As James Kincaid pointed out long ago, The Three Clerks is Trollope’s most Dickensian novel, and although not unsuccessful represents something of a dead-end to him, since he decided to move in a different direction, employing what we think of as a Trollopean style, which has a kind of avuncular, calm, sympathetic, gentlemanly tone. In contrast, the following apostrophe to the young Katie Woodward displays a kind of over-heated rhetoric that summons repetition, exclamation points, and archaicisms, such as thy:

“Poor Katie! — dear, darling, bonny Katie! — sweet sweetest, dearest child! why, oh why, has that mother of thine, that tender-hearted loving mother, put thee unguarded in the way of such peril as this? Has she not sworn to herself that over thee at least she would watch as a hen does over her young, so that no unfortunate love should quench thy young spirit, or blanch thy cheek's bloom? Has she not trembled at the thought of what would have befallen thee, had thy fate been such as Linda's? Has she not often — oh, how often! — on her knees thanked the Almighty God that Linda's spirit was not as thine; that this evil had happened to the lamb whose temper had been fitted by Him to endure it? And yet — here thou art — all unguarded, all unaided, left by thyself to drink of the cup of sweet poison, and none near to warn thee that the draught is deadly. [25]

Trollope’s description of Victoire, the little Frenchman who wins the hand of the heiress with £20,000, opens with sentences that resemble those found in the author’s later works, but the repeated phrasing in the third marks a shift in tone:

“The happy Victoire was dressed up to his eyes. That, perhaps, is not saying much, for he was only a few feet high; but what he wanted in quantity he fully made up in quality. He was a well-made, shining, jaunty little Frenchman, who seemed to be perfectly at ease with himself and all the world. He had the smallest little pair of moustaches imaginable, the smallest little imperial, the smallest possible pair of boots, and the smallest possible pair of gloves. Nothing on earth could be nicer, or sweeter, or finer, than he was. But he did not carry his finery like a hog in armour, as an Englishman so often does when an Englishman stoops to be fine. It sat as naturally on Victoire as though he had been born in it. He jumped about in his best patent leather boots, apparently quite heedless whether he spoilt them or not; and when he picked up Miss Golightly's parasol from the gravel, he seemed to suffer no anxiety about his gloves. [ch. 35]

This more Dickensian style appears not only in his addresses to characters and description of them but also in his descriptions of setting, in this case of the City, London’s financial center. Here, after mentioning that Alaric takes a cab into the financial district, Trollope’s narrator changes registers, moving from statement of an act to an apostrophe and then back to statement: “At three he put himself into a cab, and was taken to the city. Oh, the city, the weary city, where men go daily to look for money, but find none; where every heart is eaten up by an accursed famishing after gold; where dark, gloomy banks come thick on each other, like the black, ugly apertures to the realms below in a mining district, each of them a separate little pit-mouth into hell. Alaric went into the city, and found that the shares were still rising.”


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 8 April 2016