Page 228. " The Princess knew Othello's occupation was gone "
Poster for Othello, 1884
Public DomainPoster for Othello, 1884 - Credit: US Library of Congress

Shakespeare's tragedy, Othello, tells of a famed military leader, 'The Moor of Venice', who is tricked into believing that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful.  This belief eventually leads her to kills both her and himself.  

In a famous speech from the play, just after he discovers Desdemona's alleged infidelity, Othello bids farewell to his former glories with the words,

"O farewell, farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump, The spirit-stirring drum, th-ear-piercing fife; The royal banner, and all quality, Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!

And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats Th'immortal Jove's dread clamors counterfeit, Farewell! Othello's occupation's gone." (Act 3, scene 3)

This passage lends the phrase, 'pomp and circumstance' to the English language, but also shows how Othello sees Desdemona's apparent betrayal as the end to all of his former happiness and success.  There is no logical reason for her actions to impact on his military career but he connects the loss of her with the loss of all that is positive in his life.  The Princess has lost the bond of trust between herself and the tigers, lost the tigers themselves, and now lost her outlet in music; without any of the elements which gave her purpose she is left bereft.  Carter reuses the phrase relating to the shaman on page 264; it also appears in Wise Children (1991).

Page 229. " We are neither prisoners, nor exiles, nor settlers, madame "

The title of outlaw was originally issued as a punishment in Roman law and throughout the Middle Ages.  As an outlaw, an individual lost all legal protection and could be persecuted or killed at will by other citizens.  Furthermore, to provide fire or water - heat or sustenance - to an outlaw was a punishable offence.  The Third Reich resurrected the idea of outlawry and it was seriously considered as a punishment for Nazi war criminals.

In popular culture, the idea of the outlaw or bandit has gained romantic and dramatic connotations through the figures of highwaymen, pirates and Robin Hood.  In these cases, men have generally chosen to live outside society, often because society itself has done them wrong, and possess an air of mystery and excitement which has inspired poets and writers over several centuries.  Outlaws have been cast as romantic heroes, righting wrongs, luring maidens away from their beds and galloping across wild moors in the moonlight.

In Russia, the Cossacks who inhabit the southern steppes were originally exiles and outlaws who came together to form new settlements from around the 14th century.  Not all of this terrain then lay within the Russian borders, but as the country expanded its territory the settlers became Russian and fought on behalf of their new country.  Some Cossacks also lived in Siberia but would have left their outlaw roots far behind before the Imperial Circus passed through.

The 'brotherhood of free men' described by the outlaw leader points to Communist connections; the party was to lead the Russian Revolution in 1917 and contribute in large part to the first revolution in 1905.  This was a wave of political and social unrest, directed partly against the government and partly against undefined oppressors, which spread across the country five years from the time in which the novel is set; it manifested itself in terrorism, strike action, peasant unrest and military mutiny.  Although little obvious revolutionary activity had begun prior to the turn of century, the very early twentieth century saw the creation of stronger unions from small groups of outlaws and political dissidents.  The men who intercept the circus train would certainly need stronger and more credulous leaders to turn them against the Tsar and Empire.

Page 232. " As in Fidelio, by Beethoven "

Ludwig van Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio (1814) tells of a young wife, Leonore, who disguises herself as a male servant, Fidelio, in order to rescue her husband Florestan from imprisonment.  He has been detained for exposing the crimes of the nobleman Pizarro, and is starving in prison.  Beethoven found the creation of the opera extremely challenging, but although it is rarely performed today it found critical success.

Working with the prison guard Rocco, Leonore arranges to speak to Florestan.  However, Pizarro learns that a minister is on his way to investigate accusations against him, and decides to kill Florestan rather than have the minister discover him.  Hiding in the room, Leonore intercedes before he commits the murder and reveals herself just as the minister arrives.  The leads and townsfolk sing 'Heil sei dem Tag! (Hail to the Day!)', a song of praise to justice and freedom from tyranny, and praise Leonore for rescuing Florestan.  Throughout the opera, the imminent arrival of the minister suggests that there is a greater good which must eventually bring Pizarro to judgement.  

Page 233. " Looking ghastly as Lady Macbeth in the sleep-walking scene "

Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, in which Macbeth and his wife are driven by greed for power to kill the sleeping king, Duncan, and many others who lie between them and the throne.  Whilst Macbeth commits the initial murder, Lady Macbeth returns to remove the bloody dagger from the corpse and later descends slowly into a guilty madness.  In a famous scene, a doctor and lady in waiting watch her sleepwalking, washing her hands obsessively in the belief that they are still stained and scented with blood.


Page 233. " 'The sun shines bright,' warbles the Colonel, 'on my old Kentucky home.' "

My Old Kentucky Home is the state song of Kentucky, USA.  It was written in 1853 by Stephen Foster, known as 'the father of American music' for songs such as Oh! Susanna and Swanee River.  The state of Kentucky formally adopted the song in 1928. It describes life on a slave plantation and is not unsympathetic to slaves, although some words, such as 'darkies,' have been changed. It is sung at major sporting events in Louisville, the state capital, and has featured in several films including Gone With the Wind (1939).  Several recordings have been made, including one by Johnny Cash in 1975.


Page 237. " The Shaman was not in the least surprised to see Walser "

Shamanism refers to a range of beliefs and practices around communication with the spiritual world.  A shaman is a religious leader within this belief system, which is believed to have originated in Siberia.  The word 'shaman' derives from the word 'saman', meaning 'one who knows', in the Tungus dialect of the Ural region.  However, versions of shamanism exist across North and South America, among Eskimos, in Africa and China. 

The role of the shaman in a tribe or community is to intercede between people and the spirit world, seeking solutions to problems in alternate dimensions.  The majority of his or her time will be spent in the world of spirits, with advice and guidance learned there impacting on the life of the community.  The shaman is 'called', often after a period of physical or nervous illness, to the role of mediator and healer; shamanism is closely allied to the native American 'medicine man'.  The key difference is that whilst shamans believe that they enter another world to communicate with spirits, they do not possess nor become possessed by those spirits unlike other, similar religions.  Shamans are also guardians of the oral tradition, passing on local songs and stories, fortune tellers and guides of deceased souls.  In some cultures these roles are divided among several spiritual leaders, whilst elsewhere one individual may take on all responsibilities.

Believers in shamanism divide creatures into animals of the Sky, Earth and Underworld according to their place among trees and air, on the ground or beneath the water. Some shamanistic belief systems involve sacrifice, with the souls of animals acting for the good of the people by attracting other game to the locality.  Animals also act as symbols, messengers and spirit guides within the physical and spiritual world, and can aid with the reading of the future and identification of right actions.  Similarly, the shaman could connect with the soul of an unborn child to cure infertility in women.

Shamans follow strict diets appropriate to their culture, and whilst some can induce a trancelike state independently, others employ plant-based drugs including cannabis, mushrooms, tobacco, fly agaric, deadly nightshade and opium to reach the spirit world.  These drugs are known as entheogens; 'that which causes god to be within an individual'.  The spirit journeys are seen as a form of hysteria, but are distinct in that the shaman retains a high degree of control over the experience.  By learning to channel their hysteria, many shamans cure pre-existing nervous conditions through adopting their vocation.

shaman's costume, Evenk people, Siberia
Creative Commons Attributionshaman's costume, Evenk people, Siberia - Credit: s uncana

In order to employ these drugs, shamans often carry smoking pipes; skin drums, rattles and gongs are also commonly used to achieve an altered state of consciousness and travel between worlds.  Feathers often form part of the shaman's costume since birds travel in the air, and thus play a role as messengers from the spirit world.  The core costume of the Siberian shaman includes a coat, mask, cap and iron plate.  The mask is designed to close the eyes to the physical world whilst visiting that of the spirits, other accessories and instruments envelope the shaman in disorienting colour, images and noise which help to increase his impact on observers and to ease them into a semi- hallucinatory state.

Today, shamanism has died out in many areas of the world with former shamans, and followers of the belief system, feeling mocked and embarrassed within modern culture.  It survives chiefly among indigenous, isolated peoples, still most notably in Siberia where, although many citizens are registered as Christian or Buddhist, they continue to follow elements of shamanistic beliefs.  For example, when the first reindeer is killed on a day of hunting, a carved wooden spirit figure is smeared with its blood to guard the health of the remainder of the herd.  There are also, inevitably, individuals claiming to be shamans who are no more than frauds selling worthless oils and medicines.  A line of modern, western shamans also offer courses and guidance to individuals wishing to explore shamanism in today's society.

Read texts on shamanism

Identify animal spirits


Page 238. " What a piece of work is man! "


Edwin Booth as Hamlet, c 1870
Public DomainEdwin Booth as Hamlet, c 1870 - Credit: US Library of Congress

A quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet, the third of his tragedies to be referenced within ten pages, casting an ominous shadow over the fate of the outcasts from the circus.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, becomes slowly mad as he seeks revenge for his father's death.  Speaking to his friend Rosencrantz, he describes the wonders of man: 

'How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!' (Act 2, scene 2)

Despite this excellence, Hamlet says that he can find no joy in either man or woman, in earth or sky.  The low spirits which hang over him can find no release except, perhaps, in the achievement of his revenge.


Page 239. " First place, what is this soul of which you speak? "

Throughout the novel there have been increasingly obvious clues to Lizzie's Communist sympathies - the bomb in the bombe surprise, the secret correspondence, all suggest an active role in the emerging party; Fevvers' recent sympathy for the outlaws shows that she has inherited some of her stepmother's ideals, for all her passion for diamonds.

Communism aims for a classless, stateless society of shared ownership and labour; its maxim reads, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  To achieve this state, it was widely believed that the working class - the proletariat - would have to overthrow the powerful ruling class, even if that had to be through insurgency and weaponry.  Today, communist parties hold power in several countries including China, Vietnam and Cuba; however, none of these countries practice pure communism, in which all property is shared and all decisions are made for the good of the majority albeit by a single, controlling political party. 

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the father of Communism and co-author of The Communist Manifesto (1848), saw communism as the basic state of hunter-gatherer humanity; only where surplus existed, he felt, could capitalism flourish.  The industrial revolution in the 19th century saw a new generation of an oppressed proletariat as factory workers suffered in arduous and dangerous jobs for minimal wages, whilst factory owners grew rich.  In the late 1800s, following the emancipation of the serfs, Russian peasants recognised how little their conditions had improved and a growing unrest began, with the formation of communist-based unions, a first revolution in 1905, and the major October Revolution of 1917 after which the Marxist Bolshevik Party seized power.  The Soviet Union was formed in 1922, led by the Communist leader Vladimir Lenin.  The hammer and sickle is the symbol of the Soviet Union, and closely associated with communism more widely as showing the tools of the working class.

According to The Communist Manifesto, there are ten basic tenets of communism:

Abolition of Private Property

Heavy Progressive Income Tax

Abolition of Rights of Inheritance

Confiscation of Property Rights

Central Bank

Government Ownership of Communication and Transportation

Government Ownership of Factories and Agriculture

Government Control of Labor

Corporate Farms and Regional Planning

Government Control of Education

Furthermore, Communism demands the abolition of religion, in the assumption that civility within society would increase in the absence of possessions.  Lizzie's response to the Escapee challenges his surviving belief in the human soul, the possibility of universal happiness under the current system, and insists on the necessity of action to bring about change.

Since 1917, the drawbacks of Communism have become increasingly evident.  An absolute ruling party leaves no place for future dissidence, even where it has been born from the demands of the oppressed majority.  In those countries still led by communist parties, state control of the economy has been reduced to stimulate growth; poverty in China has reduced by 47% following these changes. On the other hand, communist countries led earlier technological development including the race to reach space and posed a genuine challenge to western democracy, leading to the Cold War in the 1980s and Senator McCarthy's trials of suspected Communists in the USA.


Page 241. " the Godwin and Wollstonecraft Debating Society "

Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797
Public DomainMary Wollstonecraft, 1797 - Credit: US Library of Congress
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was a writer, philosopher and early advocate of women's rights. Her best known book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) argues that women's perceived inferiority, and historical silence in comparison to men, is the result only of a more limited education and not of any natural failings.

A controversial figure at the time, Wollstonecraft had two pre-marital affairs, one of which resulted in the birth of a child.  She later married the philosopher William Godwin; their daughter, who became Mary Shelley, was the author of Frankenstein (1818).  Her mother died ten days after the child's birth.

Today, Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founders of feminism.  Her husband, Godwin, posed an equal challenge to the state with his works questioning political justice and aristocratic privilege. After her death, Godwin published Wollstonecraft's memoirs as an act of memorial, but was harshly criticised for doing so since they revealed her, then scandalous, affairs and attempts at suicide.


Page 242. " in the attitude of Rodin's Thinker "

'The Thinker' by Auguste Rodin, 1902
Public Domain'The Thinker' by Auguste Rodin, 1902 - Credit: AndrewHorne
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was a French sculptor of the modern school.  His most famous sculpture, The Thinker, was cast in bronze, marble and avocado pulp in 1902 and now sits in the Musee Rodin in Paris, France, although other casts exist elsewhere. The male figure sits deep in thought, apparently contemplating some internal struggle. Originally entitled The Poet, Rodin designed the sculpture to represent Dante before the Gates of Hell in The Divine Comedy (1308-1321), planning his great poem.  A miniature of it sits atop the gates of the Musee des Artes Decoratifs, also in Paris.

Once again, Carter is slightly ahead of herself with her cultural allusions; although Fevvers is, arguably, describing the scene retrospectively.

Page 242. " eldritch music from the witches' sabbath "

It was believed, particularly in the Middle Ages, that people practising witchcraft would gather at midnight to dance and commune with the Devil through profane rituals.  These, it was said, included the destruction of religious imagery, eating human flesh, a Black Mass, nudity and orgies involving demons. Until the 17th century people were tried for involvement in witches' sabbaths.

At these gatherings, the Devil would appear in the form of a goat.  The Black Mass element involved the host (the bread used in Catholic Mass), obtained from a corrupt priest or stolen from church, being profaned through sexual practices.

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht on April 30 is associated with witches holding a great celebration to herald the arrival of spring; this is the same date as Rosencreutz' 'May Eve'.  Carter references Walpurgisnacht again in The Werewolf, a short story from The Bloody Chamber (1979).

Arthur Miller's play The Crucible (1953) uses the Salem witch trials of the 17th century as a metaphor for the McCarthy trials of suspected Communists in 1950s USA.  In it, a group of girls are suspected of communing with the Devil at night under the leadership of Tituba, a black slave.  

Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata, The First Walpurgisnacht, in 1831 based on a long poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Goethe also refer to Walpurgisnacht twice in his play Faust (1806).

The witches' sabbath inspired two further works of the classical music canon; Modest Mussorgsky's  Night on Bald Mountain (1886), arranged by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and the fifth movement of Hector Berlioz's Symphanie Fantastique (1830).

An 1823 painting by Francisco de Goya, subtitled The Great He-Goat, depicts a large group of women meeting with the Devil in goat-form; it satirises the old beliefs in the reality of withcraft and the Black Mass.

The clowns' black dance is the recognition that Buffo, unlike Jesus, will not return; that if anything he was a clown-devil and not a clown-god, and that his was a path of destruction rather than redemption.  They disappear at last to join him, leaving Limbo, perhaps, to walk beside their master in Hell.


Page 245. " Is my fate to be a female Quixote, with Liz my Sancho Panza? "

Don Quixote (1605 and 1615) is one of the most famous books in the Spanish language and indeed the entire literary canon.  The novel, by Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616), tells of the adventures of Don Quixote of La Mancha in central Spain.  Having devoted his time to reading of ancient quests, and believing in the literal truth of the knights' exploits, he sets out on a series of ridiculous errands of his own.  On these adventures he mistakes pubs for castles and windmills for giants, calls himself a knight and dresses in armour.  

The foolish Sancho Panzo, a neighbour, is persuaded to become Quixote's squire in return for the promise of an island to rule.  Meanwhile, a local farm girl becomes the oblivious object of Quixote's affections and is known by him as Dulcinea.

At the close of the second volume, Quixote recovers his sanity and repents of his deeds, which have caused considerable suffering to Sancho Panza in particular.  His embarrassment and failure brings on a deadly illness and eventually he dies.

Don Quixote is seen as an exemplar of the picaresque novel,  a satire of a roguish hero overcoming the perils of society through the power of his wits, written in a realistic but humorous style.  The visual imagery and extravagant conceits have inspired works of art and music, including a painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and a composition by Richard Strauss (1864-1949).  The characters are well recognised, with the word 'quixotic' entering the English language to mean the impossible pursuit of imaginary ideals.

In the novel, Quixote is the eternal idealist, Panza the weary follower, which has some echoes in the relationship between Fevvers and Lizzie; as Fevvers soars away from the earth, Lizzie works on her pamphlets to change it from where she is, and whilst Fevvers sees only a romantic view of Walser, Lizzie questions the practicality of any relationship.  Dulcinea herself is an absent character, built into an ideal by Quixote's illusion, and in Walser's absence Fevvers is left questioning whether her attraction to him will prove to be equally baseless.


Page 247. " fingernails as long as those of Struwwelpeter "

Struwwelpeter, or 'Shock Headed Peter', is a character in a German book of cautionary tales for children (1845) by Heinrich Hoffman (1809-1894).  The tales warn of the dangers of thumb sucking, fidgeting at table and racism, with the title character described as a sloven; 'See! His nails are never cut; They are grim'd as black as soot; And the sloven, I declare, never once has comb'd his hair.'

Read and view the 1848 English edition of Struwwelpeter

 In 1998, the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Lyric Hammersmith theatres in England created a stage adaptation involving pantomime and puppetry, which toured to critical acclaim.


Page 247. " She chose the last song of the 'Winter Journey' "

Winterreise (Winter Journey, 1827) is, yet again, a work by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), with whom Mignon is closely associated.  The song cycle is based on poems by Wilhem Muller (1794-1827) and was originally written for a tenor voice, but has often been adapted for other vocal ranges.  The work is unremittingly melancholy and represent Schubert's final burst of creativity as his health deteriorated due to typhoid fever and possibly syphilis.  

The song cycle tells of a young man whose lover has forsaken him for another.  He walks away weeping into the snow, seeking memories of their walks together in the sunshine, until he is lured off the path and rests for a while in a charcoal burner's hut.  There he dreams again of springtime, and wakes again to continue his sorrowful wanderings, contemplating death.  Unable to find a room at the inn, he musters his courage until he meets an organ grinder by the roadside.  The last of 24 songs, Der Leiermann (The Hurdy Gurdy Man) sees the young lover joining the starving, barefoot musician, although nobody pays him any attention except for the growling dogs.  The embedded music is of the final three songs of the cycle, with Der Leiermann beginning at 4:40; soprano versions, as the Princess points out, are fairly difficult to find.