Page 201. " If Hannibal had taken his jumbos over the Alps "

Hannibal Barca lived in the second century BC, and was a military commander in Carthage, now part of Tunisia.  During his lifetime there was ongoing unrest between the growing Roman Empire and the Mediterranean regions.  Hannibal successfully won over several of Rome's allies and commanded much of Italy for 15 years, but was eventually defeated and, after a few years as a political reformer, he was forced into exile and eventually betrayed to the Romans.  He is considered one of the greatest military tacticians in history.

Hannibal is most famous for his journey, in 218 BC, from Carthage through the Pyrenees and Alps and into Italy.  Accompanied by an army of 46,000 on foot and horse and 37 war elephants, the mountain ranges and major rivers made the crossing difficult and on his arrival it is believed that more than half of his forces were lost.  The image of the elephants forging through the snows, and of their role in battle, is powerful enough to make Hannibal a recognisable figure even to those with no other knowledge of early history.  However, of those which survived the crossing, only Hannibal's own elephant called Surus ('The Syrian') survived the war in Italy.

There is some debate as to where Hannibal obtained elephants.  Indian elephants are smaller, easier to tame and most often used in circuses - Colonel Kearney's beasts are almost certainly Indian.  However most imagery of the march depicts African elephants, based on the evidence of a Carthaginian coin, contemporary with Hannibal, which clearly shows him alongside a larger, African elephant.



Page 202. " Oh, sacred head, sore wounded "

Christ crowned with thorns (15th century)
Public DomainChrist crowned with thorns (15th century) - Credit: Aelbrecht Bouts
Oh, sacred head, sore wounded is the title and opening line of a Christian Passion hymn written in the Middle Ages, translated to English in this translation in 1830.  Whilst the original music for the hymn was written around 1600, it was rearranged by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) with five of the verses as part of his St Matthew Passion (1727).  

Bach's full work sets two chapters of St Matthew's Gospel, around the crucifix ion, to music in what is considered a masterpiece of sacred classical composition.  He went on to create musical settings for the remaining three gospels, but only St Matthew and St John now survive.

In yet another reference to the crucifixion, the song is an address to Christ upon the cross.  In it, the singer laments his own faults, regrets Christ's suffering, and begs to stay close to him after his own death.  

Page 203. " As for me, I slipped the nasty thing on my own plate across to Sybil "

In this final section of the novel, as every convention is undermined, Carter also relinquishes the authorial voice and allows Fevvers to tell the story in her own words.  Unlike the first section of reminiscence, this is not her speaking within the reality of the fiction, but assuming a first-person narrative voice in order to relate events in the first person.  

William Faulkner (1954)
Public DomainWilliam Faulkner (1954) - Credit: US Library of Congress

It is rare for the narrative voice to be ascribed to more than one character, or to slip from the observing voice of an absent author to an active participant in the novel's events.  However, there are some well-known exceptions.  Many epistolary novels - written in the form of letters, articles and journal entries - assume different authors for each entry.  William Faulkner (1897-1962) regularly used this 'alternating person view', most notably in As I Lay Dying (1930).  The story is told by 15 different narrators - including the deceased Addie Bundren - in a stream of consciousness style.  Like magical realism, the technique has also been demonstrated by Latin American writers including Carlos Fuentes and Cristina Garcia.  

Well known tales including Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-1894) Treasure Island (1883), Charles Dickens' (1812-1870) Bleak House (1853) or A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Vladimir Nabokov's (1899-1977) The Gift (1937) and Barbara Kingsolver's (1955-) The Poisonwood Bible (1988) switch from a third to first-person perspective, just as Carter does with Fevvers in this part of the novel.


Page 206. " Or Orpheus without his lute, for that matter "

In Greek myth, Orpheus was a poet, singer and musician in the region of Thrace, able to charm all living things, and even stones and earth, with his music.  As one of Jason's Argonauts, he charmed the sirens with the music of his lyre so that they allowed the ship to pass.  Later, following the death of his wife Eurydice, his sorrowful music made the gods weep and persuaded Hades and Persephone, rulers of the underworld, to release Eurydice.  However, despite warnings, Orpheus turned back to look at her before they reached the upper world and she was lost after all.  Orpheus himself was eventually killed by the Bacchae of Dionysus, who were angry that he had rejected their god and now worshipped only the sun.

