In The Three Clerks, a novel that includes marriages for both love and money, Trollope creates traditional characters of romance like the couples Gertrude Woodward and Alaric Tudor and Katy Woodward and Charlie Tudor and as well as those for whom marriage is primarily a means of economic survival. Most of those marrying for money are men, such as the Frenchman Victoire, who coldbloodedly and, as it turns out, skillfully makes marrying for money his chief occupation. Trollope mocks the Frenchman in one of his more Dickensian passages, but occasionally he has sympathy for those for whom marriage is a means of survival. Norah Geraghty, Charlie Tudor’s poor Irish “barmaid houri” at The Pig and Whistle in Norfolk Street, receives much kinder treatment from the author, who clearly understands how few choices the young girl has and that marriage is her only chance at surviving economically. “Hers, indeed,” Trollope tells is, “was a cruel position. Her face was her fortune, and her fortune she knew was deteriorating from day to day.”
She loves Charlie, but another suitor, the unappealing Peppermint, wants to marry her. “She could not afford to lose the lover that she loved, and also the lover that she did not love.” She knows she has to marry and marry soon, but, like other characters in the novel, such as Alaric, “she also had her high aspirations; she desired to rise in the world, to leave goes of gin and screws of tobacco behind her, and to reach some position more worthy of the tastes of a woman. 'Excelsior,' translated doubtless into excellent Irish, was her motto also. It would be so great a thing to be the wife of Charles Tudor, Esq., of the Civil Service, and more especially as she dearly and truly loved the same Charles Tudor in her heart of hearts.” Throughout the novel Trollope associates Excelsior with Alaric Tudor, whose ambitions, great abilities, and moral weaknesses produce a meteoric civil service career that ends in prison, and when using it in describing poor Norah’s quandry the novelist employs the same technique found in Dante’s Divine Comedy and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King — creating moral spectrum by means of a range of characters who confront the same issue or succumb to the same moral failing. Alaric's commitment to Excelsior, his overweaning ambition, damages the lives of the orphan whose money he is supposed to protect as well as that of his wife and child, but Norah, who is one or two steps from the abyss, knows that survival is her first, her very first, need, and therefore she knew “that it was not for her to indulge in the luxury of a heart, if circumstances absolutely forbade it. To eat and drink and clothe herself, and, if possible, to provide eating and drinking and clothes for her future years, this was the business of life, this was the only real necessity” (ch. 27).
Trollope, Anthony. The Three Cerks. Project Gutenberg E-text prepared by Andrew Turek and revised by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D., and an anonymous Project Gutenberg volunteer.
Last modified 16 April 2016