Trollope's Apollo: Information Fluency through Reception Studies

What follows is a script for a presentation I gave this past March at the CIC Workshop for Information Fluency in Ancient Studies. Teams of professors, librarians, and senior administrative officers gathered to discuss various issues related to information fluency and devise information fluency plans for their programs and campuses. The project I describe in my talk is supported by the Center for Hellenic Studies and provides an example of a non-traditional approach to the development of information fluency skills in students of Classics.

The image is a detail from William Morris’ acanthus wallpaper design, 1875, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The image is a detail from William Morris’ acanthus wallpaper design, 1875, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Let me start with what I’m not going to talk about.  At Hendrix, we have a scaffolding of traditional information fluency skills and activities built into our Classics coursework and culminating in a research portfolio during the senior year.  Work for the senior portfolio typically includes:  translating Latin or Greek; grammatical analysis; lexical analysis (using TLG, PHI, or Perseus resources); writing annotated bibliographies and an interpretive essay; and giving a conference-like presentation to peers.  A number of years ago I wanted to complement this traditional route with another kind of project, using students’ developing expertise in Classics while encouraging them to exercise slightly different skills and move into different territory.  I wanted to create a project that:

  • could be worked on as a team of Classics majors and minors;
  • would allow students to apply what they know and extend their basic knowledge of Classical antiquity;
  • would give them the opportunity to bring their knowledge to bear on post-antique material in a way which would make a new contribution;
  • and would include presenting our work to the world in an appropriate form which could reach multiple audiences.

The result of this wish-list?  Trollope’s Apollo (, an ongoing project to explore the various uses of Classics in the novels of Anthony Trollope.

Three teams of junior and senior Classics majors and minors have participated so far, and by the end of spring 2012 we will have treated nine novels.[1]  Each team meets for a semester in a seminar-like setting to discuss the novels, write and revise glosses, and post the results online.  For their participation, students receive a course credit as well as a credit in the Odyssey Program, Hendrix’s initiative to promote engaged learning.

Why did I choose Trollope, whose novels focus mostly on the lives, loves, and politics of genteel British society of the Victorian era?  Part of the answer is personal, yet not inconsequential:  Trollope is one of my favorite authors, and I wanted to find a way to bring that personal interest into my professional life.  I also had a hunch that students would enjoy Trollope even though they might not have read him before.  But Trollope’s novels seemed like promising ground for academic reasons, as well.  Trollope’s uses of Classics are more than what I would call “ornamental”–they are often part of the machinery of his novels to such an extent that not looking at them means losing sight of some of what each novel is about.  And yet, Trollope’s relationship to Classics was markedly ambivalent.  On the one hand, he considered his school-boy encounters with Latin and Greek a failure, and the snobbery which he met during his years at school made him critical of exclusive uses of Classics intended to assert traditional distinctions of class and gender.  On the other hand, Trollope later rediscovered Classics on his own and found great comfort in it.  He saw in Classical material sources of humor as well as ethical insight, able to provide both an historical benchmark and a transhistorical perspective.  Most scholarship about Classics and Trollope (and there isn’t much) takes a limited view of Trollope’s use of ancient material:  it presents him as participating in the cultural exchange of Classical currency among privileged men, or as drawing hyperbolic comparisons with ancient figures in order to get a laugh.  No one has carefully studied the wide range of Trollope’s uses of Classics–and that meant that there was a space for us to do our work.

I keep saying “Trollope’s uses of Classics.”  It’s the best umbrella word I’ve found so far, since we don’t focus solely on “Classical references” or “Classical allusions.”  I’d like to show you some of the phenomena we track.

At a very nuts-and-bolts level, and in a separate part of the website, we record Latin and Greek words used by Trollope which found their way into English with their forms virtually unchanged.  For example, the noun interregnum.  If you go onto the website right now, you’ll see this gloss:

interregnum – from inter “between” and regnum “rule,” indicating a space of time between the reigns of rulers

When the first teams were working on this project, our conventions were evolving, and the vocabulary entries were somewhat thin and uneven in format.  This semester we’re revising all old vocabulary items and adding new ones so that the format is more regular.  This is the new look:


  • from the Latin noun interregnum:  the period between the death of a king and the succession of the next
  • an English noun:  a suspension of normal activities, especially without a supervising authority
  • an example from The Small House at Allington:  “Then for a fortnight there was an interregnum in the gardens, terrible in the annals of Allington.”

One benefit of an ongoing project is the opportunity to survey past work and see how it can be made more useful.

