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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Was Odysseus considered unfaithful to his wife in the Odyssey?

Penelope is portrayed throughout the story to be virtuous when it comes to men, meaning that she holds out hope for her husband's safety 20 years after she saw him and had no other relationships in ...
Matrim Cauthon's user avatar
29 votes
0 answers
1k views

How did real historical Igbo society differ from its portrayal in Things Fall Apart?

I recently read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and found its detailed portrayal of historical Igbo (aka Ibo) culture very interesting. My understanding is that it's a reasonably close ...
user56reinstatemonica8's user avatar
24 votes
2 answers
15k views

Could you actually go around the world in 80 days?

Around the World in 80 Days is a novel be Jules Verne about an Englishman who makes a bet with some fellow club members that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Nowadays with modern flight, ...
Beastly Gerbil's user avatar
23 votes
1 answer
6k views

How did Shakespeare get away with staging witchcraft in his plays such as Othello, Macbeth, or The Tempest?

The themes of witchcraft and magic loom large over Shakespeare’s later plays. While there is no overt use of magic and spells in Othello, per se, as compared to the witches in Macbeth conjuring on ...
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23 votes
1 answer
5k views

Why would one of Germany's leading publishers publish a novel by Jewish writer Stefan Zweig in 1939?

I am reading the Penguin Edition of Impatience of the Heart by Stefan Zweig - also known as Beware of Pity in other translations. The reverse of the title page states that the book was first published ...
Terry Bunn's user avatar
23 votes
1 answer
2k views

What was a "prince" in Dostoevsky's times, i.e. mid-late 19th century?

In Dostoevsky's The Idiot, the main character is Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin. Sometimes the word "prince" almost seems an honorary title, e.g. "Here you all are now," the prince began, "looking ...
Andrew Cheong's user avatar
21 votes
2 answers
3k views

How much of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is based on real events?

Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, the story of an American soldier fighting in the Spanish Civil War, a few years after his own experiences as an American journalist reporting on the ...
Rand al'Thor's user avatar
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17 votes
2 answers
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What was a "ward in chancery"?

Gilbert often had certain ideas reappear in his various operas. One of these ideas was that of a "ward in chancery." From Pirates of Penzance: MABEL: Hold, monsters! Ere your pirate caravanserai ...
Matrim Cauthon's user avatar
16 votes
1 answer
2k views

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 ...
verbose's user avatar
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15 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 ...
Quuxplusone's user avatar
15 votes
4 answers
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Was Afghanistan considered tropical or was Holmes wrong?

From the 1887 Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet: ... He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin ... Where in the tropics could an ...
stacksia's user avatar
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14 votes
4 answers
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Were schoolteachers really paid substantially less than $45 per month in 1990s Ukraine?

Shortly after Tys graduated from university and started teaching in Carbide (by Andriy Lyubka), he'd periodically borrow money from his friend Icharus: By that time, Icarus had become a businessman (...
EJoshuaS - Stand with Ukraine's user avatar
14 votes
3 answers
4k views

What is "Galacian tobacco" and what is its significance?

Chapter 7 of Sweet Darusya refers to "Galacian tobacco" being smuggled between Poland and Ukraine. What exactly was this, and what was the significance of it being specifically that kind of ...
EJoshuaS - Stand with Ukraine's user avatar
14 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why couldn't Mr Dobbins become a doctor in "Tom Sawyer"?

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, it's mentioned that the schoolteacher had an anatomy book in his desk due to wanting to be a doctor at one point. The master, Mr. Dobbins, had reached ...
EJoshuaS - Stand with Ukraine's user avatar
14 votes
1 answer
343 views

Were the early sexual experiences of Lolita and her classmates inspired by the real experience of children in New England in 1947?

In the last pages of part 1 of Nabokov's Lolita Humbert relates Dolores's description of her own previous sexual experiences, in the course of which she mentions ways in which some of her coevals at ...
user9909's user avatar
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13 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 ...
bobble's user avatar
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12 votes
2 answers
2k views

"Miss" as a form of address to a married teacher in Bethan Roberts' "My Policeman"

In Bethan Roberts' 2012 novel My Policeman, Marion Taylor begins working as a schoolteacher in 1957. She writes her name on the chalkboard for her students: A moment passed as I gathered myself, then ...
verbose's user avatar
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12 votes
1 answer
255 views

When was young Cosette's bedtime?

