her beauty, and her overall presence.  She is described by Trollope with divine imagery connected to the goddess Juno.  It is worth noting that Juno as queen of heaven had a certain degree of masculine agency, much like Caroline.  Also like Caroline, Juno is occasionally led into trouble by her pride.  By associating Caroline so strongly with Juno, Trollope is able to express a lot about Caroline’s character in relatively few words–Juno becomes a kind of allusive literary shorthand.  [CMC & RR 2012]


fox that lost its tail

George, Adela, and Harcourt are discussing Arthur and his current situation regarding the living, his mother, and the fact that he is not married.  George states that all clergymen with livings should be married.  Adela, in an attempt to appear light-hearted on the matter, likens George to the fox that lost his tail in Aesop.  In this fable, a fox loses her tail escaping from a trap.  Embarrassed by her misfortune, she tries to convince all the other foxes that having no tail is an advantage and that they should cut them off (she ultimately fails).  Adela is poking fun at George, saying that just because he is getting married does not mean all men must.  However, poor Adela is just putting on a brave face, as she secretly longs to marry Arthur.  [CMC 2012]

Source:  A translation of the fable at Aesopica, Laura Gibb’s Aesop site.



Caroline declares that she will not marry George until he is called to the bar, effectively extending their engagement for three more years.  George is annoyed at this declaration, and begins to become cross with Caroline.  Caroline states that she has made this decision because she has vetoed poverty.  This creates a comic echo of George’s earlier wished-for mental veto of their long engagement (see commentary for Chapter 13).  Certain Roman magistrates had the power to veto (Latin for “I forbid”) proposals of the Senate, and consuls had the ability to veto one another.  By using this word, Trollope puts imperious force of law behind Caroline’s absolute objection to poverty.  [CMC 2012]


the god that was to come down upon the stage

Caroline and George have reached an impasse with their marriage plans.  Due to pride, neither will yield in their wishes:  George to marry as soon as possible, Caroline to marry as soon as they are financially stable.  Miss Baker is hopeful that Mr. Bertram, the rich uncle and grandfather, will prove to be the god who comes down onto the stage and fix this problem by naming them his heirs.  This image comes from Greek tragedy’s deus ex machina, a god presented aloft who often extracts the other characters from an impossible situation.  It is interesting to note that in Trollope’s Victorian England, it is wealth that imparts this ability and not divinity, raising wealth and the power it gives to a near-divine status in society.  [CMC & RR 2012]