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This reading group guide forThe Woman from Parisincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Santa Montefiore. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The presence of a striking and mysterious blond woman among the mourners at Lord George Frampton’s funeral surprises his family. When the young woman, Phaedra Chancellor, reveals that she is in fact Lord Frampton’s daughter and that she has inherited the valuable Frampton suite of sapphires, surprise gives way to shock. But Phaedra’s effervescent nature soon wins over the Frampton family. Lady Antoinette Frampton finds in Phaedra the daughter she never had, while David, the new Lord Frampton, is utterly charmed as Phaedra manages to thaw the heart of Margaret, the Dowager Lady Frampton. But Roberta, the wife of Lord Frampton’s second son, is the only one not convinced and sets out to discover the truth about who Phaedra really is.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. When the Framptons finally recover from the shock of learning that Phaedra is George’s daughter, most of the family members come to accept her. How does Phaedra win them over? Were you surprised that she was so readily accepted? How would you have reacted to such news?
2. After George’s death, Antoinette realizes “you were everything to me, George, but I was not everything to you.” How does this realization act as a catalyst for change in Antoinette’s life?
3. The Framptons are sure that Margaret will frighten Phaedra, yet the two women find common ground in their grief. Why does Phaedra see through Margaret’s façade in a way that her family cannot? What contributes to Margaret’s irritable nature? How does her nature change over the course of the novel?
4. Discuss David and Phaedra’s relationship. Why are they drawn to each other? Why doesn’t Antoinette say anything when she realizes that David has fallen for Phaedra?
5. Why is Roberta the only Frampton who doesn’t take Phaedra at face value? What would have happened if Phaedra hadn’t inherited the Frampton sapphires? Did you sympathize with Roberta’s suspicions? Or did you think she was merely being spiteful?
6. What motivates Julius? What does he expect from Phaedra? If he truly admired and respected George, how could he act as he did toward George’s family?
7. Antoinette says of the folly: “Someone quite clearly built it with love. It’s only right that we should look after it.” How does this statement apply more broadly to the narrative? In what ways do the characters “look after” each other out of love and duty?
8. Antoinette and Margaret both learn that their husbands had secret relationships. How does each woman handle this knowledge? What enables each of them to move past this betrayal?
9. Discuss the reasons that Phaedra lies to the Framptons about being George’s daughter. Did you think lying to protect the family was justified? Did Phaedra’s longing to belong to a family excuse her continued deception? What do you think would have happened if the Framptons knew the truth in the first place? In your opinion, is lying ever justified?
10. What is your impression of George? How did learning about him through the lens of other characters influence your overall impression? What were his priorities and how did they affect Antoinette, his children, and Phaedra? Do you think he would have changed his will if he had not died so suddenly?
11. In the epilogue, the characters are brought together by work on the estate. At what other points in the novel do outdoor settings act as a source of catharsis or peace? In your own life, when have you found solace in nature?
12. Discuss the theme of forgiveness. What enables the characters to forgive and find peace? Were you surprised at their capacity for forgiveness? What actions would you personally have found most difficult to forgive?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Antoinette finds great comfort in her garden. If your group is meeting during a warmer month, consider holding your meeting outside in a garden. For a local listing of public gardens near you, visit www.garden.org/public_gardens/.
2. Reread the section when Phaedra first comes across the neglected folly on the Frampton estate. If you could build a folly, what would it look like? What would you keep in your own personal folly? Discuss what your dream folly would look like and what it would be used for with your book club members. To learn more about this Eighteenth century architectural tradition, visit www.britainexpress.com/History/follies.htm. To browse pictures of famous follies, like the gigantic pineapple building at Dunmore Park built by John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, visit robgilhooly.photoshelter.com/gallery/G0000z0EFg3AroP0.
3. Have you or your book club members read other novels by Santa Montefiore? If so, extend your discussion to the common themes in her work. To learn more about her other novels and to submit your own question to Santa Montefiore, visit www.santamontefiore.co.uk.
