in Three Clerks

Chapter 22 – Crinoline and Macassar; or, My Aunt’s Will

Trollope and Charley’s use of litotes

Trollope has Charley’s writing display some of the features of Trollope’s own, including a fondness for litotes, a Classical technique of expressing something by negating its opposite. For instance here, “no inconsiderable portion” and “no undue familiarity.” [RR 2016]


Charley the censor

When Mrs. Woodward is reading aloud Charley’s story of Crinoline and Macassar, Charley is called a censor. This is a reference to the magisterial censors of ancient Rome whose job involved many different functions of the state, including general oversight of the morality of Rome’s citizens. It’s ironic that Charley is called a censor because while perhaps he understands the morality of his own actions, he chooses to ignore them. See the gloss on censor morum in the Chapter 19 commentary. [GZ 2016]


pervading genius

Trollope here has Charley use the Roman sense of genius or abiding spirit of a person or place. Macassar embodies the genius of his office. [RR 2016]


a cloud came over his brow

Trollope has Charley use an expression which he often uses himself, and it has a possible Classical source. See the commentary for Chapter 11 of The Claverings.



Elevating his beloved in his song, Macassar describes her as looking like “a Goddess or Queen.” Although we may be amused by the hyperbole, it prepares the way for more Classical imagery following. [RR 2016]


altar of Hymen

Macassar, the hero of Charley’s story, is overcome by the stress of needing to wed someone in order fulfill the conditions of his late aunt’s will, and he wonders if he can convince Crinoline to marry him quickly. Instead of enlisting Christian imagery, Charley uses the phrase “altar of Hymen,” referring to the ancient Greek god of marriage. Trollope himself often invokes Hymen when referring to matrimonial matters. [GZ & RR 2016]


goddesses and ambrosia

When Macassar looks at his beloved Crinoline, “[i]t was as though all the goddesses of heaven were inviting him to come and eat ambrosia with them.” After multiplying Crinoline into “all the goddesses,” Macassar and Charley quickly reduce her to a single being, “one goddess, the most beautiful of them all,” thus recalling Macassar’s earlier song. Ambrosia was the food of choice of ancient Greek deities and was associated with immortality. At first, we may think that this exaggerated imagery is a depiction of the intensity of Macassar’s love for Crinoline. In the same paragraph, however, Macassar’s passion and divine vision are broken when he reaches for his watch to check the time. [GZ & RR 2016]