Page 180. " Byron! - he would be all forgotten to-day if he had lived to be a florid old gentleman with iron-grey whiskers, writing very long, very able letters to “The Times” about the Repeal of the Corn Laws. "

The Romantic poet, George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), commonly known as Lord Byron, was a strong advocate of social reform. Some of his poems focused on political issues or political figures; examples of such poems are “Song for the Luddites” (1816), “The Intellectual Eunuch Castlereagh (1818), “Wellington: The Best of Cut-Throats” (1819), and “The Landlords’ Interest” (1823).  


Yet Lord Byron is best remembered for his decadent ways. Famously described by one of his lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828), as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Byron was notorious for accumulating debts and sexual partners.

Page 180. " Queen Victoria's invincible prejudice against him "

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) ascended to the throne in 1837. Her reign followed the Hanoverian kings, perceived by the public as morally corrupt and overly lavish. By contrast Queen Victoria, with the encouragement of her consort Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819-1861), positioned herself and her family as the embodiment of moral middle-class values.


Thus, Victoria would have had little time for Lord Byron’s promiscuity and lavishness. She also condemned the moral laxity of her own son and heir, the future King Edward VII (1841-1910), the second of her nine children.


Page 180. " Shelley would have been a poet to the last. But how dull, how very dull, would have been the poetry of his middle age! "
The Shelley Memorial in University College
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Shelley Memorial in University College - Credit: Jonathan Bowen

A friend of Lord Byron and John Keats (1795-1821), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was another of the prominent Romantic poets.


Shelley was educated at Eton and University College, Oxford. He was expelled from the University for writing a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism (1811). Nevertheless, University College later erected the Shelley Memorial within its walls to honour their disgraced but brilliant student.


In his personal life, Shelley scandalized society by leaving his first wife and child to live with, and then marry, Mary Godwin (1797-1851), the young daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and William Godwin (1756-1836). 


Shelley drowned in a storm shortly before his thirtieth birthday.





Page 182. " St. George, slaying the Dragon "

The Christian martyr, Saint George (c.275-303) is thought to have been a Roman soldier from Syria.  Nevertheless, he is the patron saint of England, and is usually depicted slaying a dragon.


The legend has George saving a princess who was being offered as a sacrifice to the dragon.  In gratitude, the local people converted to Christianity.  There is a close parallel in the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

Page 186. " In the quadrangle of the Old Schools he glanced round at the familiar labels, blue and gold, over the iron-studded doors, - Schola Theologiae et Antiquae Philosophiae; Museum Arundelianum; Schola Musicae. And Bibliotheca Bodleiana - he paused there "

This passage describes the inner quadrangle of the main building of the Bodleian Library. Known by students as “The Bod,” it is the principal library of the University of Oxford. The library was named for its founder, Thomas Bodley (1545-1613), who had attended Magdalen College. He also became a fellow at Merton College.


The ghost of Thomas Bodley is said to watch over the library of Merton College. Tired students repeatedly claim that they see Bodley’s kindly spirit passing through the bookshelves to guard the books he endowed to the college.



Page 186. " the old vast horse-chestnut that is called Bishop Heber's tree. "
Bishop Heber
Public DomainBishop Heber

Reginald Heber (1783-1826) was Bishop of Culcutta in India.  He attended Brasenose College, and in 1804 was elected fellow at All Souls’ College, a college with no undergraduate students.



Page 188. " She followed the example of Lot's wife "

In the Book of Genesis, Lot and his family are told by God to leave the sinful city of Sodom and not look back. But Lot’s wife disobediently turns back to look, and is turned into a pillar of salt.


Lot's Wife
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLot's Wife - Credit: Yair Haklai
Page 191. " the world is always against a woman "

This theme runs through several arguably “essential” works of literature, especially from the nineteenth and early twentieth century.


In Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen, the fortunes and fates of women is the chief subject; through the tale of Colonel Brandon’s ruined lost love and fallen ward, society’s harsh judgment of women is particularly highlighted. Austen revisited this idea in several of her novels: another clear example is Pride and Prejudice (1813), in which the older Bennet sisters risk personal ruin due to the indiscretion of the youngest, Lydia.


Through the character of Nancy in Oliver Twist (1837-1839), Charles Dickens (1812-1870) analyses society’s ill judgment of seemingly immoral women.


The theme was explored internationally in The Scarlet Letter (1850) by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), by French novelist Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) in Madame Bovary (1856), and by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) in Anna Karenina (1873-1877).


Perhaps the best case of this literary theme is Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented (1891) by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).