Check It Out Category: Literary

Book Discussion Questions: The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

House on the Strand book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The House on the Strand
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Page Count: 298
Genre: Literary fantasy, Gothic fiction, Time travel
Tone: Mysterious, Atmospheric, Suspenseful

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2014 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  Were you caught up in the book right away? Did you find it hard to follow?

2.  How did you feel about the narrative moving back and forth between time periods? Several critics have commented on the immense skill with which du Maurier keeps tension on both levels. Would you agree?

3.  Which time period /storyline did you find more interesting?

4.  What was your opinion of Richard, the narrator?

5.  Being the straight-laced man that he was, why did Richard try Magnus’ drug in the first place?

6.  How would you characterize the relationship between Magnus and Richard?

7.  What differences were there in the ways Magnus and Richard approached the experiments?

8.  Why do you think Roger was used as the link/guide/alter ego?

9.  Why did John Willis corroborate Richard’s testimony at the inquest?

10.  How important to the story is Vita? Why so?

•  Did you like her? Feel sorry for her? Were you increasingly annoyed by/with her as Dick was?
•  How would you characterize Richard and Vita’s relationship? Why is this so?
•  Why didn’t Richard tell Vita about the drug, especially after she became suspicious of him having an affair and acting so erratically?
•  In Latin, “Vita” translates as “life”. Do you think this was an intentional choice for du Maurier? What might this understanding add?

11.  Did you trust Dr. Powell? Was he right to release Richard when he did?

12.  What was the allure for Richard to keep going back to the past?

13.  Would you agree that this is a “story of addiction”? If so, was he addicted to the drug itself or to the stories he witnessed?

14. Was Richard actually time-traveling or merely hallucinating?

•  Were you satisfied with Dr. Powell’s theories at the end of the book?
•  If it were the drug, why did Magnus and Richard travel back to same period?

15.  Would you say the tone of the story is approving? marveling? objective?

16.  What did you think of the end of the book? Was it satisfying to you?

•  What really happened to Richard?
•  Du Maurier once wrote, “What about the hero of The House on the Strand? What did it mean when he dropped the telephone at the end of the book? I don’t really know, but I rather think he was going to be paralysed for life. Don’t you?” Does her statement surprise you?

17.  This book was written in 1969. Is the subject still topical? Would you recommend this book to others?

18.  How do du Maurier’s descriptions deepen and reinforce the themes in the novel?

19.  Growing up, du Maurier disliked the expectations and limitations of being a girl. How well does she write the male perspective? What other attitudes toward society are revealed in her story and characters?

20.  Du Maurier’s only disappointment with The House on the Strand was that a film version was not made. It was her favorite of all her books, and she had written it almost as a film script. Do you think it a story that could be successfully adapted as a movie or miniseries?

Other Resources

Daphne du Maurier author site
author interview from Kilmarth, a central location in The House on the Strand
BBC article:  “Walking in du Maurier’s Footsteps”
“The Cornwall of Daphne du Maurier”, originally published in British Heritage magazine

If you liked The House on the Strand, try…

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Distant Hours book coverThe Thirteenth Tale book coverOutlander book cover

Book Discussion Questions: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Page Count: 362
Genre: Classic literature, Love stories, Social commentary
Tone: Bittersweet, Moving, Nostalgic, Satirical

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2014 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  What do you make of Newland Archer? Is a hero, a victim, or something in between?

2.  Were his motivations selfless or selfish?

3.  Did Newland truly love either May or Ellen?

4.  Why do you think Wharton made Newland the lead character in her novel? How might the story be different if told from the Countess Olenska’s point of view? Or from May’s?

5.  For which character did you feel the strongest, either positively or negatively? Did your opinions evolve as the story progressed?

6.  Would Newland have been happier with Ellen?

7.  How might the story have been different if Newland and Ellen had embarked on a full affair, rather than a fairly conservative flirtation?

8.  Would you have liked to know more about Newland and May’s courtship? What might those details have revealed about the characters, about their marriage?

9.  What does Newland see in May at the beginning of the novel? What does he see in Ellen? What does each woman represent for him? What does each woman see in Newland?

10.  Some critics have described May as one of the great villains of American literature. Does that characterization surprise you? Is it a fair assessment? In what ways might she be considered villainous?

11.  Can you attach any symbolic significance to May’s skill with a bow and arrow? What does this side of her reveal about her character, about her relationship with Newland?

12.  How does the novel portray marriage? How does it portray passion and sexuality? Are the ideas surrounding each applied differently to the male and female characters?

13.  Is this a classic tale of star-crossed lovers, of love unrequited—or is it something else, something more? Is it a story of an affair or of a marriage?

14.  Some critics have called this novel a story of identity. Would you agree? What do you think it has to say about identity? How might this be a story about belonging?

15.  How much of our identity comes from the life we are born into versus the life we create for ourselves? How do you see this question working in the lives and identities of the characters in this novel?

