in Bertrams

Chapter 33 – A Quiet Little Dinner

triumph and ovations

When Sir Lionel learns that his brother Mr. Bertram would not endorse a marriage between himself and Miss Baker, Sir Lionel realizes that even if Miss Baker would now agree to the match, “such triumph would be but barren” since it would not bring with it any of Mr. Bertram’s money.  Upon return to Littlebath Sir Lionel finds himself the “centre of all those amatory ovations which Miss Todd and Miss Gauntlet had prepared for him.”  The use of “triumph” and “ovations” in proximity recalls two kinds of celebratory processions for victorious Roman commanders, with an ovation being a lesser honor than a triumph.  In this context, both words convey irony, since Sir Lionel’s matrimonial plans have not, and will not, meet with success.  [RR 2012]


Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat

The narrator, in assessing Harcourt’s desire to see Caroline and George become friends, quotes this proverb in Latin–“whom God wishes to destroy, first he drives insane.”  The desire to see Caroline and George reconciled will lead Harcourt to become crazed, since the relationship with his wife will become strained to the point that he spies on her.  Given Trollope’s inclination to use the sentiments in Latin phrases to model plot development and patterns in his novels, this proverb seems to be an instance of foreshadowing.  We don’t know yet how Harcourt will be destroyed, but we do know that his destruction is coming after he is driven insane.  [CD 2012]

Trollope’s use of Latin also suggests that the sentiment expressed has trans-historical applicability.  Trollope’s introduction to the quotation reinforces its timelessness:  “…was not all this explained long even before Christianity was in vogue?”  [RR 2012]


Caroline’s triumphs

The narrator describes Caroline’s marriage to Harcourt and her subsequent social success as “triumphs” which she bears quietly.  Her victory is having married a rich, socially mobile politician of whom many people think highly, and the use of “triumph” is related to the Roman practice of publicly celebrations of military victories.  However, Caroline’s reserved reaction to her victories runs counter to the normal mode of public celebration.  This reflects how she has changed since she and George broke off their engagement.  In her marriage to Harcourt, she isn’t capable of giving love, and so she commits herself to serving Harcourt with a sense duty and pride.  Her lack of emotion doesn’t allow her to openly or even privately rejoice in her marriage.  Trollope also comments in general on the triumphs of beautiful women.  Caroline is the kind of woman for whom the “triumph” of a good marriage or large house comes easily, because “the world,” as the narrator says,” was ready to throw itself at her feet” on account of her beauty.  [CD 2012]


goddess’ shrine

The particular place on a couch from which Caroline receives and entertains guest is called her “goddess’ shrine.”  The use of this imagery develops Caroline’s character.  Before her marriage to Harcourt, she was described as having a balance of divine and human passions.  Now in a marriage that denies her emotional fulfillment, Caroline is seen as a statue of a goddess set up in an ancient shrine.  Her lack of affection and her commitment to ambition and pride leave her beautiful and awe-inspiring, but loveless and cold.  [CD 2012]


noli me tangere

When Caroline meets guests, she bows, and this bow seems to say noli me tangere.  This is a Latin translation of John 20:17, “Don’t touch me!”  Jesus says this to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, reminding her to be respectful of his godhood and to keep her distance.  When Caroline bows, she is reminding her guests not only that they shouldn’t touch her, but that any sort of emotional connection isn’t allowed them.  The distance apparent between Caroline and her guests is a further development of her life within her marriage.  Her godhood, her commitment to pride and duty are pursued to such an extent that she isn’t capable of loving Harcourt or relating intimately to anyone else.  She is beautiful and impressive as a goddess, yet detached in her relationships.  [CD 2012]


his spirit acknowledged her as a goddess

Upon seeing Caroline, George remembers his last encounter and with her and feels that he didn’t give her due respect.  Now meeting her as Lady Harcourt in her own home, he realizes how noble she appears and how much she seems like a goddess.  This aspect of her character makes him awkward and blush.  This episode further develops Caroline’s resemblance to a goddess.  George, who knew Caroline when she was most loving and human, now recognizes and fears Caroline’s bearing.  She seems to him a goddess, someone both beautiful and terrifying.  [CD 2012]


Acheron and Libitina

George, Harcourt, Baron Brawl, and Mr. Stistick are discussing various contemporary political figures and guessing as to their future reputations.  George mentions two politicians who were famous three and four decades ago, but are still remembered in the present time.  He describes their continuing fame as an escape from being swallowed completely by the Acheron.  The Acheron was a river in Classical mythology which flowed through the Underworld.  The politicians have escaped historical obscurity, and haven’t completely entered the land of the dead.  Baron Brawl then asks if Lord Boanerges, a contemporary politician, “will escape Libitina.”  Libitina was the Roman goddess of burial.  Like the Acheron, in this passage Libitina is associated with obscurity after death.  All these Classical references to the Underworld and to a burial goddess allow the gentlemen to have a playful discussion about the reputations of dead and living politicians while also wittily exercising the cultural literacy appropriate to their class.  As a group of educated men, they can all appreciate and participate in the allusions.  [CD & RR 2012]

Source:  OCD.



George answers Baron Brawl’s question about the future reputation of Lord Boanerges by saying that he will escape obscurity, but will probably not be worshiped as a hero.  In Ancient Greece, religious rites and practices grew around a group of mythological figures known as heroes.  These heroes were worshiped for the great deeds they had done, and occupied a state of being somewhere between human and divine.  The reputation of Lord Boanerges won’t be obscure, but he won’t have a devoted following of admirers comparable to a cult surrounding a hero.  [CD 2012]

Source:  OCD.



The upstairs room where Mrs. Stistick and Caroline spend the evening is called an “elysium.”  Elysium was a beautiful, temperate part of the Underworld in which heroes dwelt after their death.  The room’s description as an elysium is ironically opposed to Mrs. Stistick, whose lack of graceful conversation and engagement with her hostess has made her truly bad company for Caroline in their after-dinner retirement upstairs.  [CD & RR 2012]


Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat

After George has left Caroline’s house, she is thinking about her husband’s “wretched folly,” and the consequences that it may have.  This is the sentiment apparent in the proverb that was mentioned earlier in this chapter, Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat, “whom God wishes to destroy, first he drives insane.”  The narrator explains explicitly that Caroline isn’t thinking about the Latin proverb itself, but a related feeling.  By allowing Caroline to experience the sentiment without reference to the proverb, Trollope is fortifying the truthfulness of the saying.  The proverb describes a universal principle, and one doesn’t necessarily need to know Latin in order to understand it.  [CD 2012]