While the song "Come to Me" was probably not intended as a treatise on astronomical timekeeping or 19th-century French child-rearing, some of Fantine's lines (taken at face value) fit together for a ...
nanoman's user avatar
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11 votes
1 answer
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Customs at Calais in “The Mystery of the Blue Train”

In chapter 9 of Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train, which takes place in the late 1920s, one of the characters goes to a travel agency in London and asks for the best way to get to Nice. ...
Kevin Troy's user avatar
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11 votes
3 answers
870 views

Why are there so many references to Moneylenders and Jews in 19th century fiction?

In 19th century fiction, there are a lot of references to moneylenders as "Jews". For example, in "Framley Parsonage", by Anthony Trollope, Lord Lufton says "the pocket-books of the Jews are stuffed ...
mikado's user avatar
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11 votes
1 answer
2k views

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-...
bobble's user avatar
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11 votes
1 answer
439 views

Why do peasants in 19th century Russian literature often have Greek names?

Why do peasant characters in 19th century Russian literature so often have Greek names? (e.g. "Agafon" and "Platon" in Anna Karenina).
dpc's user avatar
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10 votes
2 answers
2k views

Were Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet formally equal in rank?

Were any of the main characters in Pride and Prejudice (Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Lady Catherine de Bourgh) more than gentry? Did any of them belong to the peerage? Was there any formal difference in ...
Honza Zidek's user avatar
10 votes
1 answer
23k views

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 ...
verbose's user avatar
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10 votes
1 answer
4k views

Why is "Oranges and Lemons" supposed to describe child sacrifice?

The popular nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons": Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement’s. You owe me five farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s. When will you pay me? Say the ...
Yasskier's user avatar
  • 2,070
10 votes
1 answer
136 views

How long is the Nijni-Novgorod trade fair?

In Jules Verne, Michel Strogoff, part 1 chapter 5, when Michel arrives to Nijni-Novgorod, there's a huge trade fair going on in the city. The text seems to give two contradictory numbers about how ...
b_jonas's user avatar
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10 votes
0 answers
119 views

How fictionalised is "Dust Tracks on a Road"?

I just finished reading Zora Neale Hurston's memoir Dust Tracks on a Road and I thought it seemed to be full of tall tales as well as omissions, though obviously it is based on her real life. In his ...
Zanna's user avatar
  • 235
9 votes
4 answers
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What does "Catholic privilege" mean in Pym's Excellent Women?

The narrator of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women is Mildred Lathburn, a clergyman's daughter in 1950s London. Here, Mildred's Welsh cleaning lady, Mrs. Morris, is complaining half-humorously about the ...
verbose's user avatar
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9 votes
1 answer
2k views

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....
Ahmed Samir's user avatar
  • 4,093
9 votes
3 answers
2k views

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, ...
Rand al'Thor's user avatar
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9 votes
2 answers
2k views

What was "standard shift" in the 1920's?

I am reading The Great Gatsby, and encountered these sentences: "Shall we all go in my car?" suggested Gatsby. He felt the hot, green leather of the seat. "I ought to have left it in ...
Pasta Addict's user avatar
  • 2,217
9 votes
3 answers
582 views

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 ...
Valorum's user avatar
  • 4,753
9 votes
1 answer
713 views

Where can I take a deeper dive into Jane Austen's vocabulary?

I'm translating some Jane Austen into Latin, and I'm wondering whether there's a resource that would allow me to do a deeper dive into the nuances of the vocabulary she uses, especially the words that ...
Faustus's user avatar
  • 93
9 votes
1 answer
1k views

What are the "dead Easter chicks" in "Just Before the War with the Eskimos?"

In J. D. Salinger's short story "Just Before the War with the Eskimos," a character reveals that: A few years before it had taken her three days to dispose of the Easter chick she had found ...
nuggethead's user avatar
9 votes
1 answer
23k views

Was the affair between John Proctor and Abigail in The Crucible historically accurate?

In the famous play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible, John Proctor and Abigail had an affair that drove the major plot points of the play/movie. In The Crucible, John and Abigail are ~30 and 17 years old ...
Woodman's user avatar
  • 143
9 votes
2 answers
349 views

In Dickens' "The Chimes", why do bells have godparents and mugs?

