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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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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68 views

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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68 views

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 ...
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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 ...
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What does A. E. C. denote in the poem about Edward Anti-Teller?

"Perils of Modern Living" is a poem written by the physicist Harold P. Furth inspired by a speech on antimatter by Edward Teller. (Hat-tip to our comrades at Worldbuilding SE for making me aware of ...
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113 views

"What the Turk do it matter to us"?

In the opening chapter of Thomas Hardy's "The Withered Arm", the following passage is found (emphasis mine): The discussion waxed so warm that the purr of the milk streams became jerky, ...
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436 views

In the song "Whiskey in the Jar", would Captain Farrell have been British or Irish?

In the song "Whiskey in the Jar", would Captain Farrell have been British or Irish? What was the historical setting and context of the song's tale?
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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 ...
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1955 in Otro poema de los dones by Jorge Luis Borges

In the poem Otro poema de los dones by Jorge Luis Borges, there is a line which refers to 1955. Is Borges, being Argentine, referring to the military coup to unseat President Juan Perón of Argentina? ...
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Can the influence of the 1918 "Spanish flu" pandemic be seen in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"?

A Guardian article from summer 2020, "The Covid novels are arriving. And they'll be a warning to future generations" by Laura Spinney, includes some discussion of the (apparently minimal) ...
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Was it normal to mix up the word "lady" with a man in Canada in 1894?

In "In the Midst of Alarms" (1894) by Robert Barr, the author is describing a conversation between, Yates, who had knocked someone down, and his friend, Stilly, who is usually quite and ...
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Meaning and historical reference in "Ind Aff"

In Fay Weldon's short story "Ind Aff or Out of Love in Sarajevo" I found the following passage: “The Hungro-Austrarian Empire,” said Peter to me, “didn't so much collapse as fail to exist ...
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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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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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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 ...
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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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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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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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Where did Anouilh acknowledge that his play Becket contains many historical inaccuracies?

The French playwright Jean Anouilh wrote the play Becket or The Honour of God / Becket ou l'Honneur de Dieu inspired by Archbishop Thomas Becket's conflict with king Henry II. (In 1964, five years ...
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Did the Eiffel Tower feature in any of Maupassant's stories or novels?

Guy de Maupassant wrote almost all of his fiction during a single decade: the 1880s. This was also the decade that saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower, namely in the years 1887-1889. The ...
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What political leanings are being described for Monsieur Carre-Lamadon?

I've just begun reading the complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant, starting with one of his most famous, "Boule de Suif" (variously translated as "Dumpling", "Butterball", etc.) In an early ...
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How had Mr. Fay's coat left him while his hands were bound tightly in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The History of Spiritualism"?

In volume I of The History of Spiritualism, Arthur Conan Doyle quotes a letter from Dion Boucicault describing a performance by "the Davenport brothers and Mr W. Fay" on October 11, 1864. How had Mr. ...
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Is Lambert-Sarrazin's moustache speech in Bel-Ami an allusion to a real speech?

The beginning of Chapter V in Part Two of Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami tells us about political discussions regarding the French colonisation of North Africa. One of the members of Parliament (the Third ...
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In Maupassant's Bel-Ami, why would it be compromising for a magistrate to have been in (the) mixed committees?

In the second chapter of Part Two of Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami, Georges Duroy's wife turns out to have interesting connections that allow the couple to write newspaper articles that can make or break ...
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Is Maupassant referring to a ranking of duellists or shooters that existed in late nineteenth-century France?

In Chapter VII of the first part of Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami, the main character, Georges Duroy, is insulted by another journalist. The disagreement escalates and leads to a duel using pistols. ...
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What historical similarities are there to Burr's characterization in "Hamilton"?

In the 2015 musical, Hamilton written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Aaron Burr serves as the foil to Alexander Hamilton. While Alexander is rash, hasty, and always on the move, Aaron sits back and watches ...
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Were there really such camps in India as attempts to prevent overpopulation?

Content warning: the story, and this question, concern implied mutilation. In R. K. Narayan's short story "The Edge", which I read as part of his 1982 collection Malgudi Days, the knife sharpener ...
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Why is Christopher Marlowe considered an atheist?

My question is, that how could it be possible for Marlowe to deny the existence of God while at the same time, produce such a masterpiece like Dr. Faustus whose topics are God, Lucifer, angels, virtue ...
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1 Henry IV Act 5, Scene 3: "God keep the lead out of me"

Henry IV Part 1, Act 5, Scene 3: Falstaff says ...God keep the lead out of me, I need no more weight than my own bowels. Is this referring to lead bullets? I was under the impression these ...
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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?" ...
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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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Who is ‘the man in the barrel’ in ‘Three Act Tragedy’?

In Agatha Christie’s mystery novel Three Act Tragedy, the actress Angela Sutcliffe is being interviewed about the death of Stephen Babbington, vicar of St. Petroch’s church, Loomouth: “Dear old man, ...
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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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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 ...
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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 ...
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Literature of change [closed]

I am new to literature and was trying to find material on social change. The names of Mrs Gaskell, William Hale White and Thomas Hardy came up. I am interested in turning points in social history and ...
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What are the duties of a "receveur particulier"?

In Zola's Rougon-Macquart novels, specifically La Fortune des Rougon, set in December 1851, around the time of Napoleon III's coup d'etat, Pierre Rougon seeks to obtain the post of "receveur ...
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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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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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Who ran the small errands in 19th century London?

Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke is set in 19th century London. Four of the main characters, Sally, Fred, Rosa, and Trembler, are running a small photographic studio. They are not particularly ...
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Was there a real person for Cardinal Vitori mentioned in This Side of Paradise of F. Scott Fitzgerald?

known by name as a fabulously wealthy American girl to Cardinal Vitori and Queen Margherita and more subtle celebrities that one must have had some culture even to have heard of. I was able to find ...