The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has been told in two operas, most famously by Christoph Willibald Gluck (Orfeo ed Euridice, 1762) and more recently by Ernst Krenek (Orpheus und Eurydike, 1926).  It also forms the basic for a comic opera, Orpheus in the Underworld, by Jacques Offenbach (1858).  The music popularly known as the Can-Can is drawn from this opera, where it is known as the 'Infernal Galop'.  The whole piece is a risque parody of Gluck's opera.  It shocked early audiences, but this controversy heightened public interest and it remains well known and is performed with reasonable regularity.

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alikelute - Credit: Bobby D. Bryant
lyre player
Public Domainlyre player - Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman

Orpheus is most often depicted playing a lyre, an open stringed instrument something like a small harp, but a Shakespearian reference from Henry VIII describes him as playing a lute, beginning 'Orpheus with his lute made trees, and the mountain tops that freeze, bow themselves, when he did sing', and ending 'In sweet music is such art, killing care and grief of heart, fall asleep or hearing, die.'  The lute is a closed string instrument, looking similar to a small guitar or mandolin.  Appropriately, Shakespeare's poem has also been set to music frequently, including versions by Arthur Sullivan (1863) and Vaughan Williams (1901)

Page 210. " It was a panopticon she forced them to build "

The Countess P's prison combines two concepts for the reform of offenders; the panopticon and the separate system.  

The panopticon (from Latin, all-observing) was a style of prison designed by English reformer Jeremy Bentham in 1785, with the intention that prisoners would feel continually under observation.  Bentham devoted a great deal of energy to creating a physical panopticon in England, but the project eventually failed when King George III refused to release land for the development.  However, many modern prisons are now built in a 'podular' design, giving officers a view into cells built on several tiers around 180 degrees in a triangular or trapezoid structure. 

In 1975, French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote of the panopticon, "Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.  The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen." (Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison)


The separate system, meanwhile, is another Bentham design for prisons aimed at reducing interaction, identity, and the development of gangs or prison subcultures.  Introduced in the early 19th century in Pennsylvania, USA, the buildings consist of a central hub with radiating 'spokes' of cells; each section may be seen from the centre but not each individual cell.  The spaces in between form exercise yards - originally, these too were separated into tiny, one person exercise spaces observed by a central guard; elsewhere, prisoners were made to wear masks during exercise to reduce interaction.  Prisoners were known by number and made to wear felted shoes to prevent noise.  Pentonville prison in London, opened in 1842 followed this design.  However, many prisoners went mad under the system, even with Bibles and chaplain visits; between 1842 and 1850, 55 prisoners in Pentonville went mad, 26 had nervous breakdowns and three committed suicide.  The system died out in the late nineteenth century as it was considered cruel.

Page 216. " The hand under the black glove quivered "

Women in prison make up less than 10% of the total prison population in most countries of the world.  Women's crimes are also less likely to be violent than those of men, and critics feel t  hat many of those who are incarcerated pose no risk to society and that their situations are worsened by separation from family and home.  Over 50% of those in prison have previously suffered abuse, and many societies have been established to support these women, recognising their vulnerability in relation to men and to the wider system.  Rates of self-injury and psychological problems are far higher in women's than in men's prisons; 70% of women prisoners have diagnosed mental health problems, and 66% are either drug or alcohol dependent when imprisoned.  Since women are more likely than men to be sole carers, their absence has a great impact on their children and, where they are assigned to state care, their own chances of experiencing future imprisonment increase.

In Victorian England women constituted slightly under 20% of the total prison population, perhaps because of the greater use of prison sentences for minor offences.  In London, Newgate prison housed both male and female offenders for over 700 years until 1902.  Suicide rates for women prisoners were far higher than those for men.  Like the women described by Carter, many were abused both in and out of prison, or acted in self-defence, desperation or in an attempt to improve their children's lives.

A 1998 study found that between 30-60% of women in prison engaged in lesbian relationships, whatever their sexuality before or after incarceration.  Four theories have been developed as to why this is the case; firstly, that the prison subculture promotes homosexuality and that engaging in lesbian relationships is part of the adaptation to prison life.  The second concept, deprivation, suggests that separation from loved ones on the outside leads women to fill the void with lesbian relationships; longer term prisoners, particularly those on life sentences, are most likely to grow close to other women.

a representation of the vulva hand gesture used by some lesbians and feminists, mainly in the USA
Public Domaina representation of the vulva hand gesture used by some lesbians and feminists, mainly in the USA - Credit: AnonMoos

The importation theory looks at the attitudes and experiences which women bring into prison from outside.  Many have suffered exploitation and abuse; in prison, they adopt roles which fulfil an idealised version of their own reality, and in roles consistent with those they adopted outside.

The final and most recent theory of gender fluidity suggests that women do not turn to one another as a sexual outlet in the absence of men, as is often the case with males demonstrating homosexual behaviour in men-only prisons.  Rather, where male attention is absent and women are not competing, they discover genuine attraction to one another.   Karlene Faith's 1993 study in her book, Unruly Womenfound that women did not consider their prison relationships to be role playing, or filling a void; sexual passion is balanced with emotional interaction and camaraderie.  Imprisoned women themselves talk about boredom and curiosity as contributing factors, but also recognise the freedom of being away from men, particularly for abused women, and the emotional closeness of female relationships.

Page 220. " Rule Britannia! "

Statue of Britannia at Somerset House, London
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeStatue of Britannia at Somerset House, London - Credit: Alastair Rae
Rule, Britannia! is a British patriotic song, although not a national anthem; these correspond to each constituent country of the British Isles.  Rule, Britannia! was originally a poem by James Thomson, set to music in 1740 by Thomas Arne (1710-1778).  Thomson (1700-1748) was a Scottish poet who lived mainly at the English court, and was strongly interested in developing a British identity in contrast to the older, separate identities of England, Scotland and Wales.  Although it was written far earlier, the song is often associated with the Victorian age and the height of the British Empire.  The song is regularly performed at events such as Last Night of the Proms, but is increasingly criticised in the post-imperial world for its suggestion that Britain has a right to dominate other countries.

Page 222. " Like the landscape, he was a perfect blank "

The loss of memory, or amnesia, may be triggered by a traumatic physical or emotional event or mental disorder.  It exists in two forms; anterograde amnesia prevents the formation of new memories (as depicted in the film Memento2000 and the regal tang fish Dory in Finding Nemo, 2003).  Retrograde amnesia, from which Walser is suffering, is the loss of pre-existing memories formed before the onset of amnesia.

Traumatic amnesia - usually caused by a knock on the head - usually results in transient for getfulness, which may last as little as a few hours or throughout a person's life. It can also disrupt a person's ability to make judgements or solve problems, to control muscles or emotions and general intellectual performance.

The dramatic potential of amnesia, of a person returned to an earlier state of being, makes it a regular plot device in literature.  Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier (1918) sees a shell-shocked soldier returning from World War one with no recollection of his wife, but believing himself to be twenty years old an in love with an innkeeper's daughter.  The Persistence of Memory (1998) by Gordon McAlpine introduces an amnesiac and half-drowned stranger into a community, and explores how he and they create a self for him.  In reality, there have been several cases of individuals discovered wandering and of international searches for their true, forgotten identities.  In 2005 the 'Piano Man' was found in England; he did not speak, but played the piano non-stop for four hours.  He was later identified as Andreas Grassl from Germany.

Walser's amnesia supports the concept of Limbo introduced earlier in the novel; as Fevvers and the others disappear into the physical wilderness, he is lost in his own mental wilderness in preparation to 'hatch out' in readiness for the twentieth century.  The first thing which he identifies is an egg, reminding the reader of many earlier references to him as unfinished, young, and unhatched.  In his simple state he is charmed by natural beauty, fascinated by simplicity, losing some of his journalistic cynicism and living in childlike acceptance of all that he meets without questioning its probability.