Reading Group Guide
1. Have you read any of Edith Wharton’s books? How has reading this book altered your perception of her or her work? If you’ve not read any of her novels, has this book made you want to? Why or why not?
2. Lucretia Jones, Edith’s mother, is stern with her husband and her daughter. What aspects of Edith’s life and personality in this book might possibly be a result of Lucretia’s parenting? Does Edith put any effort into overcoming her mother’s influence?
3. How might it have been possible for Edith and Teddy to reach some sort of equilibrium in their marriage? Was it poisoned from the beginning? Why do you think so?
4. Edith ignores her friends’ warnings about Morton. Even as evidence mounts that he has a lot of skeletons in his closet, Edith continues to ignore the facts. What is the root of her denial? What are other aspects of her life that elicit denial? How else does denial wreak havoc in her life?
5. If you had been Edith’s friend, would you have warned her against getting involved with Morton? Would knowing her reaction toward Anna influence your decision? Would you try to intervene if one of your close friends today were to fall for someone he or she shouldn’t?
6. Why doesn’t Anna like Morton? What are some selfish reasons behind her dislike? What are the more justifiable reasons? What do you think of him?
7. What is Edith hoping to gain from the affair with Morton? Does she succeed? What about Morton? What do you think he’s after? In what ways did Edith benefit from the affair? In what ways did it have a negative impact?
8. At what point in the novel is the affair between Edith and Morton over? When does Edith finally realize it?
9. Fame is a recurring theme in the book. When Anna sails on the Amerika, she’s surprised that no one recognizes the name of her famous employer. When Edith hears any news of her books’ success, she is buoyed. But fame always comes at a price. What are the consequences of fame in this book?
10. Anna says that Edith mustn’t have had any choice, that the affair with Morton was inevitable. When looking back at unpleasant truths or impetuous behavior, it’s sometimes a comfort to believe we had no choice in the matter. What do you think of Anna’s assessment of Edith’s actions? What are some situations in the book where someone truly didn’t have a choice in his or her fate?
11. If Anna and Edith’s friendship were to dissolve, who has more to lose? Why? Which of the two would be more likely to thrive?
12. How do you think the story would have played out if communication were more instant, similar to the way it is today? What if, instead of waiting for a letter, Edith was anticipating a text message? How has modern communication affected romance?
13. There are several moments in the novel where characters could take charge of their own lives and pursue happiness. Edith could have left Teddy. Anna could have confessed her love to Teddy. What stopped them?
14. The quote at the beginning of the introduction suggests that the closest friendships are the ones most likely to be compromised. Do you agree? What are some experiences you’ve had with close friendships that were neglected?