Questions tagged [historical-context]

Questions regarding the influence of historical events or notions on a literary work, or about the extent to which works of literature accurately depict historical events, figures, customs, ideas, etcetera.

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Is there an abandoned Soviet airport near Luhansk?

In Voroshilovgrad, Ernst Thalmann lives at an abandoned Soviet airport that he's trying to resurrect. I'm a little unclear about the exact location of this in the book, but I would assume that it's ...
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2 votes
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What is the Ukrainian equivalent of a community college?

At one point in Voroshilovgrad, Injured and Herman go from the old airport to what's referred to in the books as the community college dorms. I'm slightly confused by this translation, since I don't ...
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Is there actually a "railroad to nowhere" on the border between Ukraine and Russia?

In Voroshilovgrad, Herman had the following discussion with some smugglers about some rail on the border of Ukraine and Russia: "There's a railroad here?" I asked. "Well, yeah," ...
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How do you move a factory by rail?

In Voroshilovgrad, Herman meets someone who owns his own train. He mentioned that there were certain tracks that were built in case there was a war, so that they could move factories east: "Do ...
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Why does the translator's introduction to "The Complete Kobzar" claim that Ukraine has the sixth-highest per capita consumption of alcohol?

The translator's introduction to The Complete Kobzar briefly describes some social problems in Ukraine; among other things, the translator claims that: According to the World Health Organization, ...
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What was this dubious medical facility by the salt lakes?

When Herman and Olga were trying to straighten out the paperwork for the gas station, they realized they need to track down a director of an oil depot for some help with some paperwork. However, they ...
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2 votes
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Can you actually be arrested for public smoking in Ukraine, like this passage implies?

Chapter 5 of Stalking the Atomic City contains the following quote: I'm standing at the bus station, in the corner, next to a trash can. That way, the patrol officers won't notice me and arrest me ...
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How did Herman and Ernst know how many Tiger tanks were produced?

The following dialog occurred in Voroshilovgrada: "Herman, you're a history buff, right?" "Sure." "Then you probably know how many Tigers were produced in the Reich?" &...
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4 votes
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Is the AIA from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" real?

In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Blomkvist's friend Robban mentions a government agency called the AIA (Agency for Industrial Assistance), which was supposed to "help industry in the former ...
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2 votes
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How closely do the events in "Satan in Goray" mirror the actual Shabbtai Tzvi events?

In Satan in Goray, Isaac Bashevis Singer mentions several ways in which it's "proven" that Shabbtai Tzvi is the Messiah: During the time Rabbi Benish still dwelt in Lublin he had heard ...
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Why "Cagots" for albinos in Morpurgo's Robin Hood story?

In Michael Morpurgo's short novel Robin of Sherwood (1998), republished in 2012 as Outlaw: the True Story of Robin Hood, the band of outlaws in Sherwood forest starts off as outcast misfits including ...
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3 votes
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Thomas Moore’s “Copy of an Intercepted Despatch”

Thomas Moore’s poem ‘Copy of an Intercepted Despatch’ was first published in The Times (July 1826) and collected in Odes Upon Cash, Corn, Catholics and Other Matters (1828), from which I quote the ...
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Was Salman Rushdie aware of the veracity of the accounts that inspired this dream sequence from The Satanic Verses?

The Wikipedia article for The Satanic Verses states the inspiration for some of the dream sequences were based on accounts from the historians al-Waqidi and al-Tabari. The article cites, Islam and ...
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4 votes
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What was the Line Education Movement?

"Wink" is a Tibetan short story by Pema Bhum, translated to English by Tenzin Dickie and freely available to read online from Words Without Borders at the above link. It's set in (presumably)...
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Is there an equivalent to Orientalism in Eastern scholarship of the West?

Orientalism (1978) is a book by Edward Said that established the concept of "orientalism", which refers to the Western depiction of aspects in the Eastern world. Is there an equivalent to ...
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Is Evil Hole / Malpertugio a realistic name for a district in Naples?

Day 2 Story 5 of the Decameron is set partly in a district of Naples with (at least in the English translation) a striking name that sounds comical and exaggerated. Here follows the translation I'm ...
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How much of the English history in this Decameron story has any basis in fact?

