Page 51. " about her father's new hobby: lepidoptery "
Monarch Butterfly
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMonarch Butterfly - Credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson

Lepidoptery is the study of butterflies and moths.

Page 51. " in her sable coat "
Sable skins
Public DomainSable skins - Credit: Kuerschner

The Russian sable is a species of marten found in the forests of Siberia, north Mongolia, China and Japan.

A sable coat meant serious wealth, as sable fur did not come cheap and was more often used to adorn just the cuffs and collars, hems or hats. It remains a luxury item today.

Sable coat
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSable coat - Credit: Bain News Service


Sable fur is famed for its soft, silky smoothness and rich, beautiful colours. Stroke a sable coat in any direction and its luxurious smoothness is the same, unlike other pelts which can feel rough if stroked the 'wrong way'.

Fans of sable included Henry I and Henry VIII, who decreed the fur be worn only by nobles of a rank higher than viscount.

Page 52. " Peter has his place at Balliol confirmed "
Balliol College, Oxford
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBalliol College, Oxford - Credit: Toby Ord

Balliol College is best known for its politically-minded students; it can claim three prime ministers amongst its alumni.

Prime Minister H H Asquith reportedly said those at Balliol possessed "the tranquil consciousness of an effortless superiority"... a fact William Boyd may well have borne in mind when creating the character of Peter...

Page 53. " Like Michael Arlen or Arnold Bennett with his yacht "
Michael Arlen
Public DomainMichael Arlen - Credit: Time Magazine

Armenian-born Michael Arlen was at the height of his fame during the 1920s, when his book The Green Hat was published. It later became a play and movie.

Arlen enjoyed his greatest success whilst living in England, penning essays, short stories, plays and scripts, and was very much a ‘society figure’ at the time. He was even a bit of a ‘dandy’.  

His ethnicity however, brought a certain amount of hostility – envious peers made jokes at his expense.

Arlen left England in the late 1920s, but returned to serve in WW2. He wrote political pieces later in life, and lived out his days in New York, where he died in 1956.


Arnold Bennett
Public DomainArnold Bennett - Credit: Project Gutenberg archives.
Enoch Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was an English novelist. Starting out in journalism, Bennett progressed to novel-writing and in 1923 won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Riceyman Steps.

Virginia Woolf was amongst his critics, describing his literary style as outdated. Bennett was upfront about the fact he worked for monetary reward. Indeed, he held the opinion that if he could write just as well as the next man, why should the next man get paid for the work instead of he...?

Page 53. " H-D lent me a poem called Wasteland by Elliot "

‘The Waste Land’, published in 1922, is considered one of the most significant poems of the twentieth century, written by one of the most significant poets of his age.


American-born T S Eliot – Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) – established himself early on with his poem ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' (1915), but it was 'The Waste Land' that cemented his reputation.

Comprised of five parts, ‘The Waste Land’ is 434 lines long and is accompanied by extensive notes, which shed light on the meaning within and help to explain confusing metaphors… or are supposed to. Some have found the notes to be just as indecipherable as the text!

Nevertheless, the Modernist poem retains its importance in literature; its mixture of satire, prophecy and much more besides is a lure to readers even to this day. Opening with ‘April is the cruellest month’, and finishing with ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust', the poem demands attention.

So too did its author. A key figure in the early modernist movement, T S Eliot made waves with word, both in poetry and in plays. He was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Eliot, who became a British citizen before he turned 40 and purported to feel more in tune with the UK's inhabitants than his own American contemporaries, studied at Oxford like LMS. His heart, he said, was truly British.

The five parts of ‘The Waste Land’ are: ‘The Burial of the Dead’; ‘A Game of Chess’; ‘The Fire Sermon’; ‘Death by Water’ and ‘What the Thunder Said’.

