in Three Clerks

Chapter 20 – A Day with One of the Navvies – Evening


With the first word of this chapter Charley uses Latin to exhort himself, “Higher!” Charley later repeats the motto to himself in the course of his evening at the Cat and Whistle, and once Charley gets quasi-engaged to Norah Geraghty Trollope remarks: “there was now no ‘Excelsior’ left for him.” [RR 2016]


stoic resolution

As Charley determines to do the right thing, the narrator says that he adopts a “stoic resolution.” Stoicism was a popular philosophy in both ancient Greece and Rome and it was characterized by an unwavering commitment to logic and reason. It is ironic, however, that Charley loses his resolve in the same paragraph. There is a sad humor in this, and it highlights the behavior that we’ve come to expect from Charley. [GZ 2016]


tranquil shrines of Bacchus

The bar that Charley frequents, the Cat and the Whistle, is referred to by the narrator as one of the “tranquil shrines of Bacchus.” Bacchus was the Roman god of wine, and thus the association of the bar with this god is appropriate. With the idea that this bar is a sort of temple and the use of the word “tranquil,” Trollope seems to conjure up images of less famous and less frequented shrines of the deities of ancient Rome. Trollope is suggesting that the Cat and the Whistle isn’t a crowded or popular bar. In addition, the use of the word “tranquil” belies the future turmoil that Charley deals with at this bar. [GZ 2016]


ingress and egress

Trollope plays with Latinate prefixes by juxtaposing these words for entrance and exit: in- is “into,” e- is “out of,” and they are added to the same stem, gress or “go.” [RR 2016]



Trollope calls Charley’s alcoholic drink “Falernian” after Falernian wine, a vintage famous in ancient Italy. It is mentioned by Horace in one of his odes and is cited by Trollope in Chapter 22 of The Small House at Allington. [RR 2016]

Source: Horace, Ode 1.27.9-12.



The narrator states that the room in which Charley can more privately converse with Mrs. Davis and Norah Geraghty in the Cat and Whistle is an “elysium,” the mythological resting place of heroes. Such a description seems to be true for Charley at the moment—it provides him with a reprieve from the troubles of his life. However, it is ironic that later in the story this same room becomes such a heavy burden for Charley. [GZ 2016]



The English noun reptile derives from the neuter singular form of the Latin adjective reptilis, reptile; the neuter form can be used substantively to mean “creeping thing.” Trollope seems live to the word’s etymological meaning here, since he has Charley—the metaphorical reptile—think of himself as “creeping downwards.” There is a sad implicit juxtaposition of Charley’s “reptilian” status with his motto of Excelsior. [RR 2016]


In Classical mythology nymphs are natural spirits taking the form of maidens, and here Trollope jokingly identifies the barmaid of the Cat and Whistle as an “attendant nymph.” This contributes to Trollope’s gently mocking, Classicizing portrait of the Cat and Whistle as a “temple” and “elysium.” [RR 2016]


dolus an virtus

While Mrs. Davis, the owner of the Cat and Whistle, thinks about her role in getting Charley to marry Norah, she realizes that what she’s doing isn’t entirely ethical. Although aiding her friend Norah, Mrs. Davis necessarily hurts Charley’s social standing. The narrator describes the situation with the Latin phrase dolus an virtus, “trickery or virtue.” These words come from book 2 of Vergil’s Aeneid, during Aeneas’ account of the sacking of Troy by Greek warriors; Coroebus, one of the Trojans, dons the uniform of the enemy Greeks to disguise himself to fight them back more successfully. Coroebus defends his actions by claiming that in times of war the boundary between deceit and bravery becomes less clear or even completely obscured. Trollope carefully notes that Mrs. Davis herself has not studied Latin and so does not frame her thoughts in these exact terms: the Classical reference is Trollope’s “translation” of Mrs. Davis’ thought into a different register. [GZ & RR 2016]

source: Vergil, Aeneid 2.390.


pomatum etc.

In this sentence Trollope plays with the different prose rhythms available in English due to the influence of Old English, Latin, and Greek on English vocabulary: “He put his arms round her waist and kissed her; and as he caressed her, his olfactory nerves perceived that the pomatum in her hair was none of the best.” The first half of the sentence—describing the physical action—is rendered in words without Classical influence, but in the second half of the sentence—relating Charley’s mental processing—Latinate vocabulary (with caressed, olfactory, nerves, perceived, and pomatum) comes to the fore. [RR 2016]


Norah’s sanctum

Trollope uses Latinate vocabulary—“the sanctum of her feminine retirement”—to jokingly elevate Norah’s bedroom. [RR 2016]