2017 Reading List

2017 Reading Schedule

January  – The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties by Fanny Burney
Moderated by Mary

February – Growing Older with Jane Austen by Maggie Lane
Moderated by Nina

March – The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith & Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
Moderated by Linda and Diana

April – Belle by Paula Byrne
Moderated by Phyliss

May – Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Moderated by  Gracia Fay

June – Founding Mothers, the Women who Raised our Nation by Cokie Roberts
Moderated by Barbara

July – Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Moderated by Cathy

August No Meeting

September – History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
Moderated by Priscilla

October – Mr. Collins Considered (aka Jane Austen and the Interplay of Character) by Ivor Morris
Moderated by Luisa

November – Hornblower and the Hotspur, Vol. 3 by C.S. Forester
Moderated by Roberta


Jane Austen Birthday Celebration – Details forthcoming.


Discussion Questions – March 2017

This month’s meeting will be held this coming Saturday, March 18 from 11:30-1:30 pm, at the E.P. Foster Library. Linda & Diana will lead the discussion on two books: The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith and Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth.

The Vicar of Wakefield
1. Critics disagree as to whether to consider this novel a satire. While some see it as an earnest expression of sentimentality, others point to Goldsmith’s use of irony to defend it as a satire. How did it strike you?
2. One could easily argue that the string of calamities in the novel’s second half is exploitative and unrealistic. Many have likened it to The Book of Job. Did the plot seem plausible or contrived to you? If Jane Austen was writing the book, how might she have written this story differently? (She mentions the book in Emma, Miss Smith telling Emma that Mr. Martins has read that book, at least, if not Romance of the Forest.)
3. This book was immensely popular in its day, but hotly debated. Some thought it a perfect morality tale, others thought it ridiculous. What books currently can you think of which share this kind of dual notoriety?
4. Being an Irishman, and writing about the English, does Goldsmith reflect a noticeable bias in this book? As the son and grandson of Anglican clergymen, he shared a childhood similar to Austen’s. He was described by his friends as being the polar opposite of her in temperament, though.  Many writers think of their books and characters as their children. How do you think Goldsmith felt about his characters?

Castle Rackrent
1. The narrator, Thady, has been analyzed several ways. What do you think the author’s view and intent was concerning him? Was he the simple, honest, loyal servant he claimed to be? Or was he manipulating the situations and weaknesses of his employers so as to promote his own family?
2. Like Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye, the book is primarily narrated by a main character. But Edgeworth interrupts this with commentary to explain terminology, laws, etc. Does this improve the book or is it distracting?
3. “’The cracked looking-glass of a servant’” was what Stephen Dedalus called Irish art, but this particular mirror held up to the nature of Ireland is wielded by a woman who was no servant, but whose hybridity–born in England of Irish stock–gives her special claims to knowledge and power.”—David Richter.  “Thinking of Castle Rackrent as an Irish slave narrative helps illuminate Edgeworth’s motivations as writer and historian: she records Thady’s tale as instruction for an English readership just as American editors of slave narratives did for their northern readership, she mediates the narrative with an editorial presence, she establishes complex characterizations of both the peasantry and the Ascendancy class in the figures of Thady and Sir Condy, and she advocates a revised treatment of the English-ruled tenant system in Ireland. In this way, Edgeworth emerges as neither an apologist nor an abolitionist, as various critics have deemed her but, rather, as a reformist of a system that she understands to be profoundly flawed and unfair. Edgeworth pinpoints the fundamental injustice of the Ascendancy through the often comic voice of one of its oppressed, rendering the narrative both more powerfully authentic and less directly confrontational to its English readership than it might be in another form, and therefore ultimately more effective in conveying her reservations about the Ascendancy.”—Kate Cochran.  Did you detect Edgeworth identifying with anyone in the book, championing the British or the Irish? Or did she seem to be detached?
4. Jane Austen’s relationship with LaFoy was complicated by his family’s problems in Ireland. How might she have viewed this book, considering her own relative poverty and limitations within the class system of England? 

Discussion Questions – The Wanderer

Thank you Mary for such thoughtful points to discuss!

The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties by Fanny Burney

This novel is very long and complex and so I have had some problems in structuring questions for our discussion. What I’ve come up with here are more like premises followed by questions.

1. There are a large number of social and philosophical points which are explored in varying degrees, e.g., racism questions, the rights of a husband over a runaway wife, an intensive discussion of atheism, women’s rights, snobbery in the upper class, middle-class insularity and xenophobia, doubt or suspicion of the existence of an afterlife, family duty/obligation, social mores and stereotypes. Pick one and discourse a bit on how it was used in the novel.

