Sir Percival and the Whimsical Little Brute

Mr. Gilmore repeatedly reveals himself as partial to Sir Percival, to the point of almost willful blindness to signs of his faults. This is exemplified in his description of Laura’s dog: “Her cross-grained pet greyhound was in the room, and I fully expected a barking and snapping reception. Strange to say, the whimsical little brute falsified my expectations by jumping into my lap, and poking its sharp muzzle familiarly into my hand the moment I sat down,” (141). This comment directly refers to the earlier scene in which the dog barks at Sir Percival’s offered hand, and through comparison Mr. Gilmore opens himself to the possibility of seeing through Sir Percival’s gentleman persona, but instead redirects his conclusion in the wrong direction.

Drawing from the trope of dogs being able to sense evil characters, the initial incident with Sir Percival is a clue to his masked dubious character. He more easily disguises his interior self from other people, who have ingrained expectations about gentlemen and infer inward morality from outward presentation, than from the dog. Mr. Gilmore, instead of recognizing its perception, dismisses the dog as a “little beast, cowardly and cross-grained as pet-dogs usually are” (133), to fit the interaction into his previously established worldview. Mr. Gilmore has already given hints that he began his judgment with preconceived notions, as when he described the explanation Sir Percival gave as “simple and satisfactory as I had all along anticipated it would be,” (130). Now, he continues in that trend by misinterpreting the dog’s reactions.

The simplest explanation of the scenario, that being two men both acquainted with a dog, one met with fear and the other with affection, lends easily to the assumption that the first man has given the dog a reason to be distrustful. Mr. Gilmore, however, concludes from this scenario that the dog is “whimsical,” and therefore irrational in its reaction to Sir Percival. This conclusion allows him to continue on without yet being disabused of his expectations of Sir Percival, despite the evidence at hand.

This passage is really about the extent to which expectations based on wealth, power, and gender can influence all later perceptions of actual actions. Sir Percival has been afforded a place in society that allows him to pass without suspicion through most people’s judgments, particularly other men like Mr. Gilmore, who appears predisposed to sweeping generalizations about groups of people (“There are three things that none of the young men of the present generation can do” (128)). He comes assured from the start that Sir Percival will be able to provide a reasonable explanation for the accusations against him, and in fact dismisses Mr. Hartright’s suspicions to the contrary as romantic.

The descriptions of the dog also play into themes of appearance and expectation; Mr. Gilmore expects for the dog to be nasty but it instead reveals itself to be calm and loving, just as Anne Catherick acts animalistic and irrational when Sir Percival is brought up, but is otherwise sweet and docile.  Sir Percival, then, distorts the public perception of those whom he needs to discredit because they know the truth of his character, by simple virtue of remaining calm and unruffled as he provokes extreme emotional reactions (with Anne, this occurs when he gives his seemingly rational explanation for the accusations against him). Both the dog and Anne are voiceless to general society and thus unable to defend themselves in their reactions to Sir Percival, and both are automatically viewed with more suspicion by outsiders than a man of high social standing.


3 thoughts on “Sir Percival and the Whimsical Little Brute”

  1. I was really interested in the idea of dogs as judges of good and evil, and found a very interesting article about dogs in the ancient world. One of the more interesting sections mentions Plato’s Republic: “In Book II [of Plato’s Republic], Socrates claims that the dog is a true philosopher because dogs ‘distinguish the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing’…The dog has learned who is a friend and who is not and, based on that knowledge, responds appropriately; while human beings are often deceived as to who their true friends are” ( This quote perfectly encapsulates Laura’s dog reacting so differently to Glyde and Gilmore; with the knowledge from Monday’s reading that ***SPOILER*** Glyde beats his dogs, it is very likely that Glyde somehow mistreated Laura’s dog and it has been wary of him ever since – with good reason – while Gilmore has never posed a threat to the dog and so gets friendly treatment. The dog’s judgment is perfectly sound; Gilmore’s, on the other hand, is far too trusting.

  2. I agree with your comments on Gilmore’s easy dismissal of the dog’s distrust, and I think that as well as dealing with Sir Percival’s class Gilmore’s partiality to him at first depends on their shared maleness. Gilmore says he and SPG “got on together like old friends” (130); when SPG gets irritated and storms away to the window, Gilmore makes excuses for him: “Perhaps his temper is irritable at times? If so, I can sympathize with him. My temper is irritable at times, too” (133). Gilmore believes that Sir Percival has to be a decent man because they share characteristics: irritable temper, maleness, etc. Their shared maleness/masculinity makes it easy for Gilmore to accept even the unpleasant things about Sir Percival at first.

  3. Yes, I totally felt this too! This connects back to Freud’s point about repetition, I guess, because the dog appears a few times, I think. And the reaction persists only to Sir Percival. I find it really interesting that you compared the dog with Anne Catherick. And I haven’t really thought of this before, but now I’m wondering what Gilmore’s “repetition” in dismissing nearly every views that go against Sir Percival’s perfect-ness (at least, in the beginning) might reveal in a Freudian reading…?

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