16.  What other characters made an impression on you? How significantly did the peripheral characters influence the lives of Newland, May, and Ellen?

17.  Think about the title of this novel. Is it meant to be taken literally—was it truly an innocent time? Or is the title ironic? Who among these characters could be described as innocent?

18.  Wharton often expressed her dislike of modernity, her unhappiness with the hustle and bustle and lack of courtesy in modern life. Is her novel a piece of nostalgia for the “good old days”? In what ways might it be considered satire?

19.  Upon its publication, The Age of Innocence became an immediate sensation. Why do you think that is?

20.  Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, but only after some controversy where the prize was taken from its original recipient—Sinclair Lewis for Main Street (a biting social satire of small-town America). The Board of Trustees said Wharton’s novel “presented the wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” Was their assessment correct?

21.  It’s a novel about the very wealthy. Could a similar story be told about the very poor? What elements would be different? Which would be the same?

22.  It is certainly a novel of its time and place. Would you also consider it a timeless story? Do its themes resonate today?

23.  The novel ends with Newland deciding not to meet with Ellen later in life. Why do you think he made this decision? Did you want him to see her? What would you have done if you were him?

Other Resources
Reader’s Guide from the Big Read
The life and legacy of Edith Wharton
Painting believed to have inspired the title of Wharton’s novel
Edith Wharton/Sinclair Lewis Pulitzer Prize controversy
Roger Ebert’s review of Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film adaptation

If you liked The Age of Innocence, try…

The Innocents by Francesca Segal
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

The Innocents book cover    The Magnificent Ambersons book coverMansfield Park book cover

Poetry: Sound the Deep Waters

Sound the Deep Waters book coverSpring — finally! — and with it, a renewed appreciation for beauty and promise. Tickle your eyes and ears with the soul-stirring Sound the Deep Waters: Women’s Romantic Poetry in the Victorian Age. Editor Pamela Norris has collected verse from both familiar wordsmiths (the Brontë sisters, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti) and those equally deserving but less renown. Each poem in this slim keepsake volume is mirrored in a lush illustration of Pre-Raphaelite painting. Grouped into timeless themes which celebrate the loves, delights, dreams, and sorrows of life, the lyrical phrases speak to kindred spirits as well as to quiet contemplation. Snuggle into a window seat and discover modern truths in classic words and vibrant portraits.

Book Discussion Questions: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Great Gatsby book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Page Count: 172
Genre: Modern classic
Tone: Lyrical, atmospheric

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2014 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Rarely does anyone write a book hoping it will be deconstructed in a lit classroom.  Authors write to provoke thought and feeling and to create a story that will speak to readers. So, in those respects, how was this reading experience for you?

2. Who is in the running for the most tragic character(s)?

3. What distinguishes Gatsby and Tom? Would you argue they are more alike or different? What about Daisy and Myrtle? Do you find yourself more accepting of certain characters’ behavior? Are we supposed to?

4. What about the book is relevant to our post-Great Recession world?

5. How would you characterize the tone of the novel? Fun? Sad? Idyllic? Angry? Something else?

6. Have you seen the latest film adaptation? Reportedly, the budget for Luhrmann’s film was over $120 million. Is that fitting? Ironic? What did you think of the film? Did you see the Robert Redford version? Which did you like better? Are the films similar in tone?

7.    Robert Redford explains that he wanted to play Gatsby because at the time he had not before “played a desperate man.” Would you agree this is a defining characteristic for Gatsby?

8. In his 1931 essay “Echoes of the Jazz Age,” Fitzgerald wrote, “It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.” How are these perceptions reflected in The Great Gatsby?

9. Did you find any humor in the story?

10. One word often mentioned in regards to The Great Gatsby is “romantic”. What do you think?

11. What do you know of Fitzgerald’s life? In what ways could The Great Gatsby be considered autobiographical? What might explain our fascination with this era and/or the Fitzgeralds in particular?

12. The Great Gatsby’s title was not Fitzgerald’s choice and never his favorite. How would the book’s reception be changed if it were instead called Trimalchio in West Egg, The High-Bouncing Lover, Gold-Hatted Gatsby, or Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires?

13. Critic Thomas C. Foster argues that this book isn’t about Gatsby. It’s about watching, seeing, and blindness (Twenty Five Books That Shaped America). What do you think he means?

14. Who is the protagonist of the book? Is it Gatsby? Nick?

15. How would you characterize Nick Carraway? Do you trust his perceptions? Is Nick Carroway an outsider, or is he one of them? Is this consistent throughout the story? How does this affect us as readers?

16. Could Daisy and Gatsby have had a happily-ever-after?

17. Is Daisy more a symbol than a character? What does her statement, “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool” reveal about Daisy?

18. “[Gatsby’s] death preserves his greatness, and justifies the title of his story, a title that is anything but ironic.” (Harold Bloom, Jay Gatsby) Yet, other sources specifically point out the irony. What do you think?

