Allusions in Literature

As most of you know, I am reading The Woman in White (a real page turner, by the way). The book was originally published in its entirety in 1860. My copy is the Barnes & Noble Classics edition so it includes a lot of extra scholarly information: essays, timeline, footnotes, etc.

As I was reading the book last night, I would glance to the bottom of the page every now and then to see what little tidbit was being explained to me. Of course, any one of us could read this book without additional informational aids and enjoy it, but it is nice to know  that jog-trot acquaintances are habitual, routine acquaintances, not close friends [77].

However, there was a footnote to a reference about the Siren song. I thought this an easy one, especially, if you were educated in a Western school (I’ve read the Odyssey countless times when I was in school/college) and wondered why the editor would feel it necessary to include it.

It got me thinking about my academic past. I remembered that my fantastic senior year English teacher in high school emphasized how important mythical and biblical allusions are in literature and that everyone should know the basics. When I went off to college, I studied creative writing and classics. My focus in the classics department was Greek mythology and gender in society of ancient Greece (for three semesters, I even translated sections of the Old Testament in to English). I am the opposite of a religious person, but I think it very important to know stories from the Bible. I really enjoy academics and continued to take additional classes about southeast Asian religions and Islam while an undergrad.

I tried not to be a snob about the whole Siren song footnote and thought that I was just incredibly lucky in my high school schooling and in my own choices when I was a college student. I must admit that it’s been a number of years since I read up on any myths, but I really need to to keep my mind sharp. We can’t always know everything, but wouldn’t it be nice to really understand what’s happening in Faulkner’s  novels.

  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton Originally published in 1942, many people consider her book to be a good intro to classical myth. I hold the same opinion and think it’s a must have. This book has been around for decades and  you can probably find an incredibly cheap copy.
  • Theoi Greek Mythology I’ve only perused this sight for a few minutes but it seems to be jam-packed with tons of info and pictures. It also looks like the webmaster has taken great care in organizing all of the information.
  • Allusion in Prose and Poetry Some brief, yet, important examples of Biblical illusions in literature. At the top, there is also a great image of Jonah being swallowed by a whale.


  1. No, not nitpicky at all! Thanks for catching my mistype; you’re 110% correct. I’ve corrected it.

    On a side note, Jonah & the Whale was one of the first sections I translated in college. The word used throughout the Old Testament passage, however, is the word for FISH not WHALE.

  2. Perhaps this belongs on your other post, but you are the second person I’ve run into reading a Wilkie Collins book (the other blogger was reading The Moonstone). I have since downloaded a free e-version of it, and it is sitting on my computer waiting for me to pluck up the courage to begin it. Still, Collins is supposed to be superb. Let me know how you enjoy this one!

    1. Perfect place to comment! I’m really enjoying it and although it is a long book, it really moves quickly. There is no waiting around; Collins throws you into the mystery right away. I’ll write a post about it when I’m finished, but I’m curious to know what others think of it.

  3. It’s not exactly the same, but I found the annotated Lolita to be incredibly interesting and informative. Nabokov was certainly playing around a lot with his imagery and references. Highly recommended if you like Nabokov.

    1. I’ll have to search for the annotated version. Last year, I went to a lecture on ‘Lolita.’ It had been years since I had read it and the lecture has really invigorated me to re-read this Nabokov classic.

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