Page 153. " how things happened between men and women at Oxford "
Matriculation Day
Creative Commons AttributionMatriculation Day - Credit: Lawrence OP

 Naomi Alderman writes in greater detail about the so-called 'Finals Gap', the tendency for men to be given higher marks than women at Oxford University, here at the Guardian. In addition, this article in the Oxford University newspaper Cherwell reveals that women consistently appear to be outperformed by men in English, History, Classics, Philosophy, Maths and Physics.

Page 153. " and threw flour or glitter on each other's heads "
Silly String
Creative Commons AttributionSilly String - Credit: JMC Photos

 After students complete their last finals exam (whilst wearing their red carnation), it is traditional at Oxford for their friends to soak them in champagne or pelt them with flour, eggs or worse.

In recent years the mess made in the streets outside the Exam Schools meant that the university was forced to impose rules, dampening post-exam high spirits with spot fines of up to £70.

Page 154. " a leather-bound copy of Cory's Ancient Fragments "

Cory's Ancient Fragments is a collection of fragmented documents from the Ancient Near East, Egypt and elsewhere. The book is largely concerned with documenting ancient history and religious beliefs, and contains translations from Phoenician, Babylonian, and Carthaginian sources, among others.

The book was compiled by the writer and antiquarian Isaac Preston Cory (1802-1842), a Cambridge Fellow. It was first published in 1826.


Page 156. " we could, you know, hara-kiri "

 Hara-kiri, or seppuku, was a form of ritual suicide practised by Japanese samurai warriors in Japan from the middle ages onwards. The term 'hara-kiri' means 'stomach cutting', and refers to the method used by these warriors to dispatch themselves, with a sword thrust to the stomach. In samurai culture suicide was considered preferable to a dishonourable death.

Samurais would commit suicide on the battlefield if defeat was inevitable, in order to avoid capture or disgrace. These acts were swift and unceremonious. Alternately, samurais might commit hara-kiri when ordered to by an overlord (as an alternative to dishonourable execution) or in response to another form of disgrace. In these cases, seppuku was a highly ritualised and formal act which involved an assistant, usually a close friend, cutting off the samurai's head after they had stabbed themselves in the stomach.

The concept of suicide being preferable to disgrace has persisted into modern Japanese culture. The country is now struggling to combat high suicide rates caused by the economic downturn, which has caused many to fear financial disgrace.

Page 164. " He was a Bourbon, or some kind of royalty "

 The Bourbons are a European family whose members have occupied a number of thrones over the past five hundred years. Originally from France, the Bourbons first came to power in Navarre and France in the late 1500s, where the dynasty occupied the throne until the French Revolution, and then for periods during the turbulent nineteenth century.

From 1700 a Bourbon, Philip V, also ruled in Spain, and the Spanish Bourbons (Borbón) have ruled on and off there ever since; the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, is a Borbón. Luxembourg also has a Bourbon monarch, the Grand Duke Henri. All Bourbons are direct descendants of Henry IV of France, who ruled from 1589 to 1610.

Page 172. " like the bloody Hay Wain "

 The Hay Wain is an 1821 painting by the English artist John Constable.

The painting shows the River Stour in Suffolk, an area of England made famous by the painter; it is now commonly known as 'Constable Country'. Constable's focus on the ordinary landscapes around his home was unfashionable during his lifetime, when Romantic paintings of brooding ruins and swirling mists were all the rage. However, the painting is now considered iconic. It hangs in the National Gallery in London.