Page 51. " 'That Louis Quinze escritoire . . .is an amazing thing, sir, surely?' "
Louis XV secretaire
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLouis XV secretaire - Credit: Coyau
Louis XV fall front secretaire
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLouis XV fall front secretaire - Credit: Pline

 Louise Quinze is the name given to a style of decorative art which developed in France during the reign of Louis XV, which lasted from 1723 to 1774. Pieces from this period are characterised by an elegant rococo style, sometimes with an oriental theme; they are also renowned for their particularly high quality craftsmanship.

An escritoire is a writing desk with various drawers and compartments. It may have a hinged vertical section which drops down to create the writing surface; if so, it is described as fall front. Escritoires may also have a top section for holding books.

Escritoires are sometimes known as secretaires.



Louis XV's roll-top secretaire
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLouis XV's own roll-top secretaire at the Palace of Versailles - Credit: TCY
Page 51. " In fact, it was made for Mme de Pompadour "
Mme. de Pompadour depicted as Diana (1748)
Public DomainMme. de Pompadour depicted as Diana (1748) - Credit: Jean-Marc Nattier
Portrait of Louis XV (1748)
Public DomainPortrait of Louis XV (1748) - Credit: Maurice Quentin de la Tour

 Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) was the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745 until her death.

In the French court of the period, the King's chief mistress was known as maîtresse-en-titre, a semi-official position which had various specific privileges attached to it.


Portrait of Mme. Pompadour (1756)
Public DomainPortrait of Mme. Pompadour (1756) - Credit: François Boucher
Page 52. " Fables Choisies de La Fontaine "
A volume of La Fontaine's fables with Mme Pompadour's coat of arms on the cover
Public DomainA volume of La Fontaine's fables with Mme Pompadour's coat of arms on the cover - Credit: Jebulon

Fables Choisies de La Fontaine means 'Selected fables by La Fontaine'.

The Fables of Jean de la Fontaine were published in twelve volumes between 1668 and 1694; they are considered to be one of the principal works of French literature.

The writings of Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) are traditionally divided into three categories: fables, contes ('tales'), and miscellaneous works; he is mainly remembered for the fables, stories in prose or verse which anthropomorphize animals, plants, mythical creatures, and forces of nature, and which are designed to teach a moral lesson.

Portrait of Jean de La Fontaine
Public DomainPortrait of Jean de La Fontaine - Credit: Hyacinthe Rigaud
Page 52. " Nick found a set of Trollope "

 Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) was a highly popular and prolific English Victorian novelist.

He is probably best remembered for his Chronicles of Barsetshire (more commonly known as the Barchester Chronicles), a series of 6 novels published between 1855 and 1867.

Page 52. " The Way We Live Now "
Title page of 1st edition
Public DomainTitle page of 1st edition - Credit: Anthony Trollope/Chapman & Hall

 The Way We Live Now is Anthony Trollope's longest novel. It was first published in 1875, after having previously appeared in serialised form.

The novel is a satire set in London. It was inspired by various financial scandals of the 1870s, and was intended to expose the greed and dishonesty which was prevalent in certain circles during that period of English history.

Click here to read some extracts.



Page 52. " What was it Henry James said, about Trollope and his "great heavy shovelfuls of testimony to constituted English matters"? "

As a young man, Henry James was often highly critical of Trollope when reviewing his work. The quote above is taken from his autobiography, Notes of a Son and Brother, published in 1914.

Henry James on Book Drum


Page 53. " 'We were at Oxford together, both at Worcester College "

Worcester College, which was founded in 1714, is one of the 38 colleges which make up the University of Oxford.

Its alumni include Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, and the newspaper owner Rupert Murdoch.


Worcester College, Oxford
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWorcester College, Oxford - Credit: Kenneth Yarham
Page 53. " Toby of course read PPE "
Edwina Currie
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeEdwina Currie - Credit: Brian Minkoff, modified by Hurdygurley
Ed Balls
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeEd Balls - Credit: Ed_ballsjpg, modified by Jarvin

 PPE, which stands for Philosophy, Politics and Economics, is a course of study at the University of Oxford. It is traditionally chosen by those who wish to pursue a career in politics. The course originated at Balliol College in the 1920s, and was initially known as Modern Greats.

Well-known politicians who studied PPE at Oxford include David Cameron, Ed Balls, Anne Widdecombe, Roy Jenkins, Edwina Currie, and Barbara Castle.

Page 54. " I'm starting at UCL next month "

University College, London
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeUniversity College, London - Credit: mattbuck, Wikimedia Commons
 UCL stands for University College London,  which is the largest and oldest college of the University of London.

Its main campus is situated in the Bloomsbury area of London, which is also home to various other important institutions including the British Museum, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Bloomsbury is also home to the University of London's administrative centre, the imposing Art Deco building on Malet Street known as Senate House.

Page 54. " style at the turn of the century - Conrad, and Meredith, and Henry James, of course "
Joseph Conrad in 1904
Public DomainJoseph Conrad in 1904 - Credit: George Charles Beresford
George Meredith aged 35
Public DomainGeorge Meredith aged 35 - Credit: unknown

 Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. He was born in what is now the Ukraine, and lived in Poland and France, before eventually settling in England. Conrad's first language was Polish, and he became fluent in French during his childhood. However, all his important literary works were written in English, a language he learnt as an adult.

Amongst his best known novels are Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1907).

Heart of Darkness on Book Drum; The Secret Agent on Book Drum.


 George Meredith (1828-1909) was an English novelist and poet. His best-remembered novels include The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859), The Egoist (1879), and Diana of the Crossways (1885). Ralph Vaughan Williams' musical composition The Lark Ascending was inspired by Meredith's poem of the same name.

Listen here to The Lark Ascending on Spotify.

Page 55. " Balfours and Sassoons, Goldsmids and Stuarts, numerous Kesslers "
Arthur Balfour
Public DomainArthur Balfour - Credit: George Grantham Bain
Sir Philip Sassoon, 3rd Baronet
Public DomainSir Philip Sassoon, 3rd Baronet - Credit: Bain Collection

 Arthur James Balfour was Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1902 to 1905, and Foreign Secretary from 1916 to 1919. He signed the 1917 Balfour Declaration which supported the concept of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The Sassoons are a family of Iraqi Jewish origins, some members of which settled in England in the 19th century. Notable members of the family include the Conservative politician Sir Philip Sassoon (1888-1939) and his cousin, the World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967).

Goldsmid is the surname of a family of Anglo-Jewish bankers, descended from Aaron Goldsmid, a Dutch merchant who settled in England in the mid-18th century. Notable members of the family include Sir Francis Henry Goldsmid (1808-1878) and his nephew Sir Julian Goldsmid (1838-1896), both of whom were Members of Parliament.

Page 55. " Edward VII in a tweed cape and Homburg hat "

Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria, was the British monarch between 1901 and 1910. He had spent a lengthy period as Prince of Wales, during which time he became notorious for his numerous mistresses and his hedonistic lifestyle.

A Homburg is a felt hat with a stiff brim, a dent in the crown, and a grosgrain ribbon trim. It was popularised by Edward VII, who obtained one on a visit to Bad Homburg in Germany.


Edward, whilst still Prince of Wales
Public DomainEdward, whilst still Prince of Wales - Credit: Arthur J. Melhuish
Portrait of Hugo Reisinger holding a Homburg Hat
Public DomainPortrait of Hugo Reisinger holding a Homburg Hat - Credit: Anders Zorn
Page 55. " Lady Fairlie, The Hon. Simeon Kessler, Mr. Henry James, Mrs Langtry, The Earl of Hexham "
'A Jersey Lily' - portrait of Lillie Langtry (1878)
Public Domain'A Jersey Lily' - portrait of Lillie Langtry (1878) - Credit: John Everett Millais

Lady Fairlie and the Earl of Hexham appear to be fictional titles.

Click here to see a list of United Kingdom earldoms

Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on the island of Jersey. She married the Irish landowner Edward Langtry in 1874, and was the mistress of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) between 1877 and 1880. In 1879, she also started affairs with the Earl of Shrewsbury and Prince Louis of Battenberg.  In 1881 she made her acting debut in an amateur production in London, and went on to develop a career as an actress and vaudeville performer in Britain and the United States.

Page 55. " The Master, with his thumb in his striped waistcoat "
Portrait of Henry James (1908)
Portrait of Henry James (1908)
Creative Commons AttributionPortrait of Henry James (1908) - Credit: Portrait: Jacques-Émile Blanche; Image: Cliff

At the beginning of the 20th century, Henry James came to be known in literary circles as 'The Master'.

Leon Edel gave the title Henry James: The Master 1901-1916 to the final section of his five-part biography of the novelist, which was published in 1972.

The Master is also the title of a novel by Colm Tóibín which was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2004 (the year Alan Hollinghurst won the prize for The Line of Beauty). Tóibín's novel is a fictionalised  account of Henry James' life during the last decade of the 19th century, and explores issues relating to his sense of identity and his sexuality.

Henry James himself wrote a novella entitled The Lesson of the Master which was published in 1888.

John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of Henry James 'with his thumb in his striped waistcoat'.

Click here to see Sargent's portrait.

Page 56. " He's doing lots of stuff for The Face at the moment. "

The Face was a British monthly magazine which was launched in 1980 and wound up in 2004. Its main focus was fashion, music, and popular culture.

Click here to see a 1987 cover.

