Page 101. " Marco's small flickering smile reminded me of a snake I'd teased in the Bronx Zoo "
Congo Gorilla Forest, Bronx Zoo ...
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCongo Gorilla Forest, Bronx Zoo ... - Credit: Kai Brinker, Flickr

The Bronx Zoo, the United States' largest metropolitan zoo, is situated in Bronx Park in an area of New York City known as 'the Bronx'.

Amongst its many attractions are a baboon reserve, a monkey house, a butterfly garden, an aviary, and an area that simulates the African plains.

... and two of its inhabitants
GNU Free Documentation License... and two of its inhabitants - Credit: Postdlf, Wikimedia Commons
Page 102. " and started shaking those seedpod rattles that mean South American music "
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMaracas - Credit: Helder Ribeiro, Flickr

Many cultures in Africa, the South Pacific and South America have used the seed-pods of various plants, known as gourds, to make rattles and other percussion instruments.

Generally, the seed pods are dried and then filled with beans, beads, or small stones.

In South America, there is a tradition of playing rattles of this type in pairs. They are known as maracas



Page 102. " I hung on to my fourth daiquiri "

A daiquiri
Creative Commons AttributionA daiquiri - Credit: Mike_fleming, Flickr
A daiquiri is a rum-based cocktail, the classic version of which is made with rum, lime or lemon juice, and sugar.

There are also variations on the daiquiri theme, such as strawberry daiquiris and banana daiquiris.

Daiquirí is the name of a village in Cuba, as well as that of a beach near Santiago, and an iron mine in that area.

Classic daiquiri recipe

Strawberry daiquiri recipe

Page 102. " It's a tango "


The tango is a dance that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1890s, and spread to other parts of the world during the early years of the 20th century.

Watch Rudolf Valentino dance the tango in the film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921):


Page 109. " the glove-grey Chevrolet "
A 1956 'Chevy' station-wagon
Creative Commons AttributionA 1956 'Chevy' station-wagon - Credit: John Lloyd, Flickr

The Chevrolet car manufacturing company was founded in 1911, and taken over by General Motors in 1917.

It was an extremely successful company in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, and by 1963 one in ten cars sold in the U.S.A. was a Chevrolet.

A Chevrolet car is sometimes known as a 'Chevy', as in the line 'Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry' from Don Maclean's 1971 hit song, 'The Day the Music Died' ('American Pie').

Listen to Don Maclean sing 'American Pie' on Spotify

Page 110. " 'you didn't make that writing course.' "
A book of Frank O'Connor's short stories
Creative Commons AttributionA book of Frank O'Connor's short stories - Credit: Chris Drumm, Flickr

In the summer of 1953, on her return home from her guest editorship with Mademoiselle, Sylvia Plath heard that she had not gained a place on Frank O'Connor's short-story writing course at Harvard University.

In Letters Home (p.123), her mother describes 'the look of shock and utter despair' that passed over her face when she gave her the news.

Frank O'Connor (1903-1966), whose full name was Michael Francis O'Connor O'Donovan, was a prolific Irish short-story writer whose work was often published in The New Yorker magazine.

During the 1950's he spent a great deal of time in the United states where he taught at various universities including Harvard and Northwestern.  


Page 112. " who had gone to Barnard and then married an architect who had gone to Columbia "

Columbia University in New York City was founded in 1754 as King's College, and is a member of the Ivy League. Originally a men-only college, it began admitting women in 1983.

Barnard College is also in New York City. It is a women-only institution, founded in 1898, and is one of the colleges of Columbia University.  It was a member of the group of women's colleges in the Northeastern United States which were known collectively as the 'Seven Sisters'.

Columbia University Library
GNU Free Documentation LicenseColumbia University Library - Credit: Witchblue, Wikimedia Commons
Page 112. " peanut-butter-and-marshmallow sandwiches, vanilla ice-cream and gallon upon gallon of Hoods milk "
The 'Hood Milk Bottle' outside the Children's Museum, Boston
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe 'Hood Milk Bottle' outside the Children's Museum, Boston - Credit: The Bostonian Longhorn, Wikimedia Commons

Peanut-butter-and-marshmallow sandwiches are particularly popular in the Northeastern United States, where they are sometimes known as 'fluffernutters'. The name derives from the fact that they are often made with a brand of marshmallow cream known as Marshmallow fluff.

H.P. Hood is an American dairy company, still in existence today, which was founded in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1846.

A replica of a Hood's milk bottle stands outside the Boston Children's Museum.

'Marshmallow fluff'
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike'Marshmallow fluff' - Credit: Andrew, Flickr




Page 116. " a mock orange bush "
Mock-orange (Philadelphus)
Public DomainMock-orange (Philadelphus) - Credit: Wouter Hagens, Wikimedia Commons

Mock-orange, or Philadelphus, is a genus of shrubs containing approximately 60 species.

Page 117. " By the end of supper my mother had convinced me that I should study shorthand in the evenings "
Consonants in Pitman shorthand
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeConsonants in Pitman shorthand - Credit: Xanthoxyl, Wikimedia Commons


The process of writing shorthand, sometimes called stenography, involves representing the spoken word as symbols. It has traditionally been used by journalists and secretaries, although it is now a somewhat outmoded skill in the latter field. Two well known shorthand systems are the Pitman system, and the Gregg system.

In Letters Home (p.124), Sylvia Plath's mother notes that she gave her daughter four lessons of shorthand during the summer of 1953, but that Sylvia's 'dis-jointed style of handwriting did not lend itself well to the connected strokes of the Gregg system'. She went on to say that she later regretted that they had attempted the lessons as they 'just added to her [Sylvia's] increasing feelings of failure and inferiority'.

Page 118. " I thought I would spend the summer reading Finnegans Wake "
Statue of James Joyce, Dublin
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeStatue of James Joyce, Dublin - Credit: Toniher, Wikimedia Commons

Finnegans Wake is a work of fiction by the Irish author James Joyce, published in 1939.

Written almost exclusively in a 'make-believe' language, it is notoriously difficult to read, and has never been popular with the reading public.

An example of the writing in Finnegans Wake:

'... the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends us unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park ...'

Full text (if you can face it!)


Page 120. " she was a real expert on the Four Quartets "

Extract from 'Dry Salvages' (Loring Park, Minneapolis)
Creative Commons AttributionExtract from 'Dry Salvages' (Loring Park, Minneapolis) - Credit: Ben Ostrowsky, Flickr
The 'Four Quartets' are a group of 4 related poems written by T.S.Eliot over a 6-year period in the late 1930's and early 1940's.

The four poems are: 'Burnt Norton'; 'East Coker'; 'The Dry Salvages'; and 'Little Gidding'. They were first published together in 1943.

Extract from 'Little Gidding':

'Midwinter spring is its own season

Sempiternal* though sodden towards sundown,

Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.


Full Text



Page 120. " from Beowulf to the present day "

Beowulf is the name given to an epic poem written in Old English  by an anonymous poet some time between the 8th and 11th centuries. It is to be found in a manuscript known as the Nowell Codex which is kept at the British Library.

Several films based on the poem have been made, including two with the title, Beowulf (one in 1999, and one in 2007) and one with the title, Beowulf & Grendel (2005).

Listen to the Prologue to Beowulf in Old English: