Classics Easter Egg Hunt
By Megan Powell, Magali Prel and Hannah Spruce
In the midst of the Easter holidays in April 2023, the classics teams wanted to present some of their favourite Easter eggs found in classic literature! In many classical works, authors were inspired and influenced by the works of previous writers; writing novels riddled with references and allusions from other texts. Intertextuality of the sort enables us to get an insight into what the author was reading and inspired by at the time, what sort of literature they likely consulted during their free time and what genre of novel they were into.
Writers also used allusions as a stylistic device to contextualise a story by referring it to another famous novel to relate more closely to their reader. From Jane Austen to Alexandre Dumas, these authors used allusions to present their personality through the novel as a way for us to understand what their philosophies and opinions were on the world.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo is an adventure novel by French writer Alexandre Dumas and narrates the story of a man who seeks revenge after escaping from prison and deals with themes such as vengeance, justice and forgiveness. Dumas was influenced by many authors, and this novel is packed with religious, literary and historical references. In this piece, we will comment on the references to Lord Byron and Shakespeare.
In the novel, a character named Countess G refers to the Count as Lord Ruthven and calls him as such behind his back. Lord Ruthven is the main character in Polidori’s novel ‘The Vampyre’, Polidori being one of Byron’s friends. Interestingly, Lord Ruthven is a shameless portrait of Byron, and Byron himself used the pseudonym Lord Ruthven when he was travelling. In addition, Countess G herself is believed not to be a fictional character but rather real-life Teresa Contessa Guiccioli who wrote a biography about Byron and slept with him. Byron himself called her Countess G in his personal journals.
Dumas uses references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet by comparing Prince Hamlet’s legendary quest for revenge to Dantés’ own: “Foul deeds will rise, as Hamlet says, and sometimes fly through the air like a will-o’-the-wisp, but these are flames that light us a moment to deceive”.
Happy Days by Samuel Beckett
Despite the inherent absurdity of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, the play is littered with literary references which represent a forgotten time in the wake of a dystopian reality. The erratic nature of Winnie’s manner of speech means that these references are often overlooked on the first reading. However, inference into the text allows for a much richer analysis of Winnie and the situation she finds herself in. Winnie is buried up to her waist in a mound and her unfurling optimism despite her restrictive life is complex and rooted in her fear of the future. Beckett references Romeo and Juliet, Milton, Shakespeare and poet Thomas Gray in Winnie’s dialogue which represents her desire to recall the past despite the futility of the act. By referencing Paradise Lost by Milton, Beckett is illustrating Winnie’s fixation with death and the idea of a forgotten and lost civilisation. Similarly, recollections of Romeo and Juliet are linked to death and wasted potential. Winnie remembers only fragments of these lines but the lines she does remember are indicative of her fragile mental state. For example, Winnie recalls the famous line ‘woe is me’ from Hamlet. Both Winnie and Hamlet are paralysed by indecision and the impending fear of death. Beckett combines the traditional with the absurd in his construction of Happy Days which purposefully leaves the audience to question the world Beckett has created and the hopeless state of Winnie and Willie.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a short classic that satirises the gothic genre which was expanding in popularity during her time of writing. This classic includes staple Austen themes of courtly love, however, it does differ to her usual style as she ventures into satire. Many elements of the gothic are recognisable in Northanger Abbey from the setting to the weather. This aids the plot but also allows the reader to ascertain Austen’s perspective on the gothic genre. The main Easter egg that can be explicitly seen in this novel is the direct reference to Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. This is an important novel in the story, which Catherine Moorland often refers to proclaiming herself as the gothic heroine. Radcliffe pioneered gothic fiction with her novel in 1794. Austen is mocking the genre and repurposing the gothic conventions in a way that is most associated with her form, crossing the gothic boundaries in her plot. Austen is seen to rationalise the irrationality of the genre, providing a useful context to the development of the gothic.