Page 61. " a kind of monster of the Union and the MCR "
Entrance to the Senior Common Room at Oxford University's Pembroke College
Creative Commons AttributionEntrance to the Senior Common Room at Oxford University's Pembroke College - Credit: Mark Wainwright

 The Oxford Union Society, generally known just as the Union or the Oxford Union, is a debating society whose members are drawn primarily from Oxford University colleges. It has traditionally offered a platform to would-be politicians who wish to practise their presentation and debating skills.

The Oxford Union often invites eminent international figures and celebrities as guest speakers. Over the years, these have included Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama, Yasser Arafat, and Jerry Springer. The post of President of the Union is seen as particularly prestigious; former Presidents include Edward Heath, Benazir Bhutto, and Boris Johnson.

MCR stands for Middle Common Room. At Oxford colleges, undergraduates, postgraduates, and teaching staff are represented by bodies known as the Junior Common Room (JCR), the Middle Common Room (MCR), and the Senior Common Room (SCR) respectively. The terms are also used for actual rooms which are set aside in the colleges for the specific use of these three groups.

Page 61. " He had come out just below top in the Civil Service exams, and had recently started in some promising capacity in Whitehall "

In the United Kingdom, civil servants are employees of the crown, and the employing body is known as Her Majesty's Civil Service or the Home Civil Service. In general use, the term civil servant tends to be reserved for those involved at the higher levels of policy administration.

Following the Northcote-Trevelyan report of 1854, Civil Service exams were administered by the Civil Service Commission, the purpose of the exams being to ensure that appointments were made on merit and in an impartial manner. However, since the Second World War, significant changes have been made to Civil Service procedures. Today, the United Kingdom Civil Service runs a Fast Stream programme designed to attract graduates with the potential to become future leaders.

Whitehall is a road in the City of Westminster in central London, stretching from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. It is the site of numerous government departments and ministries. Used figuratively, therefore, Whitehall refers to high-level central government administration.


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, situated on Whitehall in London
Public DomainThe Foreign and Commonwealth Office, situated on Whitehall in London - Credit: Arpingstone

Google Map


Page 62. " the solemnly hetero Captain of Boats "
Men's 1st VIII of St Catherine's College, Oxford (2005)
Public DomainMen's 1st VIII of St Catherine's College, Oxford (2005) - Credit: Oarsome

 Rowing has been a popular sport at Oxford University since the early 19th century. It takes place on the Isis, the section of the River Thames which flows through Oxford. Today, 36 colleges have rowing crews belonging to the Oxford University Rowing Clubs.

At Eton College (where rowing is taken very seriously), the title Captain of the Boats  is given to the captain of the Eight (the school's most important rowing crew).

The title Captain of Boats is also given to individuals in overall charge of rowing matters at Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

Page 67. " a Martyrs' Club pal of Toby's "

There are several dining clubs at the University of Oxford including the Bullingdon Club and the Piers Gaveston Society.

The Martyrs' Club is fictional.

Page 67. " Dr Johnson's well-known lines on "long-expected one-and-twenty" "
Dr Samuel Johnson (1772)
Public DomainPortrait of Dr Samuel Johnson (1772) - Credit: Joshua Reynolds

 Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), usually known just as Dr Johnson, was a poet, essayist, literary critic, editor, and lexicographer. He is probably best known for having compiled A Dictionary of the English Language, which was first published in 1755, and took nine years to complete.

Johnson's poem which begins 'LONG-EXPECTED one and twenty' was originally entitled 'Improviso On  A Young Heir's Coming Of Age'.

Click here for the full text.

Page 67. " "Lavish of your grandsire's guineas," says the Great Cham "


                                        Call the Betsies, Kates and Jennies,

                                        All the names that banish care;

                                        Lavish of your grandsire's guineas,

                                        Show the spirit of an heir.


Portrait of Tobias Smollett (c.1770)
Public DomainPortrait of Tobias Smollett (c.1770) - Credit: unknown

Dr Johnson was given the nickname the Great Cham of Literature by the Scottish poet and author Tobias George Smollett (1721-7771).

Great Cham is an archaic version of Great Khan. Khan was the name given to a Mongolian ruler and emperor, as in the title Genghis Khan.

In Christopher Marlowe's play The Jew of Malta, the character Barabas says, ''Twas sent me for a present from the Great Cham'.

Page 68. " And the question of wet versus dry, of course, is one on which indecision is no longer acceptable "
Edward Heath (a wet) in 1987
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeEdward Heath (a wet) in 1987 - Credit: Allan warren
Michael Howard (a dry) in 2010
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMichael Howard (a dry) in 2010 - Credit: altogetherfool

During the 1980s, individuals within the Conservative party who opposed Margaret Thatcher's more hard-line policies became known as wets. In public school slang, a wet was someone who was weak, feeble, or overly sentimental.

Consequently those who supported Thatcher's ideology became known as dries.

