in Three Clerks

Chapter 39 – Alaric Tudor Takes a Walk

“It would be needless to describe”

Although the narrator asserts that “it would be needless to describe” all of the proceedings of Alaric’s commital, he gives a description of it nonetheless. This literary device, called praeteritio, calls special attention to something that the narrator has said that they won’t talk about. Ancient Greek and Roman authors regularly used this device which allowed them to make claims, yet, by asserting that they wouldn’t make them in the first place, enabled them to distance themselves from possibly negative connotations of such claims. In this passage in The Three Clerks, the narrator’s use of praeteritio lets him distance himself and readers from negative feelings and descriptions of Alaric on trial. Throughout the novel Trollope has tried to limit negative judgment about Alaric from the reader, and the use of praeteritio here is a continuation of this theme. [GZ 2016]


Excelsior and sic itur ad astra

Trollope contrasts two Latin expressions of ascendancy—“higher” and “thus a going is made to the stars”—with Alaric’s present situation. Sic itur ad astra is taken from a scene in book 9 of Vergil’s Aeneid in which the god Apollo addresses Iulus, Aeneas’ son who was just successful in battle. Iulus’ victory leads to glory and justifies his place in a family of gods and humans who will become gods; Alaric’s foray, however, has led him “in quite a different direction.” Though Alaric aimed high, his actions have brought him low. [RR 2017]

source: Vergil, Aeneid 9.641.


worse than Greek to Gertrude

When Alaric attempts to explain his exact financial situation to Gertrude, the narrator states that it “was worse than Greek to Gertrude.” By this the reader is led to believe that Gertrude had a difficult time understanding everything that Alaric just explained to her. “It’s all Greek to me” is a common saying that connotes a similar meaning. Furthermore, because she is a woman, Gertrude would not be expected to be involved in her husband’s finances—a comparison is thus made between two spheres, the academic and the economic, in which Victorian gentlewomen were not expected to be competent participants. The sentiment that she knows even less about Alaric’s money troubles than a difficult ancient language is humorous, albeit in a sad way. [GZ 2016 & RR 2017]