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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In Les Miserables, why can Javert be the judge of Fantine and why does Monsieur Madeleine have the power to stop him?

In Les Miserables, one of the Protagonists, Fantine, attacks a citizen on the open street after he insulted her and put snow in the back of her dress. She is then arrested by Javert, the local police ...
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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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Political backdrop to "The Lancer's Wife" (Franco-Prussian War)?

"La Uhlane" is a short story by Jean Richepin, whose English translation "The Lancer's Wife" was erroneously attributed to Guy de Maupassant in the Walter Dunne edition of Maupassant's works. It ...
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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 ...
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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The Wikipedia article about Magda Szabó says, In 1949 she was awarded the Baumgarten Prize, which was immediately withdrawn when Szabó was labeled an enemy to the Communist Party.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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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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"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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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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Was it common in the late 19th century to write normal places, like "cross roads" and "corners" in capital letters?

In In the Midst of Alarms (1894) by Robert Barr, a young boy was describing the place of blacksmith’s shop, saying: Oh, a couple of miles or so; down at the Cross Roads. Then he said later in ...
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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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The Brothers Karamazov - When was Russia saved before?

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Book VI, Chapter 3 And how suprised men would be if I were to say that from these meek monks, who yearn for solitary prayer, the salvation of Russia will ...
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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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Three Musketeers - the diamond studs

The plot of the first part of The Three Musketeers revolves around 12 diamond studs that Queen Anne d'Autriche gives to the Duke of Buckingham. What exactly were those studs? I mean, what was this ...
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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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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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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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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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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 ...
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Why is a special license needed to get married?

In a lot of historical romance novels (specifically those set in Regency England), people decide to get married very suddenly a lot of the time. You see this a lot in the marriage of convenience trope,...
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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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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 ...
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What does this line about Foucault's job being to "historicize discourse and textualize history" mean?

I found a line in my book which says something like this: Michael Foucault's main job is to historicize discourse and textualize history. The context of this quote is the following (from a course ...
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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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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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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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Equestrian statues and wooden logs, what's the connection?

Here's a quote from Tomas de Quincey's "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater": Turkish opium-eaters, it seems, are absurd enough to sit, like so many equestrian statues, on logs of wood as stupid ...
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Is there a relationship between Edward VI and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?

In my office there is a guy named "Ed". When he is not around, some of the other guys say to those who ask for him that "We are Ed-less". It sounds like an Irish accent saying &...
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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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Is Marie's comment based on the existence of a two-tier justice system in French Algeria?

In Camus' novel L'étranger / The Stranger, Meursault gets arrested for shooting "an Arab". During his pre-trial detention, his girlfriend Marie pays him a visit in prison and tries to give him some ...
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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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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, ...
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Dracula Cultural Anxieties

I have a question on Dracula and the Victorian era. I was just wondering to what extent the cultural anxieties of the Victorian age are represented in Dracula?
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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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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, ...
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What work is titled "Distresses of the Industrious Population"?

From George W. M. Reynolds' The Mysteries of London (1844–1845): "Ah!" said the bookseller, after a pause; "nothing now succeeds unless it's in the comic line. We have comic Latin grammars, and ...
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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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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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1answer
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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What does Benjamin Franklin mean here in his essay, "On True Happiness"?

What does Benjamin Franklin mean here in his essay, "On True Happiness"? There is no happiness, then, but in a virtuous and self-approving conduct. Unless our actions will bear the test of ...
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Why is The Power of Fables, in Book VIII of Fables by La Fontaine, addressed to Paul Barillon, the French ambassador to England?

The Power of Fables (Le pouvoir des Fables), fable 4 of Book VIII of Fables written by La Fontaine, is addressed to Paul Barillon, the French ambassador to England under Louis XIV. I know that La ...
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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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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 ...
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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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Cannot understand part from 'Dreams from My Father' by Barack Obama

The following part from Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father I cannot understand and it relates to history and some figures. These people, per my Wiki search, were influential in literature; but the ...
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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 ...
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In Swimming in the Dark, why does Beniek go through the preparations for First Communion?

In Chapter 1 of Tomasz Jedrowski's Swimming in the Dark, set in the late sixties or early seventies, the protagonist Ludwik describes his childhood crush on a friend, Beniek. The boys become close ...