Not long into The Chimes: A Goblin Story, one of Dickens' lesser-known Christmas stories, there's this paragraph about bells: They were old Chimes, trust me. Centuries ago, these Bells had been ...
Matt Thrower's user avatar
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9 votes
2 answers
3k views

Is Barrett Emerson, portrayed in the TV series "Will", a real Christopher Marlowe patron?

There is a (new) ten-episode series, called Will, depicting the "lost years" of Shakespeare and taking many liberties. Most of the adult characters are real: Robert Southwell , Francis Walsingham, ...
Will Jagy's user avatar
  • 201
8 votes
2 answers
3k views

Was it common that the bridges of ditches or creeks had guarding gates in 1924?

In "The Funeral Pyre" in Dr. Thorndyke's Case-Book by R. Austin Freeman (1924), Thorndyke found a dental plate of a dead man by a gate at the crossing of a ditch, and he wanted to know ...
Ahmed Samir's user avatar
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8 votes
2 answers
1k views

What does Victor Hugo mean by "the red ant heaps of Toulon"?

In his novel "The Last Day of a Condemned Man", Victor Hugo writes the following sequence in reference to poor people who turn to crime out of hunger: Unfortunate beings, whom, by means of ...
DLCom's user avatar
  • 257
8 votes
1 answer
1k views

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 ...
sba222's user avatar
  • 183
8 votes
1 answer
1k views

How can Mrs Morel buy her son out of the army in D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers"?

It seems she could and she did it. But how? From chapter IX: Mrs. Morel had had a few pounds left to her by her father, and she decided to buy her son [Arthur] out of the army. He was wild with joy. ...
Ethan's user avatar
  • 867
8 votes
1 answer
577 views

What is the significance of a raised black flag?

In The Lost Sanjak, Saki Writes: and, in the midst of a string of questions on indifferent topics, the examining counsel asked me with a diabolical suddenness if I could tell the Court the ...
TomDot Com's user avatar
  • 1,207
8 votes
1 answer
103 views

How were notes sent from classroom to classroom in Up the Down Staircase?

In Bel Kaufman's Up the Down Staircase, part of the story is told through notes that Sylvia Barrett sends to other teachers. For example, the first one goes FROM: Mrs. Beatrice Schachter, Room 508 ...
svavil's user avatar
  • 235
8 votes
1 answer
116 views

How accurate is Corbett's "My India"?

Jim Corbett's books are mostly autobiographical, My India particularly so. It describes several incidents across Corbett's life in India. One of the most moving ones is from Corbett's time as a ...
muru's user avatar
  • 6,910
7 votes
1 answer
1k views

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 ...
Matthew Christopher Bartsh's user avatar
7 votes
2 answers
1k views

What is the historical basis for Roark's claim about the Parthenon?

From Chapter 1, p. 23 of The Fountainhead: "Why do you want me to think that this is great architecture?" He pointed to the picture of the Parthenon. "That," said the Dean, "is the Parthenon!" "...
EJoshuaS - Stand with Ukraine's user avatar
7 votes
1 answer
260 views

Why does Shelby Foote use the phrase "airline miles" in The Civil War: a Narrative?

In The Civil War: a Narrative, Shelby Foote periodically uses the phrase "airline miles" to mean "distance on a straight line." I can't recall offhand hearing this phrase anywhere else; why this ...
EJoshuaS - Stand with Ukraine's user avatar
7 votes
1 answer
138 views

In Wister's _The Virginian_, why is calling a white man white considered a compliment?

In the second chapter of Owen Wister's The Virginian, what appears to be a factual statement about the titular character's race is described by the narrator as a "high compliment": “Yes, ...
Konrad Schroder's user avatar
7 votes
1 answer
206 views

Does the Order of Melchizedek's professed goal to bring the Vatican Council to the masses refer to a historical reality?

In Nick Joaquin's story or novella "The Order of Melchizedek", Guia, the main character's younger sister, has become a member of a religious organisation that is referred to as the Order of ...
Tsundoku's user avatar
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7 votes
1 answer
326 views

Why did the Pit and the Pendulum lack historical authenticity?

The Pit and the Pendulum is set in Toledo, Spain during the height of the Spanish Inquisition which began in 1478. In the story, Poe references the Jacobin club, which was an influential political ...
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