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This reading group guide forSummerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winterincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
After Prudence’s desperate marriage and move to London, sisters Rowena and Victoria fear they have lost their beloved friend forever. Guilt-ridden and remorseful, Rowena seeks comfort from a daring flyboy and suddenly finds herself embracing the most dangerous activity the world has ever seen. Her younger sister Victoria, in a desperate attempt to prove herself, defies her family and her illness to make her own dream occupation as a botanist come true . . . but she instead finds herself lured into a dangerous and controversial society dedicated to the fight for women’s suffrage.
As England and the world step closer to conflict, the three young women flout their family, their upbringing and their heritage to seize a modern future of their own making.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter picks up a few months after the final scene of Summerset Abbey. In the opening chapters, we are swiftly updated on the lives of our three heroines: Victoria is more determined than ever to prove that she’s no longer a child as she follows in her father’s footsteps to pursue a career as a botanist; Rowena seems as gloomy and listless as the gray winter skies, given that she hasn’t seen Jon since they shared a passionate kiss at the end of Summerset Abbey; and Prudence is living in squalor, trying to find a way to love her husband as much as he loves her. How does each of the circumstances illustrated in the early pages of the novel correspond to your expectations for how these women’s lives would be impacted by the surprising turn of events at the end of Summerset Abbey?
2. Victoria claims that she signed her article for The Botanist’s Quarterly as “V. Buxton” rather than “Victoria” because she wants to be known for her own merits rather than those of her father, and because it sounds more “impressive” (p. 11). Were you surprised that Victoria never actually intended to mask her gender behind her pseudonym? Is Victoria too optimistic about the state of gender equality—perhaps due to her liberal upbringing—or is she just too naïve?
3. Aunt Charlotte can be considered the villain of Summerset Abbey, and yet she’s a much softer character in this second novel in the series now that Prudence has been cast out of Summerset. Did you anticipate this change in Lady Summerset, or did you expect her to be just as conniving in Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter? Or do you feel that she’s just as manipulative as she was in Summerset Abbey, but in a subtler way?
4. Did you expect Prudence’s life with Andrew to be so squalid, especially following the letter that Susie describes in the opening chapter, or did you see through her Prudence’s lies from the outset? Can you relate to Prudence’s desire to paint a completely different picture of her life to her friends rather than revealing the truth?
5. Consider Mr. Herbert’s argument as to why he refuses to hire a woman to write for The Botanist’s Quarterly. Each of his arguments represents a widespread belief held by many at the time. Which of these arguments would most enrage you were it used against you or someone you know today?
6. Rowena’s family history proves a major obstacle in her quest for happiness with Jon. Considering George’s position in the Wells family in the wake of his father’s death, as well as the rigid division of social classes at the time, do you find George’s unwavering resentment of Rowena due to the actions of her uncle extreme, or do you understand his reasons for wanting to keep her away from Jon?
7. Victoria’s illness clearly affects the way others view and treat her. Consider how both Victoria’s asthma and her position as the youngest sister in her family motivate her decisions in this novel. When she can’t help but shed tears following her rejection by the editor of The Botanist’s Quarterly, she wonders how she can expect anyone to “take her seriously” if she keeps “acting like a child” (p. 67). Do you see her illness and her role in her family as main motivations behind her desire to become involved in the women’s suffrage movement, given her pressing desire to prove that she’s an independent adult?
8. Muriel calls the housekeeping lessons that she gives Prudence “lessons in slavery and servitude” (p. 69). Did this statement surprise you? Do you find it to be indicative of the changing attitudes toward women’s rights at the time, or do you think that this attitude is specific to the particularly sharp-tongued Muriel?
9. Describe Martha as she’s reflected in Victoria’s awestruck and impressionable gaze, and then describe her objectively. Do you find her manipulative, or simply misguided by her overzealous passion for women’s rights? Do you think that Prudence’s desire to become involved in the movement is driven in some way by her desire to be more like Martha, who seems so bold, confident, and in control of her life?
10. Consider Kit’s reaction to the announcement of the (faux) engagement between Sebastian and Rowena. “Shall I never see a bachelor of three score again?” he laments (p. 146). Were you surprised by his outrage, or, given Kit’s own muddled romantic status, does his anger at the prospect of losing one of his best friends to an institution he claims to despise ring true? Can you relate to Kit’s fear of losing a friendship over a relationship?
11. Rowena’s affection for Jon seems inextricably intertwined with her passion for flying. Do you think that Rowena would have the same feelings for Jon if he wasn’t also her gateway to flying planes?
12. Additionally, what is it about piloting airplanes that has Rowena so enamored, and how are those reasons different from or similar to Victoria’s own passion for the women’s suffrage movement? In what way are these women’s passions—and the reasons behind them—indicative of the limitations placed on them by their social statuses, and by society at large?
13. Were you shocked by the severity of Victoria’s sentence given her role in Mary’s crime? How did Victoria evolve while serving her sentence? Do you see this experience as formative as it was traumatizing for Victoria? In what way?
14. Additionally, how do you feel about Martha’s abandonment of Victoria in the wake of the crime? Did this color your impression of Martha, or is this in line with the type of behavior that you’d expect from her? Why?
15. Given the tenor of Kit and Victoria’s friendship in Summerset Abbey, did you expect romantic feelings to ever develop between them? Are you excited for the possibility of a romantic rapport between the two of them, or would you prefer that their relationship remain platonic? Why?
16. Summerset Abbey: Spring Awakening is the third and final installment in the Summerset Abbey trilogy. Speculate on what the future holds for our three heroines, as well as the male leads. What do you anticipate will likely happen in the final tome? If you could write Summerset Abbey: Spring Awakening, how would you conclude these women’s stories?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. T. J. Brown drew quite a bit of inspiration for the scenes in which Victoria languishes in prison from personal accounts of suffragettes who were imprisoned (sometimes more than once!) for the cause. Visit the website http://www.alicesuf fragette.co.uk/audio.html#prisonnotes to listen to recordings of suffragette Alice Hawkins’s own letters and notes from prison.
2. Prudence’s storyline centers on her struggle to settle into her new life as a homemaker and wife to an aspiring veterinarian, and one of her biggest obstacles is cooking. Create a dish like one Prudence would have had to learn from Muriel to serve to your book group, like meat pies or scones. Do you relate to her struggles in the kitchen after attempting these recipes?
3. Host a viewing party of the PBS series Downton Abbey or a similar series such as Upstairs Downstairs. If the Summerset Abbey novels were made into a film or television series, who would you cast, and why? Which role would you most like to play?
4. Learn more about author T. J. Brown and the women of Summerset by visiting her website: http://www.tjbrown books.com