Day 2 Story 3 of the Decameron is a story which deeply involves the English royal family. I don't know how much contact there was between England and Italy in the 14th century, or how much care an ...
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What "always was and is the occupation of the Agolanti"?

In Day 2 Story 3 of the Decameron: There was formerly in our city a knight, by name Messer Tedaldo, of the Lamberti, according to some, or, as others say, of the Agolanti family, perhaps for no ...
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5 votes
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Does Lauretta's rant reflect a real change in the style of jesters in 14th-century Italy?

In Day 1 Story 8 of the Decameron, narrated by Lauretta, she digresses to engage in a long rant about how jesters nowadays aren't what they used to be: [T]here came to Genoa a jester of good parts, a ...
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Was Philip Larkin factually correct when he implied that in 1955 the streets in Ireland were "end-on to hills" more often than those in England?

In the 1955 Philip Larkin poem "The Importance of Elsewhere", it reads: Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable, The herring-hawker's ...
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3 votes
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Were Amado's Captains of the Sands based on reality?

Jorge Amado's novel Captains of the Sands concerns children living in the streets of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and forming gangs that engaged in petty crime. From the opening of the book: “Captains of ...
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4 votes
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Boccaccio's portrayal of the Catholic Church

Day 1 Story 2 of the Decameron is essentially a searing satirical critique of the Catholic Church in Rome. A Christian man, Jehannot, is trying to convert his Jewish friend to Christianity; the Jew, ...
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4 votes
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What was wrong with becchini?

From the introductory part of The Decameron, in Pampinea's speech that inspires the seven young women initially to decamp to the countryside, she speaks of the atmosphere in their city of Florence at ...
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What happened to the USSR hospital at Khmelnitsky?

An interview with a major in Zinky Boys (day 2, track 8 in the audiobook) referred to a hospital of some kind in Khmelnitsky for long-term casualties who couldn't or wouldn't go home for various ...
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0 votes
2 answers
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Was Vietnam referring to the Vietnam War in Zinky Boys?

In an interview with a major (track 8, day 2 in the audiobook), the interviewee mentions having friends who were in Ethiopia, Angola, and Vietnam. Is this likely referring to the Vietnam War (except, ...
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7 votes
2 answers
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Does this edit in The Magician's Nephew (from "had her bathe" to "had her bath") fundamentally change the meaning of the sentence?

Later editions of C.S. Lewis 'The Magician's Nephew' have been edited, presumably to reflect modern usage. Polly went down and had her bathe; at least she said that was what she'd been doing, but we ...
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4 votes
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What were Bulgarian biscuits?

In Zinky Boys (track 7 in the audiobook), a female doctor complained that the girls she stayed with mostly talked about things like rubles, foreign currency vouchers, and how to steal meat and other ...
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3 votes
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What is Paul's character based on in "Code Name Verity"?

One of the major supporting characters in Code Name Verity is Paul, leader of the Damask resistance circuit. A superb organizer, he takes pride in how he'd never lost anyone in his circuit (before ...
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Is Belarus actually hard to farm?

To Our Native Land by Janka Lučyna starts as follows: Thou art spread widely with forests and marshes, With sand-dune expanses that grant but poor living It then goes on to talk about how bad the ...
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Social class in medieval Italian literature and its changes during the Renaissance

I'm very interested in how notions of class were reflected in medieval Italian literature and how these archetypes, tropes, motifs or whatever you'd like to call them changed during the Renaissance ...
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5 votes
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Was the end of the censorship of Magda Szabó's work directly related to events in 1956 or the Hungarian Thaw?

The Wikipedia article about Magda Szabó says, In 1949 she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was immediately withdrawn when Szabó was labeled an enemy to the Communist Party. (...) The Stalinist ...
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12 votes
3 answers
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Why is a "cucumber sandwich" specifically used as what English faith has "only just enough teeth to get through"?

In Chapter 34 of The Kingdoms, Kite goes on this musing about religion: The golden dome of the cathedral at Cadiz showed, just. He had been trying not to stare at it as much as he'd been trying not ...
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7 votes
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"Anne of Avonlea": why was painting the building blue considered inappropriate?

Reading Anne of Avonlea, I see the main characters encounter a problem when by accident the hall that they cared about so much was painted blue instead of green: "Haven't you heard?" said ...
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5 votes
2 answers
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What are we to understand by "panther" in this Old English poem?

