The words luxe et volupté are recognisable from the French artist, Henri Matisse's painting, Luxe, calme et volupté completed in 1904. The title comes from a line in Charles Baudelaire's poem, L'invitation au voyage, first published in 1857 in the controversial collection of his poetry, Fleurs du Mal. In the poem he talks of a utopia fired by the senses where all around is 'luxury, peace and pleasure'.
In Disgrace, Baudelaire is one of the poets featured on the Romantic Poetry module taught by David Lurie.
To read the poem in its original French, followed by four alternative English translations, click here.
In the opening section of the novel, when Lurie describes how he chooses to live according to the dictates of his temperament, he refers to this rule written in the sixth century.
Devised by the Italian Abbot, Benedict of Nursia, it provides a guide to a monastic way of life. Widely followed by monastic communities, the rule is still regarded as the seminal work detailing how monks should live and the core values anyone committed to a religious lifestyle ought to embrace.
The words David recalls are taken from the end of Sophocles' Greek tragedy, Oedipus the King, based on the mythical King of Thebes, who fulfilled his destiny by murdering his father and marrying his mother. The play charts the downfall of Oedipus, as in his efforts to banish a plague from Thebes, he tries and ultimately fails to thwart the fate the gods have trust upon him.
The entire text of the play is available online, here.
The name Oedipus has been very famously associated with The Oedipus Complex, a theory developed by Sigmund Freud which deals with a son's unconscious need for the exclusive love of his mother and subsequent desire to take their father's place with the mother. For a strictly lighthearted take on the Oedipus legend and the complex it provided inspiration for, see the video.
In apartheid South Africa, education had often found itself the subject to apartheid legislation. For example, the Bantu Education Act of 1953 was designed to deliver education appropriate to the "nature and requirements of the black people," while universities, such as the one David taught at, would have come under the scope of the Extension of University Education Act of 1959, which aimed to create separate higher education institutions based on race classification. Even when these acts were repealed in 1979 and 1988 respectively, South African education was still organised along traditionally race lines; a process that did not begin to change until the dismantling of apartheid.
Once apartheid was abolished, and a new government put in place, an overhaul of the education system was undertaken aimed at meeting the needs of all South African students. In order to facilitate this process, an agreement was reached between government and teacher unions, which would enable the rationlization and redeployment of teaching roles, according to both geographical and subject related requirements. The fate suffered by David, as a result of departmental closure and a shifting emphasis towards new subject areas, was a fate shared by many teachers in higher educational institutions, as they were forced to come to terms with the changing educational needs of post apartheid South Africa.
This video looks at the role of education in the reconciliation process in South Africa.
This is the first mention of Lord George Gordon Byron, a figure who features prominently throughout the book as David sets about combining his passions for music and romantic poetry into a chamber opera about the poet.
An extremely controversial figure, Byron had a relentless sexual appetite. He is certainly a character David seems to identify with, even if his own sexual adventures seem positively amateurish by comparison. Byron's hundreds of conquests included men, women, underage girls and his half-sister. In the documentary The Scandalous Adventures of Lord Byron, the poet was described as Britain's 'first international celebrity' due to the attention his exploits attracted. Women were said to swoon at the mere sight of him, although as he grew older he became fat and bloated, probably due to the excesses of his lifestyle.
Byron produced a fascinating body of work, and often used poetry to challenge people's preconceptions of morality. Always politically motivated, Byron supported the Luddites in the House of Lords. When he died at the age of 36 he was in the midst of organising forces to attack a Turkish-held fortress, in a bid to secure Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.
Emma Bovary, is the main character in Gustave Flaubert's novel, Madame Bovary. Impulsive and passionate, Emma fails to find satisfaction in marriage and motherhood and seeks excitement through adulterous affairs. When the book was first released in 1857, Flaubert and his publisher were put on trial for obscenity, but acquitted, and the novel went on to become a bestseller.
In an interesting parallel with Disgrace, Emma goes to meet her lover, Leon, every Thursday, which is also the pre-arranged day for David's assignations with Soraya.
Madame Bovary can be read online via this link.
Origen, born in Alexandria in 185AD, went on to become a prominent theologian and philosopher, whose writings exercised great influence on early Christian thought. It is widely rumoured (largely based on the word of the Roman historian, Eusebius) that Origen castrated himself in his youth, so he could teach women their catechism free from the risk of scandal. Eusebius claimed the castration took place because Origen took the passage in Matthew 19:12 literally. Although there is no definitive evidence Origen's castration happened, many scholars claim self-castration was a feature of early Christianity.
At the age of twenty eight, William Wordsworth began work on an untitled autobiographical poem about the growth of a poet's mind. It wasn't published until after his death in 1850, under the title of The Prelude, a name chosen by his widow, Mary.
Wordsworth was brought up in one of the most scenic areas of England, the Lake District, and his relationship with nature would prove hugely influential in his poetic work. The excerpt from the documentary discusses the influence of nature on Wordsworth, with particular reference to The Prelude.
The entire text of The Prelude, Books 1-44 is available here.
The film can be watched in full on the Film Board of Canada's website, here.
Although David speaks these words to Melanie as part of his attempt to seduce her, the sonnet was actually thought to be written with the intention of persuading a young man to marry and reproduce, so that beauty would not die out . The man in question is believed to be Henry Wriothesley, a patron of Shakespeare.
George Grosz was an artist best known for his savage caricatures of German life during the era of the Weimar Republic.
As the Nazi party began to rise to prominence in Germany, Grosz left with his family for the United States in 1933 and became a full citizen of the country five years later. However, after growing disillusioned with his 'new start' in America, he returned to Germany in the late fifties. He died after accidentally falling down some stairs in 1959.
The Alps is a mountain range streching over 700 miles through several European countries including France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Serbia. They are well known for having some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Wordsworth's passage across the vast mountain range is the subject of Book 6 of The Prelude, Cambridge and the Alps, discussed in some deatail in Disgrace (pages 21-23).
The Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) is the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, rising to 11,424 feet at its highest point.
Table Mountain is a mountain, overlooking the bay in Cape Town. It's 3,558 feet above sea level.
Mont Blanc, the highest mountain range in The Alps. Its peak is 15,782 feet above sea level.
The Drankensberg Mountaings in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa
A view of Table Mountain, South Africa taken from Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens, near Cape Town.
The Marx Brothers were a famous American show-business family, well known for their wacky sense of humour and slapstick comedies. They first achieved success with their improvisational act on Broadway, before going on to make several successful feature films.
Although there were five brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo were the ones who enjoyed the most enduring success, as they continued working together after the other two (Gummo and Zeppo) left the act. The photo shows from top to bottom: Zeppo, Harpo, Groucho and Chico.