in Three Clerks

Chapter 27 – Excelsior


The title of this chapter is the Latin motto—Higher—which has already been used in regard to Alaric and Charley.  Now it is applied to the marriage hopes of both Clementina and Norah: for Clementina it is a lofty attainment to be engaged to the expert dancer M. Jaquêtànape, and Norah thinks of a marriage to Charley as a desirable rise in the world. Trollope makes it clear in Norah’s case that she does not herself invoke the Latin word but rather the equivalent translation “into excellent Irish.”

At the chapter’s close “Excelsior!” appears again in reference to Alaric and Charley. Alaric exhorts himself with the Latin when he envisions future advances in his career, and Charley’s thoughts of avoiding marriage with Norah and instead joining himself to Katie are accompanied by the motto. Charley, however, is immediately brought low by the bailiff’s hand.  [RR 2016]



When Katie wakes up feeling ill on the morning after the ball at Mrs. Val’s home, a family doctor is called to look at Katie. The doctor believed that Katie’s fall into the river is what prompted her symptoms, but as the narrator says, had the doctor known about the dancing episode at Mrs. Val’s home, he would “have acquitted the water-gods of the injury.” Invocation of such non-Christian deities gives a Classical yet humorous flavor to this passage and draws attention to the fact that as far as the doctor doesn’t understand Katie’s illness, perhaps the prescribed treatment won’t make her feel better either. [GZ 2016]



In contrast to the simplicity of the visitors’ waiting area at the Office of Internal Navigation, the luxurious and spacious sitting area at the Office of Weights and Measures is described by the narrator as “quite a little Elysium.” This reference to the Classical counterpart of the Christian heaven draws on earlier comparisons of these two offices and reinforces Charley Tudor’s lowly and morally questionable position. [GZ 2016]



Undy introduces Alaric to men “whom to know should be the very breath in the nostrils of a rising aspirant.” Trollope’s wording draws on the common use of English aspirant to name someone who is ambitious to attain a certain station or office, but it also activates the Latin etymology of the word—“breathing.” [RR 2016]


ancient customs

Sir Gregory Hardlines “may, perhaps, be supposed to have had some slight prejudice remaining in favour of ancient customs” in regard to obtaining a job with the civil service. The use of terms such as ancient, patronage, and candidates may together impart a Roman flavor to this passage, conflating practices of British preferment with the Roman patron/client system and Roman seekers of office. This connection to ancient history makes the Victorian practices which Mr. Jobbles would like to dismantle seem all the more entrenched in contemporary society. [RR 2016]


St. Peter and Elysium

According to the narrator, Sir Gregory Hardlines hypothetically likens himself to “St. Peter to whom are confided the keys of the Elysium,” in the sense that as a member of the Examination Board, Sir Gregory discriminates among the candidates who are trying to enter public service (the Elysium in this analogy). This combination of Christian and Classical imagery makes Sir Gregory seem doubly powerful (but the substitution of the Classical heaven for the Christian heaven prevents him from seeming blasphemous) while highlighting his moral rectitude (Christianity) and social influence (Classicism). [GZ 2016]



When Sir Gregory Hardlines recommends Alaric Tudor as a replacement for Mr. Jobbles’ position at the Examination Board, the relationship between Alaric and Sir Gregory seems like that of a client and patron in ancient Rome. In ancient Roman society, a client attended to his patron dutifully, just like Alaric was said to have “been Sir Gregory’s confidential man all through.” In return, the patron provided the client with connections and resources that only the patron usually had access to. [GZ 2016]