in Bertrams

Chapter 39 – The Two Widows

clouded brows

On their return voyage George and Arthur have met two widows, Mrs. Cox and Mrs. Price.  The two women had previously been attached to two other gentlemen.  The two gentlemen now displaced are said to have clouded brows.  This turn of phrase references an epistle by Horace and was used earlier in the novel by Trollope (see commentary for Chapter 25).  In the epistle, Horace tells his addressee Lollius to remove the cloud from his brow.  By using this reference, Trollope calls the reader’s attention back to the previous instance of this reference, in which George is upset at the news of the marriage of Caroline to Harcourt.  Here, George is humorously the cause of another presumed lover’s clouded brow.  [CMC 2012]

Source:  Horace, Epistle 1.18.94.


divinely perfect Mrs. Cox

The major and captain to whom Mrs. Cox and Mrs. Price had been attached prior to the arrival of Arthur and George had been bragging to their friends on the ship about their lady friends.  Mrs Cox is said to be divinely perfect.  This is an echo of earlier descriptions of Caroline, though not nearly as extended.  Here, Trollope appears to be using the description in jest, as it is presumed that Major Biffin and Captain M’Gramm have exaggerated to their friends.  The humor extends beyond the two men, as the reader is invited to contrast this description of George’s current female companion with that of Caroline, with whom he really belongs.  [CMC 2012]


hinc illae lacrymae

Prior to the arrival of George and Arthur, passengers on the boat had assumed that Major Biffin and Mrs. Cox were engaged.  Major Biffin had boasted about the favour he found with Mrs. Cox but had not confirmed their engagement–and so Mrs. Cox felt free to transfer her attention and affections to George, leaving Major Biffin on his own.  “From this source those tears”–a quotation taken from Terence’s comedy Andria.  The fact that Trollope’s source-text here is a Roman comedy reinforces Trollope’s humorous presentation of the on-ship romances.  [CMC & RR 2012]

Source:  Terence, Andria 1.1.126.



George compares Mrs. Cox to Hebe, daughter of Zeus/Jupiter and Hera/Juno, the goddess of youthful beauty.  As they approach England, however, George sees Mrs. Cox less as a goddess and more as a widow who has acted inappropriately.  Trollope is using the comparison to Hebe for comedic effect and to make a point to his readers that outside of England, people often appear not as they truly are.  The rules and codes that govern behavior and social interactions within England itself are relaxed when characters travel outside of England.  [CMC 2012]

Trollope gives Mrs. Cox only the illusion of goddess-hood, while he has bestowed on Caroline more solidly divine characteristics and bearing.  Perhaps it is no mistake, then, that Trollope has George liken Mrs. Cox to a lesser divinity, Hebe, while Trollope connects Caroline to a major goddess, Juno.  As the goddesses differ in magnitude, so do the women differ in beauty and character–so also do the depths of George’s attachment to them:  his attraction to Mrs. Cox is passing, but his love for Caroline cannot be overcome.  [RR 2012]