Page 76. " Death cancels all engagements. "

This is perhaps the most famous quotation in the novel. Not only is it comical in itself, it caricatures the era’s attitude to social politeness.


Similar topsy-turvy politeness was used to comic effect by several English novelists of the age. For example, P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster would find himself engaged because he was too polite to inform the lady in question of his lack of desire to wed.  

Page 77. " rooms of the Junta "
The Junta is thought to have been inspired by the Myrmidon Club, a dining society named for the Myrmidons in Greek Mythology. This mythological tribe were descended from Myrmidon, a king and son of Zeus. They were fierce warriors, commanded by Achilles in the Iliad.



Max Beerbohm was the secretary of the Myrmidon Club. Formed in 1865, the dining club’s membership consisted of selected male undergraduates of Merton College. One of the club’s early members was Lord Randolph Churchill, who was a student at Merton College from 1867 to 1870.


The establishment of this sort of exclusive dining society became especially prevalent among the university’s students during the 1800s, and a few of these societies continue today.

Page 77. " next door but one to the Mitre "

The Mitre is an historic public house in Oxford. It has been serving beer since 1261, and famous frequenters of the pub have included Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and Vivien Leigh (1913-1967).

The Mitre
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe Mitre - Credit: M.L. Costa


Google Map


Page 79. " A Herculean figure filled the doorway. "

The ancient figure of Hercules is famed for his strength.

Page 79. " the Rhodes Scholar "

Often considered the world’s most prestigious scholarship, the Rhodes Scholarship was set up to enable gifted students from the United States, the British Colonies and Germany to study at the University of Oxford.  Today, it is usually associated with American beneficiaries, including Bill Clinton.


The scholarships are awarded and administered by a trust established under the terms of the will of pioneer and diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902). Rhodes was born in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, but he made his fortune in the mines of South Africa, where he also pursued a political career and worked to extend the reach of the British Empire.

Page 83. " And so die all rebels against King George! "

The footnote in this edition of the novel suggests that this comment refers to George III (1738-1820), who was on the English throne during the American War of Independence (1775-1783).


However, the footnote makes its assertion on the basis that Edward VII (1841-1910), rather than a George, was reigning at the time of the publication of Zulieka Dobson. In fact, the novel was published in 1911; Edward VII had died in the first days of May 1910.


Beerbohm may have written the book prior to Edward VII’s death, but it seems likely that the editorial process would have taken the succession into consideration. The monarch in 1911 was another King George: George V (1865-1936).

Page 85. " Madcap Marraby, as they called him in B.N.C. "
Brasenose College
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBrasenose College - Credit: Ozeye

B.N.C. is a nickname for Brasenose College. It is a somewhat common practice for the colleges to be known by abbreviated or affectionate names. For example, St. Edmund’s Hall is known as “Teddy Hall,” and Christ Church is sometimes called “The House.”


Brasenose, which supposedly gained its name from a bronze door knocker shaped like a nose, was founded in 1509. It boasts the oldest boat club still existence in the world.


Page 89. " You must forgive me for saying that the noise you have just made around this table was very like to the noise made on the verge of the Boer War. "

The First Anglo-Boer War was fought from 1880 to 1881, but the war mentioned here is more likely the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Both wars were fought between the British Empire and the nation of Afrikaners, or Boers, over territory and sovereignty in South Africa.

Page 98. " none other than Frédéric Chopin "
Carlyle's House in London
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumCarlyle's House in London - Credit: M.L. Costa

The Polish composer Frédéric Chopin(1810-1849) is well known for his piano music, and is sometimes referred to as “the poet of the piano.”


One piano he played can be found in the former London home of the Scottish satirical writer, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). Now called “Carlyle’s House,” the Chelsea home, which was the setting of many gatherings of prominent Victorian figures, is open as a house museum.