in American Senator

Chapter 74 – Benedict


The title of this chapter recalls Benedick, one of the protagonists of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, who finally marries Beatrice after a long bachelorhood.  Such a reference is fitting here, since this chapter contains the arrangements for Lord Rufford’s marriage to Miss Penge, and the OED cites instances of “benedict” used as a generic noun for any long-standing bachelor who finally marries.  An ironic Classical echo may be operative in addition to the Shakespearean one:  “Benedict” comes from Latin benedictus, “blessed.”  Although Lord Rufford’s sister may consider him “blessed” in his wife-to-be, Lord Rufford knows that Miss Penge will change his habits and, when married, he will not be allowed the luxuries of his bachelor days.  [RR 2012]

Sources:  Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing.



Lady Penwether is discussing Lord Rufford’s predicament with Sir George.  In her mind it would be best for Lord Rufford to propose to Miss Penge because it would free him of Arabella and the public’s opinion concerning his treatment of Arabella.  Lady Penwether likens Arabella to a “harpy,” which is a mythological vulture-like bird with the face of a woman.  The very name “harpy” is derived from the Greek word for “snatch.”  This imagery is invoked due to Arabella’s sudden appearance and “attack” on Lord Rufford.  [KS & RR 2012]


oracle and demigods

Lady Penwether is attempting to assist Miss Penge in getting Lord Rufford to propose.  Throughout these attempts, Lord Rufford enjoys the status of an “oracle” in the house.  The ladies treat him as if he were some sort of divine mouthpiece whose every word uttered has extra significance.  The ladies are submissive and receptive toward everything Lord Rufford says.  The heightened deference is extended even to Lord Rufford’s horses, who are treated as “demigods.”  [KS & RR 2012]


what such oaths were worth

Lord Rufford compares Arabella and Miss Penge and remembers that Arabella had “sworn that she would never be opposed to his little pleasures.”  But, Trollope tells us, Rufford “knew what such oaths were worth.”  On the antiquity of this sentiment, Arthur Leslie Wheeler says, “The unreliability of woman’s oaths had become proverbial as early as the time of Sophocles (fr. 741):  ‘woman’s oaths I write on water.'”  Wheeler demonstrates the use of the idea in poems by Callimachus and Catullus.  [RR 2012]

Source:  Arthur Leslie Wheeler.  Catullus and the Traditions of Ancient Poetry.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1934, p. 231.



In talking with Lord Rufford, Miss Penge calls Arabella “that woman who persecuted you.”  Miss Penge is probably referring first and foremost to Arabella’s persistent harassing of Lord Rufford, but the Latin etymology of the word is also at play.  The Latin verb persequi means “thoroughly follow” and even “hunt after” or “take vengeance on”–all of which Arabella has done to Lord Rufford.  In Trollope’s time these other meanings could be conveyed by the English word.  [RR 2012]

Sources:  LS, OED.