"The Panther" is an Old English poem, preserved in the Exeter Book, and translated in full by Aaron Hostetter. It's a poem about a panther, but what would the ancient Germanic peoples of ...
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10 votes
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What did the men use to destroy Sandleford Warren?

In Watership Down, Chapter 21, Holly describes what happened back at Sandleford Warren. He does not understand what the men were doing. I don't either. Here's the relevant text [with a lot of side-...
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Is there a project for annotating e-books?

There are a number of projects collecting out of copyright literary works and making them available for download, e.g. Project Gutenberg and Bibebook. Many of these books would benefit from annotation ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Is the "Lister Foundation" in "Catcher in the Rye" a real organization?

In Chapter 21 of Catcher in the Rye, Phoebe tells Holden about a movie she saw at the "Lister Foundation". No other mention of the Foundation appears in the text. Was it a real organization ...
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1 vote
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What plight of the Kurds is suggested in Mem and Zin chapter 5?

I'm reading online Salah Saadalla's translation of the Kurdish classic Mem and Zin. The early chapters aren't part of the main story: two chapters addressed to God, two to the prophet Mohammed, two ...
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9 votes
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How was the free-born Englishman prevented from taking his ease in his inn in 1922?

In The Markenmore Mystery (1922) by J. S. Fletcher, Blick, a detective who had booked rooms at "Sceptre Inn", which belonged to Grimsdale, was cheerful after reaching an important conclusion....
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4 votes
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What kind of censorship was Dostoevsky avoiding by obscuring place names?

In the opening paragraph of "Crime and Punishment", two locations, S-- Lane and K--n Bridge, are identified only by their first and final letters. My translation has a footnote which says ...
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16 votes
1 answer
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Chilli peppers in fifteenth-century India?

In Canto 7 of The Lusíads, when Vasco da Gama and his crew finally land in Calicut, they encounter a Moor named Monsayeed who explains to the former: You are now in India, with its various Peoples ...
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7 votes
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Meaning of dash and initial substitution in Charlotte Brontë's Villette

The usage of dashes to obscure personal/place names and dates in Victorian literature has been widely noted, but I don't feel that the reasons that are usually given help me understand this case. I'm ...
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10 votes
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Origin and significance of E-I-E-I-O in the Old MacDonald song

The well-known children's song "Old MacDonald had a Farm" has lyrics in the following format: Old MacDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O ! And on that farm he had {article} {singular or plural ...
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13 votes
1 answer
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"My father declared he should invent a slip button"

From Lady Saba Holland's memoir of her father the Rev. Sydney Smith, published circa 1855: The reigning bore at this time in Edinburgh was ——; his favourite subject, the North Pole. It mattered not ...
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3 votes
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How close to actual incantations are the witches' spells in Macbeth?

Answers to a recent question about the superstition surrounding Macbeth linked to a Royal Shakespeare Company web page that claimed: According to folklore, Macbeth was cursed from the beginning. A ...
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9 votes
3 answers
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What would it mean for a 19th-century German soldier to "wear the cross"?

In the first chapter of Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest, which I've started reading online, we are introduced to the character of Baron Geert von Innstetten as follows (emphasis mine): "Yes, ...
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5 votes
1 answer
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What is the dialect in "The Origin of White Folks" and what does it add to the poem?

I found "The Origin of White Folks" by Annie Virginia Culbertson (it's pretty far down the page) while reading a news article and became intrigued by its accent. The poem is clearly written ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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What is this passage saying about Precentor Jahnke?

In Chapter 1 of Theodor Fontane's novel Effi Briest, which I've just started reading online, two friends of Effi are introduced as follows: Two of the young girls, plump little creatures, whose ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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How does “the socket drop them through” in “Aurora Leigh”?

In book V of Aurora Leigh (1856) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sir Blaise claims that in former days men chose their wives for their virtue and not for their décolletage: “My dear young friend, if ...
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2 votes
2 answers
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How was the context of "Old Ironsides" clear at its first publication?

Following links from another SE site, I ended up on the Wikipedia page for the poem "Old Ironsides" about the eponymous ship of the US Navy. Wikipedia tells us (with sources) about how this ...
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