Book Club Guide: An Untitled Lady

Story

  • The story starts like a typical Regency romantic story, with Madeline arriving at a great lord’s estate. When did you first get the idea that it wasn’t going to continue down the standard path?
  • There are quite a few fathers in the novel–the old earl, Heywood (Ellspeth’s father), Jem, Richard Moore, and a few mothers–the countess, Jem’s wife. How do you think each views his or her role as parent? Are there other characters who play a parental role?
  • Who changed the most during the course of the story? Why? Do you have a favorite character; was there one who rubbed you the wrong way?
  • At the picnic, why do you think Maddie reacts so strongly to seeing Wetherby and Kitty together? Do her actions seem reasonable? Is she proud of herself after? What does she think will happen next?
  • Think of all the dinner scenes: the first night at the castle, at Nash’s (upstairs and down), at Heywood’s, at Jem’s, at the Malbanks’s, and more. Which would you rather attend?
  • In addition to chapters, the novel is separated into 3 parts: Part One ends when Maddie is about to leave the Wetherby estate; Part Two ends at the end of the lawn party; Part Three ends the book. Did you notice those divisions as you read the book? Why do you think the author put them in?
  • Where do you think the title of the novel comes from?

History

  • One of the reasons the protests during the summer of 1819, and especially the one on 16th August, were so memorable is that they were reported by the newspapers. But like today, not everyone then saw the events the same way: Reporters, commentators, and even eyewitnesses disagreed on who started the fight, what happened next, and even how many people were injured or killed. After reading An Untitled Lady, how many points of view can you argue about what really happened?
  • Most protests don’t get lots of media attention. Have you ever taken part in a mass protest or rally? Did the way it was reported match your experience? Have you ever observed a protest or rally in person or via the media? How do you think the people “on the other side” (inside or outside) thought and felt?
  • In the course of the story, both Maddie and Nash assault a member of the peerage. In 1819, attacking the person of a Lord was a “hanging offense:” It could easily result in death or banishment from England. If a peer attacked someone of lesser rank, the crime was rarely prosecuted–and it was prosecuted in the House of Lords, which usually favored the Lord. Partly in response, the US was founded on “equal justice for all.” Have Americans lived up to that goal?
  • The events of 16th August were later named “Peterloo,” a coinage based on the location, St. Peter’s Square, and the 1815 battle that ended the Napoleonic war, Waterloo. What connections or contrasts do you think the people who used the term Peterloo were trying to make?
  • Like poetry? After hearing of the events of 16th August, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote “The Masque of Anarchy,” considered a great example of political poetry as well as one of the first calls in English in favor of the method of non-violence. Here’s a reading on YouTube.

 Find a list of sources for these questions at nickypenttila.com

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  1. Pingback: 2016 Peterloo remembrance an act of creation - Nicky Penttila

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