in Three Clerks

Chapter 17 – The Honourable Mrs. Val and Miss Golightly

not unhappy

Trollope describes the first months of Gertrude’s marriage to Alaric as “not unhappy,” and his phrasing makes use of the Classical rhetorical technique of litotes: asserting something by negating its opposite. The litotes here may give readers pause, since it stops short of characterizing Gertrude’s experience of marriage as unqualifiedly positive. [RR 2016]



At the end of the lengthy description of Clementina Golightly’s outward appearance, the narrator states that Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, hadn’t deigned to place a dimple on Clementina. Along with the preceding depiction of her, this notion confirms that Clementina’s beauty is anything but special. However, what makes her attractive is not any extraordinary beauty, but rather her fortune, to which Trollope calls our attention in the following paragraph. [GZ 2016]


inner sancta

Trollope discusses the appeal of flower-shows “to ladies who cannot quite penetrate the inner sancta of fashionable life”: since the shows are open, ladies who do not usually mix with the elite may be seen alongside them. In describing the exclusive echelons of society Trollope uses sancta, an English word borrowed from Latin and referring to holy places. The transference of a religious word to high society indicates its importance to the ladies who do not have easy admittance to it. [RR 2016]



The Latin word genius can be thought of as referring to the divine essence of one’s own self. In this context, it seems apparent that Trollope does not mean to use the English definition of this word, namely intelligence, but rather he is using the ancient Roman concept to imply that a fondness for money-making can be found throughout “the present age,” not just in Alaric Tudor. Because genius refers to an inherent quality within oneself, Trollope’s phrase “genius of the present age” qualifies an entire period of humankind in which everyone is concerned with obtaining money. An understanding of the Latin word genius thus affords us a better grasp of the place of money-making in the world of The Three Clerks. [GZ 2016]


rem…quocunque modo rem

“Money…by whatever means money.” Trollope uses this Latin quotation from one of Horace’s Epistles to epitomize the attitude toward making money which is prevalent in the world and which Alaric is slowly adopting. Trollope abbreviates the quotation, which reads in full: “Make money; if you be able, make money rightly; if not, make money by whatever means” (rem facias, rem, / si possis, recte, si non, quocumque modo rem). Horace himself ultimately argues against this view, but puts it into the mouth of an anonymous person and asks if such advice is beneficial. In the sentence following the quotation Trollope signals to readers that it does not completely capture Horace’s sentiment: “The remainder of the passage was doubtless applicable to former times, but now is hardly worth repeating.” This sentence prompts readers to either recall Horace’s Epistle or seek it out its “true” wisdom, since the truncated Classical quotation is discredited by Trollope. [RR 2016]

source: Horace, Epistles 1.1.65-6.


infernal friends, an Elysium

Trollope’s description of Charley’s socializing is given underworld overtones. His friends are “infernal,” a reference to fellow clerks at the Internal/Infernal Navigation office (see commentary for Chapter 2) which makes them sound like denizens of the underworld, and one of his favored haunts is called Charley’s “Elysium in Fleet Street,” configuring it as the peaceful part of the underworld. This imagery helps us to see that Charley—not just Alaric—is undergoing a moral descent. [RR 2016]