19. In your experience, which of the other characters made the greatest impression on this reading:  Jordan, Tom, Myrtle, Wilson, Meyer, Mr. Gatz?

20. Is The Great Gatsby an indictment of the American Dream? Or is Fitzgerald championing it?

21. In what ways are illusion and disillusionment prevalent in the novel?

22. Would this have worked just as well (or even better) as a short story?

23. What did you notice about the language? The dialogue?

24. Gertrude Stein bestowed the label the Lost Generation on the group of American expatriate artists of the ‘20s. What qualities does this bring to mind? How does it inform the characters of The Great Gatsby?

25. Would you say that this is a fable of the 1920s? Are the characters merely caricatures? Either way, does this add to or detract from the story?

26. Do any of the characters learn a lesson? Change for the better or for the worse?

27. What are we to take away from the ending, especially considering who survives the book? Is it better not to dream? To be a Tom? What does the book have to say about being great? About being successful?

28. The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, more than four years before the Wall Street crash. Why might this affect our understanding of the story and themes? Would it mean as much if it were published in the 1930s?

29. Why is this book so often taught to teenagers? What does it have to say to us at that age? How might your experience with the story differ as an adult?

30. Final words:  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” With what thoughts or feelings does this leave the reader?

Other Resources
The Big Read reading group guide
Simon and Schuster reading group guide
Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library reading group guide
F. Scott Fitzgerald documentary
NPR interview with Baz Luhrmann
Reading The Great Gatsby as an adult
24 Things You Might Not Know about The Great Gatsby
7 Life Lessons from The Great Gatsby

If you liked The Great Gatsby, try…

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Z book cover     Rules of Civility book cover

 

 

 

 

 

Book Discussion Questions: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

turn of the screw book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Turn of the Screw
Author: Henry James
Page Count: 134
Genre: Literary horror
Tone: Ambiguous, leisurely, literary

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2014 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. The job: to tend to two orphans in a country mansion full of rarely-seen servants with absolutely no oversight from the children’s remaining family. Do you think this job was unusual for the Victorian era? Why did the governess take the job? Would you have taken the job?

2. Is the Governess the first person to her position or were there others before her?

3. How would you describe the Governess as a person? Do you think she cared for the children?

4. What did you think of the children’s uncle? Do you think he cared for the children? Why do you think he never wanted to be contacted about their conduct or progress?

5. There are several unnamed characters in this book – the Governess and the Uncle. Why do you think Henry James never named them? Did you notice the characters were unnamed? What power does a name have?

6. Who is Mrs. Grose? Do the children trust her? Does the Governess trust her? Does Mrs. Grose trust the Governess?

7. The Governess has an ideal start with Flora and then Miles comes home from boarding school for the summer. A letter appears shortly after from Miles’ school saying he was expelled. Why was he expelled? Did the Governess talk to Miles about his expulsion? Why or why not? Would you have talked to Miles about it?

8. Did the Governess write Miles’ uncle about his expulsion? Why or why not?

9. What are other examples of people being vague or unnecessarily mysterious in The Turn of the Screw?

10. Who is Mr. Quint? Who is Miss Jessel? How were they connected to one another? How did the Governess first come across knowledge of Quint and Jessel?

11. Do you think the ghosts of Quint and Jessel were real?

12. Do you think the children saw the ghosts of Quint and Jeseel?

13. Was the Governess a heroic woman trying to protect the children from evil influence…or do you think she was hallucinating and losing her mind?

14. Why do you think the governess was so slow to write the children’s uncle? Did she ever actually write him? If she did, what happened to the letter?

15. Did the children write their uncle? What happened to their letters? Is there a reasonable explanation for why the Governess did not post them?

16. Did you find the children, Miles and Flora, to be lovely or sinister?

17. Did the children ever turn on the Governess? If so, how and why?

18. Miles asks the Governess when he is going back to school. It is here that we start to see his personality. What is Miles like? How does the Governess respond to his inquiries?

19. Corruption is a word often used by the Governess. What do you think this word means to her and to this story?

20. The Governess and Mrs. Grose find Flora playing outside. The Governess swears she sees the ghost of Miss Jessel across a stream from them. Can Flora see the ghost? What happens to Flora and the Governess’ relationship after this sighting?

21. Where does Mrs. Grose take Flora?

22. What happens between Miles and the Governess while Mrs. Grose and Flora are gone?

23. Do you think Miles’ death was an accident? Do you think it could have been averted?

24. What are words you would use to describe The Turn of the Screw? What genre is it?

25. What makes a good suspense novel? What makes a good horror novel? Did The Turn of the Screw make a good horror or suspense novel?

26. What is the meaning of the title?

27. Have you seen (and would you recommend) any of the movies based on The Turn of the Screw?

Other Resources

Random House book discussion questions
Goodreads reviews
The New Yorker review
SparkNotes for the book
Wikipedia page for the book

If you liked The Turn of the Screw, try…

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen

the Woman in Black movie     the haunting of hill house book coverthe white people and other weird stories book cover