Page 1. " Thursday has become an oasis of luxe et volupté. "


Henri Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté, 1904
Creative Commons AttributionHenri Matisse, Luxe, calme et volupté, 1904 - Credit: Sharon Mollerus

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.    

Page 2. " It is a rule, like the Rule of St Benedict. "

St Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order
Public DomainSt Benedict delivering his rule to the monks of his order - Credit: Wikicommons


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.    



Page 2. " he has not forgotten the last chorus of Oedipus: call no man happy until he is dead. "


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.


Page 3. " No doubt with other men she becomes another woman: la donna è mobile. "
Brano da Rigoletto (songs from Rigoletto), Giuseppe Verdi
Creative Commons AttributionBrano da Rigoletto (songs from Rigoletto), Giuseppe Verdi - Credit: Hans Thijs
La donna è mobile (woman is flighty/fickle) is one of the most well-known arias in the world and is sung by the tenor voice of Duke of Mantua, in Giuseppe Verdi's opera, Rigoletto. In the song the Duke laments the fickleness of women, while recognising he can't live without them. The words can be regarded as ironic, in the context of the story, as it's the character of the Duke who is shown flitting from woman to woman as he seeks to satisfy his own desires. 


To listen to the piece sung by Luciano Pavarotti, on Spotify, click here.
Page 3. " he has been, since Classics and Modern Languages were closed down as part of the great rationalization, adjunct professor of communications. "

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.

Page 4. " he has been playing with the idea of a work on Byron "

Portrait of Lord Byron in Albanian dress,Thomas Phillips, c.1835
Public DomainPortrait of Lord Byron in Albanian dress,Thomas Phillips, c.1835 

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.

Page 5. " He thinks of Emma Bovary, coming home sated, glazen-eyed from an afternoon of reckless fucking. "


Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
Creative Commons AttributionMadame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert - Credit: Chris Drumm


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.

Page 9. " At what age, he wonders, did Origen castrate himself? "

Public DomainOrigen - Credit: wikicommons

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. 



Page 13. " For as long as he can remember, the harmonies of The Prelude have echoed within him. "
The River Derwent, Cockermouth, Lake District
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe River Derwent, Cockermouth, Lake District - Credit: Ann Hodgson



Wordsworth's home, Rydal Mount, Cumbria
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWordsworth's home, Rydal Mount, Cumbria - Credit: Marion Dutcher

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.

Page 14. " It's a film by a man named Norman McLaren. "

The film David watches with Melanie is Pax de Deux, released in 1968. The short film was the subject of critical acclaim and won Norman McLaren the BAFTA for Best Animated Film in 1969.

The film can be watched in full on the Film Board of Canada's website, here

Page 16. " From fairest creatures we desire increase "

This quote is the first line from Shakespeare's Sonnet 1.

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.


Page 19. " After the storm he thinks: straight out of George Grosz. "


Book Cover by George Grosz, 1923
Creative Commons AttributionBook Cover by George Grosz, 1923 - Credit: 50 Watts


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.

Page 23. " We don't have the Alps in this country, but we have the Drakensberg, or on a smaller scale Table Mountain "

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
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMont Blanc - Credit: Zulu/wikicommons






Mont Blanc, the highest mountain range in The Alps. Its peak is 15,782 feet above sea level.






Drakensberg Mountains
Public DomainDrakensberg Mountains - Credit: Dekokerd












The Drankensberg Mountaings in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa


Table Mountain
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeTable Mountain - Credit: Salimfadhley















A view of Table Mountain, South Africa taken from Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens, near Cape Town.  








Page 24. " A more Marx Brothers atmosphere. "


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.