The Age of Reason was an eighteenth century movement, following the mysticism, religion and superstition of the Middle Ages. Thoughts and behaviour could be openly challenged, and people were free to pursue individual happiness and liberty. The shorter Age of Enlightenment - a period of great development in scientific thought and exploration - was embedded in the longer lasting Age of Reason.
Swinging away from traditional religion, reason, rationality and enlightenment became the new ideals. In 1794 Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason, a pamphlet criticising the established Church and questioning the Bible; this was followed in 1872 by Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species in a break away from traditional theology which was to have a permanent effect on British society. By 1899, the Age of Reason had arguably given way to an age of capitalism and greed. In Fevvers' narrative, she pictures rationality lost beneath the surging growth of industry and the increasing pace of life.
Swan Vestas, the UK's most popular brand of matches, draw their name from their parent company and from the goddess Vesta.
Tiziano Vecelli (1490-1576), usually known as Titian, was an Italian painter of the Venetian school. He was interested in the use of striking colours, and his work influenced both future Italian painters and Western art. The majority of his early work illustrated Biblical themes, although he also created portraits of important contemporary figures. In his last years, from 1550, he worked chiefly for Philip II of Spain on a series of mythological paintings drawn mostly from the works of Ovid.
Titian was one of numerous painters of a similar era to depict the story of Leda and the Swan, although versions by Tintoretto and Michelangelo are probably more famous. It is not entirely clear from the text why Walser assumes that the version on display in Ma Nelson's smoking room is the Titian, since it portrays a much calmer and more equal relationship between the swan and the girl than that which Fevvers describes. The Michelangelo (actually a copy of an original painting by the artist) fits more closely with her words.
The Rotunda Clock at the Library of Congress Building in Washington DC, created by John Flanagan, depicts a central figure of Father Time with a scythe and hourglass. He is flanked by mythological and Zodiacal figures, and students deep in books.
Icarus, in Greek mythology, was a young man who attempted to escape from Crete using wings constructed from feathers and wax.
Human flight has been a recurring ambition in fables from many different cultures, almost always with similar results to that of Icarus. Persian poet Ferdowsi depicted a chariot drawn by crows, whilst the British King Bladud was said to have worn wings but overbalanced in midair and crashed to the ground. In China, legend suggests that Emperor Shun escaped a burning tower with the aid of two large reed hats; a rare example of a successful flight, or parachute jump at least.
The negative connotations of human flight were embedded in religion. For a human to wear wings like an angel was seen as an arrogant desire to become divine; in contrast, stories of flying witches and demons remain part of popular culture to this day. Early attempts at building aeroplanes raised similar concerns about humanity attempting to interfere with divinity, to overreach its natural limits and to doom itself to failure.
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a major French poet, who explored themes of moral complexity, vice and decadence, sensual and aesthetic pleasures. His verse follows formal structures and symbology, but includes innovations such as the use of sound to create atmosphere within the piece.
As a young man, Baudelaire spent wildly on drugs and women, embarking on a long love affair with Jeanne Duval and becoming alienated from his family. He also became briefly involved with revolutionary politics. He began publishing poetry in 1845 with his most famous work, Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) published in 1857. The poems' subject matter earned them immediate attention, as Baudelaire focussed on sex and death, melancholy and corruption. Many critics called for the poems to be suppressed, and Baudelaire, his publisher and the printer were fined. However, only six poems were suppressed and Baudelaire was not imprisoned.
Baudelaire's health broke down under the influence of drugs and poverty. He became bankrupt in 1861 and suffered a massive stroke in 1866, dying a year later.
In 1887, a collection of essays by Baudelaire were published posthumously under the title 'My Heart Laid Bare.' As illustrated in the following quotes, Baudelaire discusses his love and hatred for his own decadent lifestyle, and his belief that pleasure and sin lie closely entwined.
"There exists in every man at every moment two simultaneous postulations, one toward God, the other toward Satan."
"The unique and supreme voluptuousness of love lies in the certainty of committing evil. And men and women know from birth that in evil is found all sensual delight"
On page 40, Fevvers describes the women's habitation as 'luxe, calme et volupte.' This is a quote from Baudelaire's 'L'invitation au voyage' in Les Fleurs du Mal.
"There all is order and beauty, Luxury, peace, and pleasure."
Birds' bones are hollow, and their bones may weigh less overall than their feathers. The energy needed for taking off and sustaining flight means that birds have to eat a large amount of calories for their size, and consume them up to 50 times faster than humans; Carter may have been aware of this when giving Fevvers her massive appetite. As she notes, the tail of a bird is also crucial in balance, steering and braking.Fevvers bases her early study of flight on watching pigeons on her windowsill. As she comes to realise, however, her body has few of the features which allow birds to fly easily over long distances.
A bird's wingspan corresponds to its overall size and weight. Scientists believe that the physiology of humans would prevent them from flying with any size of wing, but there was a flying dinosaur, the quetzalcoatlus, which weighed a similar amount to an adult human male and flew with a wingspan of around 15 metres. Even so, it is thought that the dinosaur could only soar, and not take off. To have the strength and lung capacity for take off, the quetzalcoatlus would have needed a chest at least one metre in diameter.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was a satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher. The son of a preacher, he lost his faith at university but retained strong Calvinist principles. His work appealed to Victorians struggling to make sense of the changing morality and new social order created by scientific advancement and political upheaval.
Carlyle moved to London in 1834 and published his most famous work, The French Revolution: A History in 1837. Its three volumes were not only a factual history but an exploration of the motivations for action during the Revolution. He praised individual human action above ideological formulae and called for 'heroes' to direct their spiritual energy into practical action.
Carter's description of Ma Nelson suggests that her political sympathies may have been similar to Carlyle's, and there is little doubt that he owned a large library; he is quoted as saying, "In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream." Furthermore, his marriage was known to be unhappy, and it is believed that his wife Jane had an emotional and perhaps physical attachment to his friend Edward Irving.
Whilst the most obvious link would be with the Singer Corporation, maker of striking sewing machines since 1851, their work was never based in Chicago but began in New York City. The President of the Singer Manufacturing Company from 1889-1905 was Frederick Gilbert Bourne, married only once and also of New York.
Another possibility was Richard W Sears, for whom the Sears Tower in Chicago is named. His company, originally called Sears Roebuck Ltd, began with the production of watches and sewing machines before moving into retail in Chicago. Sears lived from 1963-1914, but like Bourne he was married only once.
The president of the Free Sewing Machine Company, based in Chicago, was William C Free, but I can find little information on his personal life.
Any suggestions as to who Carter may have in mind would be gratefully received!