About the book:
The bestselling author of Slammerkin vividly brings to life the Beau Monde of late eighteenth-century England, turning the private drama of three celebrated Londoners into a robust, full-bodied portrait of a world on the brink of revolution.
In a time of looming war, of glittering spectacle and financial disasters, the wealthy liberals of the Whig Party work to topple a tyrannical prime minister and a lunatic king. Marriages and friendships stretch or break; political liaisons prove as dangerous as erotic ones; and everyone wears a mask. Will Eliza Farren, England’s leading comedic actress, gain entry to that elite circle that calls itself the World? Can Lord Derby, the inventor of the horse race that bears his name, endure public mockery of his long, unconsummated courtship of the actress? Will Anne Damer, a sculptor and rumored Sapphist, be the cause of Eliza’s fall from grace?
About the author:
Born in Ireland, EMMA DONOGHUE spent many years in England and now lives in Canada. She is the author of Slammerkin as well as two other novels, a collection of short stories, and a collection of fairy tales.
1. Who comprises the Beau Monde? What do the qualifications for admission appear to be? Is there a contemporary equivalent to the Beau Monde?
2. In what ways does the political climate portrayed in the novel affect the characters’ personal lives? What motivates the Whigs to call for reform? What limits are imposed on their open-mindedness? How does the presence of a monarchy appear to affect the characters’ psyches?
3. Page 134 features a scene in which Lord Derby discusses cockfights, horses, and his competitive nature in general. What does he reveal about his temperament?
4. What surprising details of eighteenth-century English life did you discover in these chapters?
5. How would you have responded to the epigram about Anne? On page 359, Anne mentions Fox and the Libel Bill. What is her perception of freedom of the press?
6. Discuss the parallels and contrasts between Anne and Eliza. Do they use their artistic gifts in similar ways? Are they equally capable of distinguishing artifice from truth?
7. Though Eliza had reservations about the expense of Bow Window House, her new address provided her with status as well as creature comforts. How does her attitude toward material gain compare to that of the novel”s wealthier characters? What political and cultural factors enhance their ability to sustain such wealth?
8. Eliza’s mother is decidedly difficult. But is she wise?
9. Chapter 7, "Écorché," features the scene in which Eliza and Anne visit Lord Derby’s ailing wife. On page 474, the Countess reveals that she had begged her husband for a divorce. Do you trust her account of their marriage? Is it true that he "kept himself and this woman horribly yoked together all these years out of sheer perversity"?
10. What do you believe is the true reason for the demise of Anne and Eliza’s friendship? Are they ever genuinely unmasked before one another? What does their kiss, in the scene on page 487, prove?
11. Why do you imagine Walpole encounters such despair in his final days?
12. Were you able to see through Anne’s insistence about her sexuality? Did you expect her friendship with Mary to evolve into something more?
13. Though a bit awkward at first, Lord Derby and Eliza seem supremely content with their marriage. What enabled them to maintain their alliance for so many years: Attraction? Stubbornness? Love?
14. Clearly, Lord Derby is a prestigious catch for Eliza. What comparable matches have made headlines in recent years? What does this indicate about the notion of "trophy wives" and their evolution over the past two centuries? Would you have made the same choices as Eliza?
15. Discuss the chapter titles. How does each of the definitions serve as a metaphor while the plot unfolds?
16. Which of Eliza’s roles best mirrors her life?
17. Anne, Eliza, Georgiana, and Mary were each offered a version of "protection" through marriage proposals. How did each one respond, and what were the consequences of those responses? What is the effect of Anne’s status as a widow? Does this give her more or less freedom than the other women in the novel?
18. What was your reaction to the author’s note and dramatis personae? Would you perceive the novel differently if it had not been inspired by true events?