Well-known members of the wet camp included Edward Heath, Douglas Hurd and Norman St. John-Stevas; well-known members of the dry camp included Nigel Lawson, Norman Tebbit and Michael Howard.

Page 68. " believed that Enoch Powell was a socialist "
Enoch Powell in 1987
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeEnoch Powell in 1987 - Credit: Allan warren

 John Enoch Powell (1912-1998) was a British politician who was elected to the House of Commons first as a Conservative MP (1950-1974), and later as an Ulster Unionist MP (1974-1987). He served as Minister of Health under Harold Macmillan.

Enoch Powell is infamous for a speech delivered in April 1968 in which he condemned Commonwealth immigration to Britain. His stance was perceived by many to be deeply racist, and the speech earned itself the title 'the Rivers of Blood' speech. The actual words he used were, 'As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood'.

Page 68. " set fire to a volume of Hobbes "

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher, scientist, and historian. He is known for his writing on political philosophy, particularly Leviathan (1651) in which he called for absolute sovereign rule to counter the natural state of "war of all against all" in which life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".


Frontispiece of 'Leviathan' (1651)
Public DomainFrontispiece of 'Leviathan' (1651) - Credit: unknown
Page 72. " He went into his bathroom and opened the little turret dormer "
Hip roof dormer
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHip roof dormer - Credit: AlejandroLinaresGarcia
Eyebrow dormer
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeEyebrow dormer - Credit: Lienhard Schulz

A dormer is a projecting structure, built outwards from a sloping roof; a dormer window (sometimes known just as a dormer) is the window within such a structure.

Dormers come in a variety of shapes: for example, a gable dormer; a hip roof dormer, an eyebrow dormer, an arched dormer. A turret dormer is a dormer built in the form of a turret (a small tower).

Click here to see an image of a turret dormer.


Turret dormer flanked by arched dormers
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeTurret flanked by arched dormers - Credit: Henri Docquin
Page 72. " a real Louis Seize commode "
Rococo style commode (1760-65)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRococo style commode (1760-65) - Credit: 'Opal_Art_Seeker_4'
A commode made in 1766, representing the transition from Rococo to Neoclassicism
Public DomainA commode made in 1766, representing the transition from Rococo to Neoclassicism - Credit: Walters Art Museum

 Louis XVI was King of France between 1774 and 1791. Both he and his wife Marie Antoinette were executed during the French Revolution.

Louis Seize is used to describe architecture and furniture which is characteristic of Louis XVI's reign. The period is notable for a reaction against the frivolity of the Rococo style, and the adoption of Neo-classical styles based on the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome.

A commode is a low cabinet or chest of drawers, usually standing on high or low legs. Commodes were originally designed to reach the height of the dado rail.


French neo-classical commode (1770-1780)
Public DomainFrench neo-classical commode (1770-1780) - Credit: Daderot
Page 74. " to read an essay on Dryden "
Portrait of John Dryden
Public DomainPortrait of John Dryden - Credit: artist unknown

 John Dryden (1631-1700) was an English poet, translator, literary critic and playwright. He was appointed Poet Laureate by Charles II in 1668, but was dismissed from the post by William and Mary of Orange in 1688. His poems include 'The Hind and the Panther' (1687) and  'A Song for St. Cecilia's Day' (1687)

Page 74. " or translate an Anglo-Saxon riddle "

Anglo-Saxon riddles are verses from Anglo-Saxon literature which invite the listener or reader to guess what is being described. Many examples are to be found in the 10th century anthology of poetry known as the Exeter Book.

Riddle no. 23 from the Exeter Book, which appears in modern English translation below, may be interpreted as the description of either an onion or a penis.

                                              I am wonderful help to women.

                                              The hope of something to come. I harm

                                              No citizen except my slayer.

                                              Rooted I stand on a high bed.

                                              I am shaggy below. Sometimes the beautiful

                                              Peasant's daughter, an eager-armed

                                              Proud woman grabs my body,

                                              Rushes my red skin, holds me hard,

                                              Claims my head. The curly-haired

                                              Woman who catches me fast will feel

                                              Our meeting. Her eyes will be wet.



Page 75. " It was that song 'Every Breath You Take' "
Sting, lead singer of The Police (1977-1985)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSting, lead singer of The Police (1977-1983) - Credit: Helge Øverås

'Every Breath You Take' is a song recorded by The Police for their 1983 album Synchronicity.

Click here to see the lyrics.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

Page 75. " the bachelors' corridor "

Country houses sometimes had a special section known as the Bachelors' Wing to accommodate single men. This wing of the house might also be the location of men-only areas such as the billiard room and the smoking room.


Billiard room at Knightshayes Court, Devon
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBilliard room at Knightshayes Court, Devon - Credit: Lewis Clarke