Page 178. " Jack the Killer blithely striding the stage "

Jack the Giant Killer is a English fairytale, telling the story of a young boy from Cornwall who made a name for himself killing giants. The tale is especially notable for the following words, spoken by of one of the giants he successfully defeats:

Fee, fi, fo,fum!

I smell the blood of an Englisman!

Be he alive or be he dead,

I'll grind his bones to make me bread!

At the end of the story, aided by an invisible coat and a magic cap and shoes, he slays the giant, Galligantau and, in doing so, breaks the spell he has weaved over the townsfolk. When King Arthur finds out about Jack's heroics, he gives her his daughter and they, naturally, live happily ever after. Read the full story here.

The well-known pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, has its origins in this tale and Jack the Giant Killer has also been adapted into two films, one in 1962 and one planned for 2012 release. A comic version of Jack and the Beanstalk was also released featuring Abbott and Costello. 

Page 180. " the opera had at its centre Lord Byron and his mistress Contessa Guiccioli "


Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli
Public DomainTeresa, Contessa Guiccioli



When Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli, first met Byron in 1818, the nineteen year old had only recently married a man forty years her senior. Nevertheless, in little more than year she was established as his mistress and, during his time in Ravenna, Byron even spent some time living with her and the Count. 


During his relationship with her, Byron wrote some if his most famous poetry, including the part of Don Juan. After Byron's death she wrote an account of Byron, Byron's Life in Italy



Page 181. " the pert, precocious newlywed with her captive English Milord "

Upper class English gentlemen, such as those on the Grand Tour, were often refered to by those in continental Europe as milord. 

The word lends itself to a song made famous by Edith Piaf about a poor French street girl who an upper class gentleman turns to for comfort after suffering a broken heart. 

Page 183. " Do you remember together we visited the spring of Arquà? "


Retreat at Arquà Petrarca
Creative Commons AttributionRetreat at Arquà Petrarca - Credit: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose

Arquà is a town, known as Arquà Petrarca since 1860, due its connections with the Renaissance poet and scholar, Petrarch. Petrarch developed the famous Petrarchan sonnet, a form which went on to be used in many well known poems. 



House of Petrarch, Arquà Petrarca
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHouse of Petrarch, Arquà Petrarca - Credit: Giorgia









The house where Petrarch lived for much his life in Arquà is now a museum. Byron is known to have made a visit to the house as part of his tour of Italy, in 1819.

Page 183. " I was your Laura. "




Petrarch dedicated many poems to Laura, a woman he said to have fallen in love with at first sight. She is rumoured to be Laura de Noves and Petrarch first met her on Good Friday, 1327 in the church, Sainte-Claire d'Avignon.

Petrarch's love for Laura remained unrequited up until the rumoured date of her death, 21 years to the day of their first meeting.

The poems dedicated to Laura were collected together in Il Canzoniere. In these poems, Laura can be seen as a representation of idealised, unattainable love.  


Page 184. " from a crate full of old books and toys of Lucy's, he recovers the the odd little seven-stringed banjo "

A banjo is a musical instrument, which is played by strumming the fingers against its strings. Typically, the banjo has four or five strings, although there are models which have six, or even seven. Its associated with many different kinds of music, including folk, classical and country.

The banjo can also be combined with other instruments to create different instruments, which create unique sounds: for example, the banjo mandolin and the ukulele. 


Classical banjo medley


George Formby playing the ukulele banjo

Page 184. " on the streets of KwaMashu "

KwaMashu is a township near Durban, formed by the apartheid government as part of their resettlement policy. Many of the black population came by process of forced removal from Cato Manor, a move which led to the riots in 1960. 

Kwa Mashu has had problems with high levels of poverty and violence, and have been targetted by a government led urban renewal programme with investments made in several community projects. The clip below is the trailer from a 2008 film, depicting life in the township: Kwa Mashu: Still my Home. 


Page 186. " He could fly to Venice tomorrow, catch a train to Ravenna "

Ravenna, situated in the Emilia-Romagna region of central Italy, became capital of the Western Roman Empire in 402 AD. It subsequently came under Ostrogothic and Byzantine rule, and the early Christian monuments of the city were collectively awarded World Heritage status in 1996.

Google Map


Piazza del Popolo
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePiazza del Popolo - Credit: Roger Wollstadt


Byron lived here between 1819 and 1821 with his mistress, Teresa, Contessa Guiccioli. The first five cantos of Don Juan were also written here.

In 1321, Dante, in exile from his home-town of Florence, died in Ravenna. His remains are buried in a specially designed tomb. 


Dante's Tomb, Ravenna
Creative Commons AttributionDante's Tomb, Ravenna - Credit: Husky



Page 190. " No country, this, for old men. "


This quote alludes to the first words of the poem by Irish poet, W B Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium: That is no country for old men.

The poem explores the themes of old age, the relationship between life and art, and the nature of spirituality. It describes the imaginative journey of an ageing man to Byzantium, the ancient city and symbol of art and civilisation. Once there, he calls on the sages to help him free his soul from the natural world, and allow it to live on through art for the rest of the eternity.

The issues addressed in the poem are often seen as deeply personal to Yeats and reflect his search for spiritual truth, as he grew older.


To listen to Sailing to Byzantium, via Spotify, click here.


The National Library of Ireland has a comprehensive on-line exhibition, detailing Yeats' life and works, inclusing information and analysis of Sailing to Byzantium. The exhibition can be accessed via this link.





This pencil drawing of Yeats is by John Singer Sargent. Sargent is also mentioned in Disgrace (see page 154).



Page 190. " The marriage of Cronus and Harmony: unnatural. "


Cronus was the Titan god of time and the ages, and the son of Uranus. In Roman mythology, Cronus is equated with Saturn.


According to legend, Cronus castrated his father at the behest of his mother, Gaia, and claimed power over the world. However, after learning of a prophecy which decreed he would be overthrown by his own son in the same way, he attempted to thwart destiny by devouring his infant children.


Page 191. " Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger. "



Nietzche, photographed by Hans Olde, 1899
Public DomainNietzche, photographed by Hans Olde, 1899

This is a quote for the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche, from his book, Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophise with a Hammer published in 1889. It was written with the intention of introducing his philosophy to a wider public.



Page 192. " A fair field full of folk "


A line taken from a narrative poem by William Langland, The Vision concerning Piers Plowman. Written in the late Middle Ages, the poem is an allegorical social and moral satire about medieval religious ideas.

The 'field full of folk' refers to the world between heaven and hell, i.e the world of the living represented by mankind. 

It has proved difficult to present an authoratative version of the poem, as not only is the text written in archaic Middle English, but several manuscripsts exist. The Bodleian Libray holds more versions of Piers Plowman than any other individual library, housing 15 of the 52 of the surviving and complete manuscripts. One of these manuscripts is shown on the left. 

Page 194. " Omnis gens quaecumque se in se perficere vult "

From the latin, this phrases can be loosely translated to: Every nation, whatever it is, wishes to perfect itself in itself.