Page 203. " my people owned slaves here when you were all running little shirt tail country stores "
Plantation slaves planting sweet potatoes
Public DomainPlantation slaves planting sweet potatoes - Credit: Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society

Prior to abolition in 1865, Mississippi was one of the biggest slave-holding states in the South, with Natchez being the site of America’s third largest slave market. The 1860 census shows 436,631 of Mississippi’s inhabitants — 55 per cent of the population — were slaves. These were concentrated in the hands of wealthy plantation owners; the majority of whites did not own human property. Amongst those that did, over half held fewer than five whilst the very rich held in excess of twenty. Slave ownership was thus a mark of high social standing. On large plantations, slaves were organised along hierarchical lines with house slaves representing the ‘elite’ and field workers the lowest echelon.   


Watch a rather misty-eyed documentary about the plantation system’s reliance of slavery and how this affected the 20th century South.


Poster advertising a slave auction
Public DomainPoster advertising a slave auction - Credit: Library of Congress

Page 203. " those damn patent medicines "
c.1890 advertisement for Hamlin's Wizard Oil
Public Domainc.1890 advertisement for Hamlin's Wizard Oil - Credit: Hughes Lithographers

Contrary to the name, patent medicines were generally concoctions which had never been patented and offered little by the way of medicinal benefit. They touted themselves as universal panaceas, effective against everything from cancer to ‘female complaints’. Ingredients were a blend of the exotic — snake oil and swamp root — and the addictive — opium, alcohol and cocaine. Their popularity began to wane in the early 20th century as cases of death and addiction received increasing publicity and, in 1936, they were made illegal.

Page 204. " I had my hand right on a bunch of poison oak. "
Poison oak
Creative Commons AttributionPoison oak - Credit: Travis S.

Atlantic poison oak, a shrub native to the Southeastern United States, has gained its noli me tangere reputation from the oily sap that resides in the plant’s every part. Called urushiol, this substance triggers an allergic reaction upon skin contact, with symptoms including redness, swelling and irritation. Intensity and duration varies from person to person and may last from between five to 12 days, with severe cases sometimes running to 30.

Page 210. " The sun was down beyond the Methodist church now "

The closest real-life counterpart to this church is the Oxford Methodist-Episcopal Church (now the Oxford University United Methodist Church) which was then located on Jackson Avenue.

Page 214. " I reckon you’ve got your money on the Yankees this year "
Baseball signed by the 1927 New York Yankees team
Creative Commons AttributionBaseball signed by the 1927 New York Yankees team - Credit: peterjr1961

The New York Yankees baseball team were formed in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles. After moving to New York in 1903 they became known as the New York Highlanders, assuming their current appellation in 1913. With players like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, they were effectively steamrollering the competition and fast developing a reputation as an unbeatable force. In 1927, they triumphed in 110 of 154 games and won the World Series, a victory they would replicate in 1928.

Page 214. " ‘The Pennant,’ he says. ‘Not anything in the League can beat them.’ "

The Pennant is the race at the end of the baseball season to secure the league championship. The winners of the American League championship go on to compete against those of the National League championship in the World Series.

Page 214. " I wouldn’t bet on any team that Ruth fellow played on "
Babe Ruth
Public DomainBabe Ruth - Credit: Irwin, La Broad, & Pudlin.
Babe Ruth's Baseball Hall of Fame Plaque (179 * 240)

George ‘Babe’ Ruth is hailed as the greatest American Major League baseball player history has ever seen. Setting out as a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, it was as a right fielder for the New York Yankees that he earned his reputation. In 1927 he broke records when he became the first player to score 60 home runs in one season. Though Jason’s supposition that he had peaked is not entirely inaccurate — his performance began to decline in the latter part of 1928 — his aversion to Babe Ruth is mainly predicated on his ancestry. At this time, Americans' resentment towards Germans was riding high: German-Americans’ cultural remove engendered distrust, whilst the Teutonic love of beer attracted the reprehension of prohibitionists. The main object of contention, though, was German neutrality during World War I. As both of Ruth's parents were German-American, Jason's distaste for the baseball legend is coloured by these factors.


Watch footage of Babe Ruth playing for the New York Yankees. 



Page 218. " What did the doctor say it was? Not smallpox, I hope. "

Smallpox patient
Public DomainSmallpox patient - Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention'
Smallpox is a contagious viral infection that has historically resulted in huge epidemics and large death tolls. Initial symptoms include fever, chills and muscular aches, quickly succeeded by a lumpy rash that develops into fluid-filled pustules. Fatality rates are high at 30-35 per cent; in some especially pernicious strains, the chances of survival are close to zero. Survivors are left badly scarred and complications can be severe. An act was introduced in 1813 to ensure that the American public had access to the smallpox vaccine but outbreaks continued to occur until the 1950s.

Page 218. " I read the paper "

The local newspaper of Oxford, on which Faulkner based Jefferson, is the Oxford Eagle. It was founded in 1865 as The Falcon, gained its current name in 1876, and was published every week Monday to Friday. Faulkner was well-represented in its pages both as a writer (it carried his early poems and short stories) and as a subject (his literary and social doings were all heavily reported). 

Page 220. " she started biting her mouth like it ought to have poisoned her, with all that red lead "

Red lipstick print
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRed lipstick print - Credit: Tania Saiz
Though the main ingredients in lipstick are wax, oil, alcohol and pigment, the lack of regulation surrounding cosmetics at this time meant that dangerous substances also crept in. White lead, which was used in the manufacture of popular red shades, was amongst the most harmful of these as long-term exposure to lead can damage the gastrointestinal, neuromuscular and neurological systems.

Page 224. " I read somewhere they’d fix men that way to give them women’s voices. "
Old tools and preparations for castration
Public DomainOld tools and preparations for castration - Credit: SergioMatabuena

Since the 16th century, pre-pubertal boys were castrated to prevent their voices from breaking and to ensure that they retained a high-pitched soprano, mezzo-soprano or contralto singing register. Known as castrati, these singers, with their flexible and sensuous voices, were a highly prized element of choral and opera singing. They survived in the Vatican and Roman churches until the 20th century.


Listen to a performance of Eugenio Terziani's Hostias et Preces by Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato trained in the old traditions ever to be recorded.