in Barchester Towers

Chapter 25 – Fourteen Arguments in Favour of Mr. Quiverful’s Claims

Medea and her children

An odd reference; Medea ended up killing her two children by the Argonaut Jason, whom she married after helping him win the Golden Fleece and flee from Colchis.  Euripides presents Medea as wildly despairing of Jason’s infidelity and all the things she gave up to follow him (such as a place in her country and her father’s household), and then, after having been offered sanctuary by a king, she decides to kill her children rather than allow her deserting husband to have the benefit of them.  Mrs. Quiverful would not stoop to killing her children, but she is as scheming as Medea was, and has the same habit of appealing to authorities for mercy, as Medea appealed to King Creon and King Aegeus.  However, it should be pointed out that the two women’s motivation is very different:  Medea is concerned most with her own dishonour at the hands of her husband, while Mrs. Quiverful’s main worry is honestly the welfare of her large family.  [JM 2005]

Sources:  Euripides, Medea.


under the rose

Translated directly from Latin sub rosa, an idiomatic way of saying “secretly, clandestinely,” stemming from the Roman practice of hanging a rose as a symbol of secrecy.  Cupid, the child of Venus, the goddess of love, used a rose to bribe the god of silence so that he would keep silent on the matter of Venus’ love affairs.  Hence it became a symbol of secrecy, and was sculpted into the ceilings of banquet halls, and much later placed above confessionals.  [JM 2005]

Sources:  AHD.
Entry in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.



From Latin sesqui- “one and a half times” + ped “foot,” so “a foot and a half long.”  In his Ars Poetica, Horace sets out to describe the proper ways to go about writing poetry, beginning and continuing at length with the idea that a good poem is consistent and uniform.  So he adjures authors to avoid switching between comic and tragic tones, and between high speech and low, unless necessary; it is at this point that the word “sesquipedalian” comes up (sesquipedalia verba), referring to the higher mode of speaking as in a tragic performance.  Trollope describes one of Mrs. Proudie’s house-servants this way, but as he never speaks that we hear of, it seems less than apt.  Trollope could be using “sesquipedalian” to refer to the man’s greater than average height.  In Chapter 3 of Barchester Towers, one of Mrs. Proudie’s attendants is described as “a six-foot hero.”  [JM & RR 2005]

Sources:  OED.
Horace, Ars Poetica 97.


Triumph sat throned upon her brow

Trollope here treats Triumph as almost a divine entity, in a very Roman manner; Mrs. Proudie’s expression shows triumph, perhaps almost as though she herself is Triumph.  As often, Trollope is aggrandizing something trivial (in this case, a marital squabble between the bishop and his wife, in which she emerges the victor) by means of a Classical reference.  [JM 2005]



Such wording may recall ancient Roman patron/client relationships, though the British had developed their own system of patronage–in which case, we might be invited to see a continuity between practices.  [RR 2011]


Theseus and an Amazon

Theseus was a hero-king in Greek myth, well-known for many adventures.  One of these was the capture of an Amazon bride, Hippolyta, while he was fighting the Amazons with Heracles.  He sired a child with her, and she died soon after.  Trollope compares an ideally meek woman to the more aggressive, Amazonian woman Mrs. Quiverful is about to become.  [JM 2005]

Sources:  OCD.


Priam’s curtain

Trollope quotes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2.  Priam was the king of Troy and the father of Hector, who fought Achilles during the Trojan War. He also had numerous children by several wives, making him apt for comparison with Mr. Quiverful. [JM 2005]

Sources:  Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 2 1.1.72.