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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28
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722 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 ...
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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 ...
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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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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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1answer
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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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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 ...
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1answer
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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 ...
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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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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 ...
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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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“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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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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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 ...
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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 ...
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1answer
112 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 ...
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624 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 ...
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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
231 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).
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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 ...
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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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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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1answer
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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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1answer
79 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 ...
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1answer
91 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 ...
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792 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 ...
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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? ...
7
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1answer
232 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 ...
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1answer
575 views

Why is the country conjuror referred to as a “white wizard”?

In Thomas Hardy's short story "The Withered Arm" (freely available to read online), Gertrude Lodge and Rhona Brook go together to see a man named Trendle, often called Conjuror Trendle, who ...
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1answer
61 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 ...
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1answer
101 views

What is a “dream bomb” in Agatha Christie's “Third Girl”?

In Third Girl (1966) by Agatha Christie, the character Dr Stillingfleet describes the condition of his patient: “She’s down at Kenway Court. Came like a lamb. Can’t tell you much yet. The girl’s full ...
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2answers
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Context of “swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow”?

I go, I go; look how I go, Swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow. -- Puck, Act III Scene II, A Midsummer Night's Dream This is a well-known line from a Shakespeare play, but did Shakespeare ...
6
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1answer
388 views

In “Candide”, are Prussian officers recruiting for the Bulgarian army?

I am reading Candide as part of my A Level. In the story Candide is chased from his home and finds "Two men dressed in blue". We later learn that they are trying to recruit him in the Bulgarian army. ...
6
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1answer
131 views

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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2answers
422 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!" "...
5
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1answer
254 views

When was Shakespeare's The Tempest first analysed from a “post-colonial” perspective?

A recent answer from verbose mentioned: Postcolonial approaches to The Tempest cast Prospero as colonizer, exercising imperial control over the original inhabitants of the island: Caliban and Ariel....
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2answers
128 views

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 ...
5
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1answer
195 views

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 ...
5
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1answer
135 views

Was it common to publish the times of voyages in the newspapers?

In "The Case of the White Footprints" in Dr. Thorndyke's Case-Book (1923) by R. Austin Freeman, a woman was talking to a detective about a situation in her hotel, saying: "I noticed ...
5
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1answer
987 views

Pissing in a sink in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

In Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, at some point one of the main characters - Thomas, that is a Czech doctor - in the house of one of his lovers decides to piss in the sink. The ...
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1answer
1k views

Why does John Winthrop compare the Massachusetts Bay Colonists to “a city upon a hill”?

John Winthrop's sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" (which you can read online) is an extraordinarily famous sermon, which is referenced by American politicians to this day. In this sermon, John ...
5
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1answer
111 views

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 ...
5
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1answer
159 views

References in the first stanza of Amiri Baraka's poem “Somebody Blew Up America”?

In the poem "Somebody Blew Up America" by the African-American poet Amiri Baraka, he references a few people at the end of the first stanza: They say it's some terrorist some barbaric A Rab ...
5
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1answer
107 views

Why is the folk song Cutty Wren included in Arnold Wesker's play Chips With Everything?

Arnold Wesker's play Chips with Everything is an examination of class attitudes in Britain through the window of the armed forces. In one scene a group of conscripts sing the peculiar English folk ...
5
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1answer
94 views

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 ...
5
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1answer
62 views

What does it mean for George Washington to be “a Fabius and Camillus”?

On page 324 of David Hackett Fischer's book Washington's Crossing, there is an epigraph (quotation at the beginning of the chapter "The Battle at Princeton") by Horace Walpole on George ...
5
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1answer
371 views

What was the Great Silence Epidemic of 1712?

One of the many memorable pieces of wordplay in The Phantom Tollbooth is when the heroes meet Dr Dischord and his assistant, the awful DYNNE. "You mean you've never met the awful DYNNE before?" ...
5
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2answers
161 views

Why are two earls the rankiest of all?

In Iolanthe, by Gilbert and Sullivan, Phyllis sings (after discovering the "betrayal"): So the richest and rankiest of you all My sorrowful heart shall choose. then: I'll be a countess, shall ...
5
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1answer
200 views

Why are the names Rumi and Mevlana respectively used for the famous poet?

This famous Persian poet and mystic was named Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī (جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى‎) or Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی), where Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad was his actual ...