in Barchester Towers

Chapter 39 – The Lookalofts and the Greenacres

Stubbs the plasterer in the Ullathorne Elysium

This sequence contains one of the more extended Classical allusions in Barchester Towers.  Stubbs enters the party at what Trollope calls the “Ullathorne Elysium.”  Elysium was the location in the Underworld where divinely favored or virtuous people entered after their deaths.  It was a location characterized by bliss and enjoyment.  Having entered into such a heavenly space, Stubbs proceeds to whisper soft nothings into the ear of a young lady.  Trollope refers to her as a forest nymph and a dryad.  The image of the nymph is used by Trollope to show an innocent and playful flirtation.  Before the food (which is referred to as ambrosia and nectar, the food of the gods) is served, Stubbs is discovered by the rural potentate Mr. Plomacy.  He directs him to exit the gate on the basis that Stubbs is a city-dweller.  He is not a resident of the countryside and thus not invited to the party.  Mr. Barell, the coachman who should catch anyone sneaking into the party uninvited, is then referred to as a false Cerberus.  Cerberus was the beast under the control of Hades (in this case Mr. Plomacy).  Cerberus guarded the gates into the Underworld against the intrusion of the living.  Just when it seems Mr. Plomacy is about to expel Stubbs, Mr. Greenacre enters onto the scene.  He is called “the Goddess Mercy” by Trollope.  Much like the ending to a Greek play, a divinity descends to resolve the conflict in this episode of Barchester Towers.  In a humorous fashion Trollope plays with the character of Mr. Greenacre by relating him to a female character from Classical mythology.  Such playfulness helps deflate the tension of the story.  The use of so many Classical references in this passage adds to the satire.  It can seem as though the events are monumental in scope or earth-shaking with gods and goddesses and multi-headed beasts entering onto the scene.  However, it is merely a minor altercation at a party attended by tenants of the Thorne family.  The participants are humble tenants and journeymen, not great pillars of the universe.  Stubbs is raised to the level of a hero defying the gods, like Heracles, who himself fooled Cerberus, and Mr. Plomacy becomes a ruler of his domain and observer alert to anything which might cast his domain into disorder. The exaggerated treatment of the scene highlights the triviality of the events.  [TH 2005]

Sources:  Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology.