Page 26. " safe past the Siren Isle "
Odysseus and the Sirens. Detail from an Attic red-figured stamnos, c480BC
Public DomainOdysseus and the Sirens. Detail from an Attic red-figured stamnos, c480BC - Credit: Jastrow

In Greek mythology the Sirens were hybrid creatures -- part woman, part bird -- who lured sailors with their beautiful, seductive song to shipwreck on their island. Consequently, sirens have become associated with dangerous temptation.

In Homer's Odyssey the sailors are able to escape the siren-song by plugging their ears with beeswax. All except for Odysseus, who is tied to the ship's mast in order to hear their song without succumbing to it.

In Goethe's Faust, seen in operatic form at the beginning of the book, the Sirens are part of the chorus of mythical creatures, narrating and commenting on the action.


The Odyssey on Book Drum

Page 29. " A Carcel lamp with an engraved globe "

The Carcel lamp was an innovative and efficient oil lamp invented by Bernard Guillaume Carcel (1750-1818), a French watchmaker. The movement of the oil within the lamp was regulated by clockwork.

In Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome (1911), there is a reference to the "best parlour" being 'weakly illuminated by a gurgling Carcel lamp'.

In the illustration below of 'lighting through the ages', the Carcel lamp appears fourth from the left in the bottom row (no. 40).

Click here to see a picture of a Carcel lamp.


'Lighting through the Ages'
Public Domain'Lighting through the Ages' - Credit: Maurice Dessertenne


Page 32. " the Idyls of the King "
Arthur's Tomb - The Last Meeting of Lancelot and Guinevere. Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Public DomainArthur's Tomb - The Last Meeting of Lancelot and Guinevere. Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons


A cycle of 12 narrative poems about King Arthur and his knights by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).  The poems, written in blank verse, recount the exploits of Galahad, Merlin, Lancelot and other important Arthurian figures. 

The poems were published between 1856 and 1885, making them contemporary to the period of The Age of Innocence.  The critical reception was mixed.



Page 36. " Gainsborough’s ‘Lady Angelica du Lac.’ "
Portrait of Mrs. Thomas Graham
Public DomainPortrait of Mrs. Thomas Graham - Credit: Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was an English artist famous for his portraits.

The painting 'Lady Angelica du Lac' does not exist, but Wharton may have been inspired by a portrait such as that of Mrs. Thomas Graham.

Page 41. " Esther interceding with Ahasuerus "
Queen Esther by Edwin Long 1878. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Public DomainQueen Esther by Edwin Long 1878. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Queen Esther, according to the Old Testament Book of Esther, was the Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus

Raised by her uncle Mordecai, the orphaned Esther married King Ahasuerus after being picked out from the harem.  When Haman, one of the most powerful princes of the realm, plotted to execute Mordecai and kill all Jews in the kingdom, Esther intervened with Ahasuerus to save them. 

The celebration of Purim in Judaism is based on Esther and her story, in commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews.

Page 41. " No one but Patti ought to attempt the Sonnambula "
by hector
La Sonnambula
Public DomainLa Sonnambula - Credit: William de Leftwich Dodge

La Sonnambula is a "semi-serious" opera by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835).  It is the story of a young woman who wanders asleep into a stranger's bedroom and is consequently accused of infidelity by her fiancé.  Her innocence is only proven when she sleepwalks across a dangerous mill bridge.

The role of Amina, the sleepwalker, is famously difficult, requiring a high vocal range and complicated technique.

Listen on Spotify



Adelina Patti (1843-1919) was a famous bel canto soprano, described by Giuseppe Verdi as a "stupendous artist".  Born in Spain of Italian parents, she grew up in New York City and made her debut at the Academy of Music as Lucia di Lammermoor.


Page 42. " dancing a Spanish shawl dance "

Creative Commons AttributionFlamenco - Credit: Flavio@Flickr
This is flamenco.  Traditional flamenco dancers use shawls, castanets and fans as props.  



The manton de manilla, originally from China, is an ornate silk shawl, often with extravagant fringes and embroidered flowers.

Page 50. " Jacqueminot roses "
Général Jacqueminot Rose
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGénéral Jacqueminot Rose - Credit: A. Barra

The Général Jacqueminot rose is a long-stemmed hybrid with dark red petals.

It was named after Jean-François Jacqueminot (1787-1865), a French general who served with distinction under Napoleon. After defeat at Waterloo, he set up a silk factory and was later elected to the House of Deputies, where he helped overthrow King Charles X in the July Revolution.