We reserve another space of the website for proper names with Classical resonance.  For instance, Alexandrina de Courcy, whose name ties her to both Alexander the Great and Alexander (or Paris) of Troy.  Both connections make sense in terms of Alexandrina’s actions in The Small House at Allington:

Alexandrina de Courcy

This name of one of Lady de Courcy’s daughters is a feminized, Anglicized version of the Greek name Alexandros.  This name may contain references to more than one Classical figure.  Alexandrina’s ambitious pursuit of Crosbie is reminiscent of the strong-willed leader Alexander the Great.  Alexander is also another name used to refer to Paris, whose adulterous relationship with Helen causes the Trojan War.  Similarly, Alexandrina interferes with Crosbie and Lily’s engagement and causes trouble for them both.  (gloss by Elizabeth Bahm)

Most of the glosses on the website are posted in chapter-by-chapter commentaries for the novels.  We include plays on words involving Latin or Greek, such as this sketch of Roger Scatcherd’s disastrous drinking habits:

Whatever immediate effect such symposiums might have on the inner mind – symposiums indeed they were not; posiums I will call them, if I may be allowed; for in later life, when he drank heavily, he drank alone.  (from Doctor Thorne)

Jennifer Cabrera’s gloss on this passage:

Greek symposiums were get-togethers in which a group of men would talk, drink, and engage in other forms of fraternization.  Because Scatcherd has taken to drinking alone, Trollope describes Scatcherd’s “parties of one” by taking off the prefix sym- which means “together,” or “with.”

We also consider passages in which Trollope seems to be harnessing the texture of Classically-derived words, as when he describes a baby’s first tooth as an “incipient masticator.”   The passage from Barchester Towers reads:

Little Johnny Bold had been troubled for the last few days with his first incipient masticator, and with that freemasonry which exists among ladies, Miss Thorne became aware of the fact before Eleanor had half-finished her wing.

Tim Hansen’s gloss:

Johnny Bold is cutting teeth.  Using such elevated, Latinate language to describe this event allows Trollope simultaneously to suggest the grandness of the event from the perspective of Johnny’s mother and Miss Thorne and to poke gentle fun at it.

In the instance of symposium/posium, we can be certain that Trollope is aware of the opportunity for humor which the Greek word and its prefix provides.  In other instances, such as the vocabulary items or a phrase like “incipient masticator,” we don’t need to be certain of Trollope’s consciousness of a Classical tie:  whether he enlists these words fully aware of their etymologies or not, he pulls them in because they allow him to cross registers in English to various ends.  Classically-sourced words are part of Trollope’s tool-box; we look at how he uses them and what effect they have, even if Trollope might not have been mindful that the tool he was using at a particular moment was Classical.

There are many (many!) explicit references to figures from Classical history and myth, such as the comparison between Arabella Trefoil’s persistence and Julius Caesar–

She had heard of forlorn hopes, and perhaps in her young days had read something of Caesar still clinging to his Commentaries as he struggled in the waves.   This was her forlorn hope, and she would be as brave as any soldier of them all.  (from The American Senator)

–or the casting of Archdeacon Grantly and Bishop Proudie as Juno and Venus:

The archdeacon’s feelings were of a much stronger nature.  He was not exactly the man to overlook his own slighted claims, or to forgive the preference shown to another.  Dr. Proudie was playing Venus to his Juno and he was prepared to wage an internecine war against the owner of the wished-for apple…. (from Barchester Towers)

Other times, Trollope quotes specific ancient authors. He has a particular fondness for Vergil and Horace; for example:

She told her tale somewhat after the manner of Aeneas, not forgetting the quorum pars magna fui.  (from The Last Chronicle of Barset, quoting Vergil, Aeneid 2.6)


…and the feeling that one is an antecedentem scelestum after whom a sure, though lame, Nemesis is hobbling, must sometimes disturb one’s slumbers.  (from Framley Parsonage, quoting Horace, Odes 3.2.31-32)


She could not cease from those anxious tender glances which made Lily know that she was looked on as a fawn wounded almost to death.  (from The Small House at Allington, perhaps echoing Vergil, Aeneid 4.69)

The influence of Classical sources may be implicit, as with the last example, a simile seemingly inspired by one in book 4 of the Aeneid.  Trollope tells us that Lily Dale, who has been abandoned by her beau Crosbie, is looked on by her mother as a wounded fawn.  At the beginning of book 4 of the Aeneid, Dido–in love with Aeneas–is described as a stricken deer.  The connection between Lily and Dido–both left by their lovers–is clear, but the comparison also contains a contrast:  Lily Dale will not die, and (in a later chapter) will be likened to a “queen” in her small house in Allington.  The gloss, written by Katie Devine, needs to both make the connection and mark the difference:

In this chapter, Lily is seen as a wounded fawn after her engagement to Crosbie is called off.  The simile echoes a line in Vergil’s Aeneid (4.69) in which Queen Dido, in love with Aeneas, is compared to an arrow-stricken deer.  This is an interesting comparison because, while Dido is eventually ruined by Aeneas’ departure, Lily recuperates and becomes like a queen herself.  See the commentary for Chapter 42.

There isn’t time for you to read all of the students’ glosses of these passages here, but in general we try to incorporate the following elements:  a sketching of the Trollopian context and an explanation of the ancient echo; a citation of particular ancient sources (if relevant); and a reconsideration of the Trollopian context with the Classical echo in mind.

And there’s still more I could show you.  Trollope employs recusatio, uses litotes, enjoys chiastic word order and praeteritio, summons Muses, and transforms both tragic and comic plot structures.  There are more involved or extensive examples, such as the many Classical precedents and devices deployed by President Neverbend in The Fixed Period to justify a social policy of euthanasia, or Mr. Crawley’s passionate relationship to Classical material in The Last Chronicle of Barset and the way in which he himself applies Classics to his challenging and distressing situation.

Because of the variety of ways in which Classical influences operate in Trollope’s novels, there is no method of one-stop shopping for students researching a gloss.  Students have to think about what kind of research is necessary in a particular instance and find resources–digital or print–that are reliable and appropriate.  Frequently consulted resources include the Oxford Classical Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, the Perseus site at Tufts,, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and various 19th century books (e.g., Classical compendia) available through Google Books.

I think that this project engages students in a complete process:  they identify uses of Classics by drawing on what they have already learned in other courses; they also add to their pool of Classical knowledge by discovering new aspects of antiquity; they use research to make informed interpretations; they write glosses to provide information to others; and they make that information publicly available.  The digital format seems right.  Not only can it immediately reach audiences (both academic and otherwise), but it also offers a better way to present and navigate the material than a print volume would.  Since most of our Classics majors at Hendrix do not go to graduate school in Classics, I think that the short, focused writing they do for this project may be more transferable to writing they may do later in their lives.  I asked the current team of students what they found especially rewarding about the project.  They mentioned that, in particular, they like applying Classics, dealing with etymology, seeing Classics in action beyond antiquity, and working as a team.  (They also said that they like Trollope a lot more than Dickens.)

There have been other tangible outcomes.  One student–a combined English/Classics major–decided to write her senior thesis on Classics and Trollope, ultimately presenting a piece of her work at a Sunoikisis symposium at Millsaps.  As I was working on the project, I realized that Trollope allows his female characters in the Barsetshire novels to enlist Classics more effectively than the male ones–so I wrote a paper on this topic and presented it at a Trollope and Gender conference.  The other participants at the conference were English professors, and they were very interested in the web project.  Several of them welcomed such a resource and admitted to anxiety when they come across an explicit use of Classics in Trollope.  Students in the second glossing team wrote to webmasters of other sites to publicize Trollope’s Apollo, and they received encouraging feedback, particularly from Ellen Moody (author of Trollope on the Net) and George Landow of The Victorian Web.

I think it’s clear that I’m enthusiastic about this project.  But the truth is:  I didn’t begin it in the most sustainable way.  The students and I built the first version of the website from scratch, learning Microsoft FrontPage to do so, and hosted it on a third-party server since our school didn’t offer the kind of web access we needed.  This had at least two negative consequences.  When the funding for hosting services ran out,[2] I paid the fees myself, which could contribute to the impression that the project was more of a personal undertaking–a hobby–than an academic pursuit.  And, at the time we started, FrontPage seemed like a reasonable platform, but it quickly became outdated, and the website needed a time-consuming overall.  Enter Kenny Morrell, who had heard my student’s paper at the Sunoikisis symposium.  During the summer of 2011 I mentioned that I hoped to move the project forward, and he asked if there were things the Center for Hellenic Studies could do to help.   The site is now hosted by the Center, and Allie Marbry, Lanah Koelle, Pat Coleman, and Rob Jenson provide technical support.  Allie was able to look at some pages of the old site and quickly devise ways to adapt a WordPress platform to meet our needs.  With the Center’s jump-start, I was able to do in a few weeks what would have taken me several months on my own–and though I could have done it myself, is our time best spent reinventing the wheel?  The support of an institution like the Center also helps me to justify this project as something that “counts,” both academically for the students and professionally for myself.

Trollope believes that we can learn from the experiences of others; in his novels, he gives us illustrative experiences yet rarely draws his lessons explicitly.  I, however, will be more direct.  What does my experience suggest?  That the Classical tradition is a fruitful place for students to do new work–not because it’s necessarily “easier,” but because students can more readily apply the knowledge of Classics they have acquired as undergraduates and because English scholars no longer have a presumed knowledge of Classical topics, making it all the more necessary that we meet them halfway.  My experience also suggests that–whatever information fluency projects you plan–they will be more time-and-energy-intensive than you imagine.  Because of the time and energy involved, it’s important to have a project you love and a support network that is as thick as possible.  Sometimes one’s home institution may have sufficient resources; for people like myself, the Center provided crucial services not available at Hendrix.  And finally, let me advocate for projects planned from the outset to deliver a triple win:  for the students, for those supervising the project, and for the institution as a whole.  Too often we consider our job to be one of balancing opposing interests, but your projects–planned collectively by multiple constituencies–offer the opportunity to transcend an oppositional paradigm in favor of connecting and strengthening interests that complement, rather than compete with, one another.


[1] Participating students:  Elizabeth Bahm, Jennifer Cabrera, Clay Christian, Max Deitchler, Katie Devine, Conn Daniel, Tim Hansen, Amy Mareno, and Knox Shelton.  Texts treated so far:  the six Barsetshire novels, The Fixed Period, The American Senator, and The Bertrams.

[2] Original funding for the project was provided by a grant from the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation.