in Bertrams

Chapter 28 – The Solicitor-General in Love

Elysium and asphodel

Trollope has shifted into an essay-like register just as Caroline and Harcourt are walking together after church.  He generalizes that walking with one’s lover is an Elysium on earth, and that it is the closest mortals can come to walking through the fields of asphodel.  Elysium was the realm of Greek heroes in the afterlife, and asphodel was a plant that grew there.  Trollope has switched into a high Classical register for this “essay” in order to convey the magnitude of his feelings on the matter.  The use of Elysium and asphodel furthers this tone.  It is of note that these are associated with the dead who have died valiantly in battle, not living lovers.  The contrast between the Classical/martial and Trollopean/domestic uses of the two words creates tension for the reader.  [CMC 2012]


goddess made of buckram and brocade, human beings with blood in their veins

Trollope is talking about the pleasures of walking alone with one’s lady-love, stating that being alone with them allows one to discover that they are not untouchable goddesses but mortal.  The contrast between divinity and mortal echoes a scene in the Iliad in which Athena is wounded in battle and–as the poet explains–since she is divine she bleeds not blood but ichor.  Caroline has already been likened extensively to the goddess Juno, and Trollope’s language here reminds his readers that all woman, and Caroline especially, are not goddesses but actual humans.  Although Caroline will later become much more goddess-like and less human, frozen as a bloodless statue in her marriage to Harcourt, by the end of the novel she will have re-entered the human fold.  [CMC & RR 2012]

Source:  Homer, Iliad 5.340.



After mentioning that Harcourt and Caroline are walking together after church, Trollope is describing at length the joys of walking with one’s lover.  He addresses readers of his own age as his “friends, born together with me in the consulship of Lord Liverpool” and reminds them that, for them, such joys are in the past.  The consulship belonged to two citizens for one year and was considered the highest attainable office in the Roman Republic (with the possible exception of the censor).  Trollope is dating himself and his contemporaries as being born in the “consulship” of Lord Liverpool the Prime Minister.  Trollope is equating the British office with that of consul, playing on Victorian England’s view of itself as successor to Rome, since Romans often dated things by consulships as well.  By using “consulship” to date himself and his audience, Trollope maintains the Classical register of this passage and associates Rome with England very strongly.  [CMC & RR 2012]


vixi puellis nuper idoneus, et militavi

Trollope here is speaking about how he and his contemporaries are not as young as they once were, and he laments that love is no longer the same as when he was a young man.  He quotes Horace to illustrate this point:  “I lived, recently, suitable for girls, and I fought not without glory.”  (Trollope quotes only as far as “I fought,” assuming that his audience will be able to complete the tag or at least understand its point.)  Horace too laments that he is too old to successfully play the game of love, though once he was quite good at it.  Trollope is using Classics as a universal standard here:  the phenomenon is common enough, but Classics serves to crystallize it.  This is also in keeping with the register of the rest of the mini-essay on love in this part of the novel.  [CMC & RR 2012]

Source:  Horace, Ode 3.26.1-2.


five lustrums

Trollope is asking his readers if they envy young men who are still fresh to the world and to the game of love.  In telling the age of the hypothetical young men, Trollope chooses to use the phrase “five lustrums” in place of “25 years.”  In ancient Rome a lustrum was originally a sacrifice that was performed after the census, which took place every five years.  It came to mean a period of five years.  By using this phrasing, Trollope is able to maintain the Classical register and tone that he has been employing now for some time during his exposition on love.  [CMC 2012]



Trollope is describing Harcourt’s astonishing good fortune in life, especially at such a young age.  Given Harcourt’s political success, wealth, and choice of bride, Trollope rhetorically asks whether he had indeed found an Elysium on earth.  Elysium was the realm of heroes in the Greek underworld.  Harcourt has found his own Elysium as he has seemingly triumphed in heroic fashion over Victorian society and its brutal competition: he has excelled and (at least for the time being) found paradise.  Trollope is using Classics as a universal benchmark here, but he could also be using Elysium to comment on what English society now views as heroic.  [CMC 2012]


goddess class and beauty of a marble bust

Harcourt and Caroline are walking after church, and Harcourt is admiring his choice of bride.  In thinking about her beauty, he is happy to note that it is not tied to the appeal of youth.  Instead, it belongs to a “goddess class” that seems to defy age.  This description of Caroline is in keeping with her earlier characterization as Juno.  However, here the reader begins to notice a subtle change in the way Caroline is described.  When first describing Caroline, Trollope was careful to point out her all-too-human slight flaws.  Here, there is no such attempt.  Trollope could be signaling a change in Caroline, that she is slowly turning into a frozen statue of a goddess:  beautiful and ageless yes, but also less alive.  [CMC 2012]

In other novels Trollope finds statuesque looks, however remarkable, less desirable than the beauty of fully alive, fully human women.  Griselda Grantly in Framley Parsonage is lovely and likened to a statue, but Trollope clearly prefers Lucy Robarts and her animation.  In The Warden Eleanor Harding’s personality surpasses the attractiveness of a Classical bust.  See commentary for Chapter 11 of Framley Parsonage and Chapter 11 of The Warden.  [RR 2012]