Page 26. " spirited lecture on John Webster's The White Devil "
Title page of the first edition of The White Devil (1612)
Public DomainTitle page of the first edition of The White Devil (1612) - Credit: John Webster

The White Devil is a revenge tragedy by English playwright John Webster (1580–1634).  It opened in 1612, and was a notorious failure.  The play's complexity, sophistication, and satire was rather beyond its original cast and audience.  It was however successfully revived in 1630.

The story is loosely based on fact – it dramatizes the murder of Vittoria Accoramboni. She was killed on the instruction of the Medici family, in Padua, Italy, on 22 December 1585. The play used corruption in Italy to spotlight "the political and moral state of England," and corruption in the royal court in particular.  It explores the gap between how people present themselves, as pure or ‘white’, and how they actually are.

Page 27. " flicked through the pages of Acheron's file "

The river of pain in Greek mythology is also known as Acheron. Along with Styx and three others, it is a river of the underworld, across which the dead have to travel.  Virgil described it as the source of the river Styx. There is a contemporary river in northwest Greece called Acheron.  

Page 31. " I had one of the early Thylacines "
Public DomainThylacine - Credit: E. J. Kellar

The Thylacines are more commonly known as the Tasmanian wolf or Tasmanian Tiger. They would have at one stage been found all over Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania, but by the time of the arrival of Europeans to the region, they were mostly restricted to Tasmania. They were threatened by competition with dingo’s, dogs and habitat restrictions. Most tragically of all, they were considered to be pests and hunted in their thousands. The last known Thylacine, Benjamin, died in captivity in 1936, in the same year that they were given official protection.

Thylacinus cynocephalus
Public DomainThylacinus cynocephalus - Credit: John Gould

You can view rare footage of a Thylacine in captivity by clicking here. Many of the Australian marsupials have suffered the same fate and many of those that survive are still at risk. Hear more about this by clicking here.

The vast majority of marsupials are found in Australia, New Guinea and nearby islands. Marsupials give birth to underdeveloped young that continue their growth inside a brood pouch. Thylacines were particularly unusual in that both the male and the females have pouches.

Page 32. " They sequenced a Stellar's Seacow last week "
Stellar Seacow
Public DomainStellar's Seacow - Credit: Sven Larsson Waxell

The Stellar's Seacow is the only cold water member of the order Sirenia which includes Dugongs and Manatees. They are marine mammals that feed on algae, sea grass and kelp. The Seacow was first described in 1741 and named for Georg Wilhelm Stellar. He was the chief naturalist on Vitus Bering’s expedition to what is now known as the Bering Strait. Their ship, St Peter, was wrecked in November 1741 and the survivors spent months on what is now known as Bering Island. They escaped in August 1742 having managed to build a boat from the wreck of St Peter.


Creative Commons AttributionManatee - Credit: Chris Muenzer

When the survivors returned to Russia they described the meat of the Seacow as being similar to veal and the fat as tasting like sweet almond oil. The oil was also used for lamps because it stayed fresh for longer than alternatives and didn’t produce smoke when burnt.  Hunters flocked to the area and the Seacow was an easy target, being almost completely without defences and quite tame. Less than 30 years later, the Seacow was essentially extinct. There have since been rumours of sightings, but they are unsubstantiated. The nearest relatives of the Stellar’s Seacow, the Dugongs and Manatees, are classified as vulnerable to extinction.

Page 33. " young Henry Fielding fanatics "
Portrait sketch of Henry Fielding
Public DomainPortrait sketch of Henry Fielding - Credit: William Hogarth

 Henry Fielding ( 1707- 1754) was an English novelist and dramatist. His writings were characterised by political satire, parody and bawdy humour.  His most famous novel is Tom Jones, published in 1749. He wrote prodigiously for Tory periodicals, journals, and newspapers.  He was also a successful barrister. In 1748, he was appointed London’s Chief Magistrate.  Together with his half-brother John he founded London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners, in 1749.

Page 33. " If you want Sophia you are going to have to give me an Allworthy plus a Tom Jones as well as the Amelia "
Sophia Western 'pin-up' 1800
Public DomainSophia Western 'pin-up' 1800 - Credit: Adam Buck

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, is a comic novel by Henry Fielding.  The baby Tom is discovered abondoned on the property of a kind and wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy.  Allworthy takes him in and raises him. Tom grows up into a an energetic, passionate and handsome young man, and falls in love with his neighbour's daughter, Sophia Western.  As Tom is a bastard, however, their romance is strongly discouraged by Sophia's father and Allworthy. 

Amelia is another Fielding novel, his last, published in 1751. It describes the hardships suffered by a young couple newly married, and is believed to draw on Fielding's own life.

This 1800 'pin-up' of the character Sophia is captioned "Adorned with all the charms in which Nature can array her, bedecked with beauty, youth, sprightliness, innocence, modesty and tenderness, breathing sweetness from her rosy lips and darting brightness from her sparkling eyes, the lovely Sophia comes!"

Page 35. " This is his brother, Styx "

Crossing the River Styx
Public DomainCrossing the River Styx - Credit: Gustave Dore 1861

In ancient Greek mythology, in order to get to the Underworld you had to cross the River Styx. Some believed that a coin placed in the mouth of the deceased would pay the ferry man for the crossing.

Page 38. " I tapped my fingers on the copy of Jane Eyre "
Portrait of Charlotte Brontë
Public DomainPortrait of Charlotte Brontë - Credit: Evert A. Duyckinick

Jane Eyre is a novel by English writer Charlotte Brontë.  It was published in London in 1847, under Brontë’s pen name Currer Bell, and subtitled An Autobiography. The novel follows Jane through her childhood at Gateshead, where she is emotionally and physically abused; her education at Lowood School, a place of considerable deprivation and oppression; her time as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with Lord Rochester; her time with the Rivers family, her distant cousins; and her return to Rochester when she finally finds happiness.


Page 41. " firmly of the belief that Bacon was the author of "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece" "
Abraham Janssens' Venus and Adonis
Public DomainAbraham Janssens' Venus and Adonis - Credit: Abraham Janssen

Venus and Adonis is a poem by William Shakespeare, published in 1593, and based on passages from Ovid's Metamorphoses. It tells the story of the Greek goddess, Venus and her infatuation for Adonis, a mortal. Adonis is notoriously good looking, but he resists Venus' overtures. The poem ends in tragedy when Adonis is killed during a hunt. Shakespeare dedicated the poem to Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton, a patron of writers.


Dedication Page of The Rape Of Lucrece
Public DomainDedication Page of The Rape Of Lucrece - Credit: William Shakespeare

In 1594 Shakespeare published another poem, The Rape of Lucrece, which he also dedicated to Wriothesley. The story is said to be one of the key events leading to the formation of the Roman Republic. Lucius Tarquinius had taken the throne against Roman custom. His son, Sextus, rapes Lucrece. Before committing suicide, she tells her father and his companions what has happened and her father vows revenge. Her body is paraded in the Roman Forum, prompting the people of Rome to revolt. The entire Tarquinius family is sent into exile.