Page 53. " If I want music in verse I'll stick to Verlaine, thank you very much. "
Verlaine, Paul
Public DomainVerlaine, Paul - Credit: NetSurf

Held in the highest regard for his lyrical poetry, Paul-Marie Verlaine (March 1844 – January 1896) inspired the famous composer Claude Debussy to set six of his poetic works to music. The result was the Recueil Vasnier collection, created from the Fêtes galantes poems.

Gabriel Fauré also set various Verlaine poems to musical melodies – including La bonne chanson.

Belgian-British composer Poldowski, however, outdid them all and set a staggering 21 of Verlaine's poems to music.

Page 54. " I cycled to Glympton "

The village of Glympton is a small civil parish approximately three miles north of Woodstock in Oxfordshire.


Google Map
Page 54. " I told him I'd been reading Rilke - in German "

Public DomainRilke - Credit: unbekannt.
LMS's interest in German/Austrian culture continues, with René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke.

Rilke (1875-1926) bridged the gap between the traditional and the more modernist style of poetry.

 More commonly called Rainer Maria Rilke, he wrote verse in a flowing lyrical style and would be described as a Bohemian–Austrian poet.

His poetry was considered some of the most significant in the German language, although he also wrote 400 poems in French.

'Duino Elegies', 'Letters to a Young Poet' and 'The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge' are amongst Rilke's best known works.

Page 56. " school play was last night, I forgot to mention. Volpone "
Public DomainVolpone - Credit: Aubrey Beardsley

Depicting the all too familiar human story of greed-fuelled ambition and lustful antics, Volpone is a gem of Jacobean theatre that juxtaposes black comedy with the Elizabethan citizen style comedy.

It uses the animal fable format, with each character named after a beast. Their true natures are revealed through their animal labels.

Volpone, aka ‘Sly Fox’, is unsurprisingly a rather cunning and creative character. A Venetian nobleman, he has no children and, apparently, no morals either, in his greedy, lustful life.

Volpone dupes three men who are all after his fortune – a lawyer, Voltore (the Vulture), the miserly old Corbaccio (the Raven) and merchant  Corvino (the Carrion Crow) – into thinking he is on his deathbed.

Helped by his servant Mosca (the Fly), Volpone successfully convinces the trio of his ‘fatal’ condition, and even gets Corbaccio to disinherit his son, naming Volpone in the will instead.

The three bring Volpone expensive gifts in the hope of bribing the nobleman to favour each of them in his will. Meanwhile, Volpone learns of Corvino’s beautiful wife, Celia and decides he must have her. Cue Mosca’s announcement that Volpone must have sex with a young woman to improve his condition. Corvino offers his wife.

However, Corbaccio’s son, Bonario, finds out his father is disinheriting him and interrupts Volpone before his planned liaison with Celia can take place. Volpone’s next trick is to fake his death and make the three think he has left his fortune to Mosca. But it goes a little too well and Mosca refuses to give up his newfound wealth. Volpone, disguised as an officer, has to reveal himself to resolve the situation.

Page 59. " unwound our puttees "
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePuttee - Credit: Hiuppo

A puttee is a long piece of protective cloth wound around the lower leg to provide support and exclude mud and water.

Both foot and mounted soldiers wore puttees.

The term is derived from the Hindi 'patti', or bandage.

Page 65. " London, South Kensington, where she bought a five-storey, white stucco terraced house in Sumner Place "

An impressive address close to the Natural History Museum and Harrods.


Google Map


Page 65. " he was writing a book on Blake "
Hecate by Blake
Public DomainHecate by Blake - Credit: William Blake (1795)

William Blake was an artist whose influence helped shape the Modernist period.

Born in November 1757, Blake created etchings, paintings and poems. During his lifetime his talent was acknowledged, but his art was widely considered too bizarre.

Prophetic poetry, philosophy and mysticism were all woven into Blake’s work, which includes the famous ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’, his engravings for Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and ‘Jerusalem’.

Although Blake’s work for Dante is widely regarded, he did not produce the full series of engravings that were originally planned, due to his death in 1827. Blake worked on the engravings even on the day of his death.

In 1788, the 31 year-old Blake began experimenting with relief etching, or illuminated painting – a new method he subsequently used to produce illuminated books and prints, such as ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’. The process saw Blake write on copper plates using a protected medium, before dissolving the remaining copper with acid, leaving the design behind ‘in relief’.

Blake was influenced by both the American and French Revolutions. His early work exuded rebellion against dogmatic religion. Now named a saint, Blake is buried in the Dissenter’s burial ground in Dunhill Fields, London.

Page 65. " I did not tell him about mine on Shelley "
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Public DomainPercy Bysshe Shelley - Credit: Amelia Curran 

Percy Bysshe Shelley is another critically acclaimed English Romantic poet, and one with an impressive social circle.

He counted Lord Byron and John Keats amongst his friends, and the author of ‘Frankenstein’, Mary Shelley, was his second wife.

 Percy produced lyrical poetry like no other and anthologies such as ‘Ode to the West Wind’, ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘The Masque of Anarchy’ are some of the most famous. He also wrote plays such as ‘Prometheus Unbound’, and lengthy stand-alone poetic works.   

He drowned, aged 29, in July 1822.

Page 66. " my essay on Cavour and the Risorgimento "
Camillo Benso di Cavour
Public DomainCamillo Benso di Cavour - Credit: Léopold Ernest Mayer & Pierre Louis Pierson

  Camillo Paolo Filippo Giulio Benso, Count of Cavour, created the political newspaper ‘Il Risorgimento’ (‘The Resurgence’) in December 1847, with his contemporary, Cesare Balbo.

Cavour was a key political player, and one of many who led the way towards Italian unification. He died in 1861, just three months before Rome and Venice were included within the new Italy.

He founded the Italian Liberal Party, and later became Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

Page 68. " I put my essay on Chartism aside "
Chartist Meeting
Public DomainChartist Meeting - Credit: William Kilburn (1848)

Chartism was a national movement which fought for the rights of the British working class and which took place between 1838 and 1848.

Throughout that decade, British working people plied parliament with the People’s Charter, which was first published in 1838 as a draft parliamentary bill and sought equal rights for working people.

The bill, drawn up mainly by metropolitan radical William Lovett, wanted six key social changes – allowing all men over 21 the right to vote, regardless of income or property attributes, to establish a secret ballot and to pay MPs, so working people could also take on the role. It also asked for equal sizing of electoral districts and sought to abolish the need for property qualifications to become an MP. The final point challenged the need for annual elections, so MPs could be held to account by voters for their performance during the year.

In 1834, a new ‘Poor Law’ was introduced, which meant all poor people would be guaranteed a place in workhouses and receive food and clothing. In exchange for this, they would have to work for several hours each day.

Some welcomed the law, but amongst the poor population, workhouses were feared and despised. Indeed, such was the hatred for them, that riots broke out in towns and cities and thus fuelled the fire of the Chartism Movement, the sparks of which had seemingly been created by the controversial Reform Bill of 1831-32.

Said Reform Bill insulted the working class by excluding them from the parliamentary system but admitting the middle class.

Lovett was one who believed peaceful protest was the best way to lead the Chartist Movement, whilst others, such as John Frost and the popular political leader Feargus O’Connor – who used the peoples’ desires for equality to his advantage and rallied support through mass meetings – preferred force.

Chartism saw strikes and petitions and in 1845 O’Connor launched the Chartist Land Plan, through which he sought to secure land in the countryside for working people to live off independently rather than toil in city factories. Five estates were purchased, although only a few hundred people ever got settled in them and the Plan ultimately failed in 1851 after running into legal problems.

The Chartism Movement culminated in 1848 when a petition, allegedly containing around six million signatures, was handed into Parliament. It was the third such petition which had been produced by the Chartist Movement over the years, but it did not succeed and was rubbished for containing false signatures.

Chartism collapsed in 1848 and although none of the peoples’ requests were passed by Parliament at the time, five of the six demands did eventually become a reality, with the exception of an annual Parliament.

Page 70. " We talked a little stiffly about Mussolini and Italy "

Italian leader, Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (1883-1945), founded Facism – the belief that nations need a sole identity and remain strong by waging war and destruction.

Unsurprisingly, Mussolini, who was head of Italy from 1922 until 1943, was an ally of Nazi Germany and of Japan during the Second World War. He also supported General Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

Beginning his career as a socialist journalist, the young Mussolini soon broke from that particular way of thinking by supporting Italy’s involvement with WW1 and he signed up to the Italian army in 1915.

Just four years later, Mussolini created the Fascist Party, which acquired the formidable name of the ‘Black Shirts’ squads and subsequent political terror ensued. It paid off and the Fascist Party joined the coalition government in 1921.

The following year however saw Mussolini claw back control, as Italian politics entered a turbulent period. Invited by King Victor Emmanuel to form a government, Mussolini went on to dissolve democracy, replacing it with dictatorship in 1925, when he became ‘Il Duce’ – the dictator.

Mussolini declared war on Britain and France in June 1940, but this declaration was followed by numerous military defeats. In July 1943, he was overthrown and imprisoned by his own Fascist government and in September the same year, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies.

However, Mussolini’s German friends freed him from his prison bonds during the Italy’s Occupation and he took on a new, but rather less powerful role, as a government leader. The former dictator was forced to flee towards Switzerland  as the Allies advanced and he was later captured and shot by Italian partisans on April 28, 1945.


Page 74. " in a private room at the Mitre for Esme Clay and her husband "

The rather grand facade of the Mitre overlooks the River Thames and was originally used to house those courtiers unable to lodge at Hampton Court Palace just opposite.

The Mitre
Creative Commons AttributionThe Mitre - Credit: Jim Linwood

Aspects of the building date back to 1665.

On a more creative note, "Esme Clay and her husband" appear to be fictional characters created by William Boyd...not some of the many real-life figures threaded throughout the rest of the novel. 

Page 74. " more worldly and sophisticated than Bowra's or Urquhart's "

The name Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra (April 8, 1898 – July 4, 1971) was synonymous with gossip at Oxford, where Bowra was a college tutor.

The Oxford academic was, however, so much more than just a tutor, or so he liked to believe, and he encouraged his students to live life like the ancient Greeks and poets. Such was his obsession with Greece that Bowra made moves to become a Grecian scholar, but was unsuccessful in his attempt. Poetry too saw little luck and Bowra had to content himself with  critiquing others’ rather than producing his own poetry.

Idealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period. British Museum
Public DomainIdealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period. British Museum - Credit: JW1805

Greece, poetry and sex was the collective trio which seemingly consumed Bowra’s attention throughout his lifetime, although success in each ultimately alluded him.

Born in China, Bowra studied and made his life in England, attending Cheltenham College and later New College, Oxford. He fought as an artillery officer in the third battle of Ypres, but returned to Oxford to continue his education.

In 1922, he was named a Fellow of Waldham and in 1938, became Warden of the College and during his career, penned 40 books.

Described by LMS as “worldly and sophisticated,” it certainly sums up Bowra’s life. He taught and influenced people such as Cyril Connolly, John Betjeman and John Sparrow, but was less than keen on T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden or Ezra Pound, to name but a few.

 Francis Fortescue Urquhart (1868 – 1934) was a dean at Balliol College and was also referred to as ‘Sligger’ Urquhart, due to his sleek appearance.

 A college tutor like Bowra, Urquhart was more interested in art than literature and was not the most inspiring teacher. His social skills however made him popular and, like Bowra, he enjoyed a bit of gossip in his rooms in the evenings, which were frequented by socialising students.