in Bertrams

Chapter 31 – Sir Lionel Goes to His Wooing

Niobean deluge

Trollope notes all the things that Caroline does not do during her honeymoon with Harcourt.  Unlike other ladies, she does not turn “herself into a Niobean deluge” in distress during her travels, but she is also incapable of showing affection for Henry.  Niobe, according to mythology, had a large family and claimed that she was better than the goddess Leto on that basis.  When Leto’s children–Apollo and Diana–killed Niobe’s sons and daughters, Niobe’s husband committed suicide in his grief, and Niobe herself was transformed into an ever-weeping spring.  Trollope’s hyperbolic Classical allusion here is aimed at women who exaggerate their discomforts while traveling abroad.  We might also contrast Niobe and Caroline in another regard:  Niobe feels excessive emotion when she loses her family, while Caroline does not feel anything for her husband Harcourt.  [KS & RR 2012]

Source:  Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.146-312.


vestal zone

Sir Lionel considers the possibility of proposing to Miss Baker and realizes that he has a time constraint because she will visit Mr. Bertram soon.  After that, she would also have to be willing to wear her “vestal zone” as they wait for Mr. Bertram to die.  In this instance, “zone” follows Greek usage and refers to a belt or sash.  Vesta was the Roman goddess of the hearth and home.  Vesta was considered a virgin, and the fire in her sanctuary in the Roman Forum was guarded by Vestal Virgins, who were required to remain chaste throughout their time of service.  The use of “vestal zone” highlights Miss Baker’s long-standing maiden status as well as her service through the years in providing a home for Caroline.  [KS & RR 2012]

Source:  OCD.



Sir Lionel begins to prepare himself for his proposal to Miss Todd.  Trollope notes that despite his old age, Sir Lionel still holds himself well and has “that decent look of military decorum which, since the days of Caesar and the duke, has been always held to accompany a hook-nose.”  In the pairing of Julius Caesar and the Duke of Wellington we can find another instance of Victorian England’s presentation as the continuation and heir of imperial Rome.  While Sir Lionel’s appearance seems to follow in a grand tradition, Trollope’s praise perhaps comes to a humorously anti-climactic end with mention of a “hook-nose.”  [KS & RR 2012]


the Graces

Sir Lionel continues in his preparation, but he chooses to make “no unusual sacrifice to Graces.”  The Graces are daughters of Zeus and are considered goddesses of beauty.  In mythological sources we can find them participating in the toilettes of Aphrodite and Pandora.  Sir Lionel decides not to adorn himself because he thinks a seemingly uncultivated appearance will be more appealing to Miss Todd.  [KS & RR 2012]

Sources: Homer’s Odyssey 8.364-366 (Graces with Aphrodite).
Hesiod, Works and Days 73-74 (Graces with Pandora).



As Sir Lionel and Miss Todd are discussing Miss Baker, Miss Todd speaks of Miss Baker’s beauty.  Sir Lionel believes that this does not “augur well for his hopes.” An augur was an ancient Roman diviner who interpreted the flight and activity of birds and how that related to the will of the gods. Miss Todd’s appraisal of Miss Baker does not “augur” well for Sir Lionel, because Miss Todd believes that Sir Lionel should be interested in Miss Baker and not her.  [KS 2012]