THE LOST DUCHESS
Suggested Discussion Topics for Book Clubs and Reading Groups
1 Both Emme Fifield and Kit Doonan have dark secrets that they try to keep hidden from one another; how do these secrets affect the way they behave, and what is the impact of their eventual revelation?
2 At the beginning of the story, Emme is a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, used to living in palaces and keeping company with nobility. By the end she is much reduced in social status; does this enhance or diminish her in terms of character development? In what ways does she change as a result of the challenges she faces?
3 Throughout most of the story, the reader knows more than Emme and Kit do about the other’s motivations; how does this help sustain interest in the developing tensions between them?
4 There are many allusions to early Virginia as a Garden of Eden in The Lost Duchess. How does this faith in Virginia as a place of bounty and innocence affect the characters’ reaction to what they find at Roanoke? What are their ways of dealing with the undermining of their expectations and confronting a more brutal reality?
5 The true fate of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony in Virginia remains unknown. Does an awareness of this real historical mystery aid an appreciation of the fictional story? Is it easier to become immersed in what happens to Emme and Kit because they are not identifiable as known historical characters?
6 In what ways do Emme and Kit adhere to the beliefs of the Elizabethan era and how do they defy them? They are both unconventional in their own way; their lives are not typical of most English-folk at that time. Does this make them easier to identify with? Conversely, is their behaviour ever difficult to empathise with and, if so, why?
7 There are several scenes in The Lost Duchess that are potentially shocking or disturbing, such as Emme’s rape and the discovery of Howe’s mutilated body. What is the impact of these scenes and do they afford a greater insight into the characters?
8 How do the descriptions of the landscape, sea and weather aid engagement with the story? Are these passages effective in resonating with particular episodes in the plot? For example, does the depiction of the mist hanging over the river on the approach to Choanoke heighten the sense of uncertainty and threat at that juncture?
9 It is a fact that both Manteo and Wanchese were taken to England, familiarised with English ways, and returned to their homeland, yet each developed opposing attitudes toward the English. Are these differences understandable as shown in the story, and how intriguing are these two characters as they are portrayed?
10 There is an ambiguity about Simon Ferdinando that is never completely resolved. Emme takes an early dislike to him and he appears to be intent on sabotaging the voyage, but then these impressions are turned on their head. How does the friction between Emme and Ferdinando affect her relationship with Kit?
11 The backdrop to The Lost Duchess is one of the earliest encounters between the Old World and the New. How does this conflict of culture impact on the fortunes of the colony in the story, and how much of this is due to mistrust and misunderstanding?
12 There are many obstacles to the blossoming of the relationship between Emme and Kit. Which is most significant, and how are these difficulties overcome?
13 To what extent is the fate of the colony bound up with the personality of John White and his deficiencies as a leader as they appear in the story? Conversely, White exhibits qualities that might be considered remarkable; what are these, and does he ever elicit sympathy and admiration?
14 What are the parallels between the issues at the heart of The Lost Duchess and those that make the headlines today? In what ways are the ordeals faced by Emme and Kit unique, and what makes them timeless?