A Conversation with Santa Montefiore
1. What was your inspiration for The Woman from Paris? Did you begin with a specific character or plot idea?
I started with the house! I fell in love with a beautiful Jacobean house near where I live in the country and worked the plot around it.
2. In the “Biography” section on your website, www.santamontefiore.co.uk, you write: “We have all had moments that we would give anything to live again.” What is one moment you wish you could relive?
Without doubt I would return to 1989 and relive the year I spent in Argentina as a nineteen-year-old. Inspired by the beauty of the pampa and the colourful people I met there, I wrote Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree, my first novel. I still have loads of friends there and return when I can. In my heart I feel it is my second home!
3. Phaedra deceives the Frampton family in the hopes of protecting them from the truth. Do you think good intentions ever justify a lie?
I think lying is acceptable in certain circumstances, one of those being when the truth would cause terrible pain. The trouble is you always risk getting found out and being exposed! Perhaps if Phaedra had lied and disappeared afterwards, she might have got away with it. Her troubles began when she allowed herself to become part of the Frampton family and of course when she fell in love with David. There was no way it was all going to end well!
4. The novel stresses the necessity of forgiveness. Why did you want to emphasize this theme in The Woman from Paris? Do you find it easy to practice forgiveness in your own life?
I think forgiveness is the hardest thing to find in our hearts, and yet it is the only way to diffuse our suffering. By holding onto resentment we hold onto pain. When we truly forgive we allow love to burn away all negativity. Love frees us from suffering, but goodness, I’ve had times in my life where I knew the theory and yet my heart remained as hard as stone. Sometimes, time is the only thing that softens the heart, which is why I think old people often make peace as they near the end of their lives. They grow wise and see the bigger picture.
5. Where is your favorite place to ski?
My favourite place to ski will always be Klosters in Switzerland, where I base the ski scenes in my novel. My great-grandmother, who was Swiss, used to go there with her family, way back, and her descendents have called it home ever since!
6. Did you model the beautiful setting of Fairfield Park after a particular place?
Yes, I went to visit friends in Hampshire who have the most beautiful Jacobean house, set in spectacular grounds. I have always loved houses, especially old ones, and I adore those summer houses built on hills or beside lakes, they’re very romantic. I used the house but made it my own, as the real one is not positioned by a lake nor does it have a hill with an ornamental summer house (folly) on the top. The houses in my novels are characters, too!
7. Your husband, Simon Sebag Montefiore, is also a successful, internationally bestselling author. Do you ever edit or read each other’s early drafts? How do you influence each other as writers?
Absolutely, we help each other all the time. We consider ourselves a business and share everything. He helps me with plots. Usually, I come up with the idea and then we sit over a bottle of wine discussing it and working out all the possible scenarios. It’s fun! I read the first draft of his novels, but not his history books. I can’t help with those. The novels I do feel qualified to critique. His new one, which comes out next year, is gripping and I really didn’t have to do much!
8. The Woman from Paris is your eleventh novel. Was there any element of writing this novel that differed from your previous novels? How you do you think you have grown as a writer from your first novel, Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree?
I think the key to success is loving what you do, whatever field you are in. I adore writing. I can’t look out of a window without feeling the urge to describe what I’m seeing. I think that enthusiasm is infectious. I have learnt a lot in the twenty years since I started writing my first novel, not only technically but from experience. The older I get, the wiser I become and the better I understand human nature. Writing about characters is much more interesting if those characters are complex. I think plot is important and it’s fun to keep the reader guessing, but I think it’s well drawn characters that keep the reader coming back for more. Is this novel different from the others? I think every one is different, like children, but I love them all equally!
9. What was the last book you read?
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I found it moving, touching and funny. A very heavy subject told lightly.
10. What are you working on now?
I’m editing the one for next year. It’s based in Ireland and is a mystery, love story with lots of twists and turns. I have loved writing about Connemara, it’s very wild and romantic! I shall start my fourteenth novel straight after.
If you would like Santa Montefiore to talk to your reading group, you can contact her on Facebook or at Santa.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Born in England in 1970, Santa Montefiore grew up in Hampshire. She is married to historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha, in London. Visit her at SantaMontefiore.co.uk.