2. The main character, Ellis/Juliet is completely closed off, and the reader has no more idea than those around her of what she’s thinking and what her real background and family are—or even why she feels she has to withhold her identity—until the secret comes out and the other characters find out who/what she is. This makes it difficult for us as readers to sympathize or identify with her. She doesn’t even have much to say—making it even harder. How do you think it would have influenced either the character of Juliet, or the advancement of the plot if the reader was let into the secret closer to the beginning?

3. The aim of Burney is pretty clearly to show the difficulties a gentlewoman alone, with no resources to fall back on, faces in the world (or at least the world of England in the 18th century. Although she is described as having great propriety, she is surrounded by people who know something to her discredit and they seem sure to show up at times when they can do the most damage. Do you find the constant coincidences hamper the flow, or do they contribute to the overall progression of the novel?

4. Many if not most of the subsidiary characters are not admirable people. Please choose one (or more) from the following list to describe their characteristics, their relationship to Juliet and how significant they are to the maturing of the plot? Gabriella, the Bishop, the Marchioness, Lady Aurora Granville, Lord Melbury, Lord Denmeath, Elinor Joddrel, Selina, Mrs. Maple, Mrs. Ireton, Mr. Ireton, Sir Jasper Harrington, Giles Arbe, Miss Arbe, Miss Blydel, Admiral Powell, Ambroise, the pilot

5. The contemporary critic and professor Juliet McMaster compares Burney’s The Wanderer, or Female Difficulties with Austen’s Mansfield Park. She notes the similarity of Juliet and Fanny in their tastes and in their appreciation of the beauties of nature. These two novels are also similar in their darker tone and the series of trials and persecutions endured by the two women which call for great fortitude. What are some other similarities between the characters of Juliet and Fanny? What similarities are there in the plots of the two novels?

6. McMaster also compares the heroes, Albert Harleigh and Edmund Bertram, both staunchly moral, both winning the love of the heroine, but she is unsure that either fully deserves that love. She sees the “happy” endings as muted– and possibly not so happy after all. Do you agree?

Please note that our February meeting has met with scheduling difficulties, and our usual location is not available. Alternative locations are being discussed and will be posted here, and on the email list. 

The Romance of the Forest – Discussion Questions

From this months moderator, Linda:

This Saturday’s meeting (11:30, at the E.P. Foster Library,) will focus on The Romance of the Forest, by Ann Radcliffe. The following are some discussion points you might consider, as well as two of Jane’s writings concerning her contemporaries’ work.
  • There is some depth to many of Radcliffe’s characters in this novel, and a few exhibit some recognizable personality and emotional problems. How might Jane have elaborated on these if she had written the book?
  • After reading The Romance of the Forest, why do you think Jane chose this book to reference in Emma?
  • Could Miss Smith be her version of Adeline, and Emma the antithesis? Emma has an importunate suitor as well. Could he have been her idea of the horrifying suitor?What other characters might have been inspired byTRotF?
  • How did the situation with the physician and surgeon strike you? Did you feel this might be an intentional attempt at humor? Might Radcliffe have been making some point about medicine in her day? (Were you hoping the surgeon might kill the Marquis?)
  • In Emma, Jane shows a rare instance of violence, though small, in the assault of the gypsies and the girls’ rescue by way of Frank Churchill. Could this be a reflection of Mrs. Radcliffe’s frequent menaces to innocence? Or was Jane attempting to depict such an event with more reality?
  • Do you think young women of that day found it easy to identify with Adeline?
  • Do the men behave as men do, reasoning and plotting as men might in real life?
  • Did any of you happen to count how many times poor Adeline fainted?
  • Did you enjoy the following insight of Mrs. Radcliffe’s?
    • “…Truth is often perverted by education. While the refined Europeans boast a standard of honour, and a sublimity of virtue, which often leads them from pleasure to misery, and from nature to error, the simple, uninformed American follows the impulse of his heart, and obeys the inspiration of wisdom.”
Although Jane read and enjoyed romances and gothic novels, in her case the entertainment and horror they provided seemed to be different from what their authors intended!
In regard to such works, Jane wrote the following:
“I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. – No – I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way; And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”
(1 April 1816, to James Stanier Clarke, an enthusiastic admirer of romances).
Another interesting reflection appears in her Plan of a Novel, which can be read here: