This reading group guide for Stolen Beauty includes an 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.Topics & Questions for Discussion
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1. During Adele’s life, there is an ongoing debate about which is more essential, beauty in art, or truth in art. What do you believe the primary aim of art should be? Why? Are beauty and/or truth integral to artistic works? Why, or why not?
2. Do you think Adele loved Gustav Klimt, or just the lifestyle he represented? Discuss.
3. In retaliation to his critics, Klimt paints Adele as the heroic Jewish widow Judith. Do you think his response is effective? Why or why not? On page 78, Klimt claims, “There’s no solution in words. . . . The only answer is art.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree/disagree?
4. Throughout the book, sex and death are connected visually and in the characters’ minds. Find some passages that illustrate this connection. Why do you think this is a significant motif for Adele or Maria?
5. Both Maria and Adele must contend with the issue of faithfulness in marriage. What are the different messages the two stories provide on this topic? Which do you believe is more important, fidelity or freedom?
6. Another parallel in Maria and Adele’s marriages is the presence of double standards. How is each woman held to a different standard than her husband? What are the similarities and differences between the roles of women during these two generations? How do they compare to expectations for women today?
7. While reading, did you find yourself identifying more with Adele or with Maria? In what ways did you connect to them?
8. Discuss the role of national and religious identity in the book. What does it mean to Adele to be Jewish? What does it mean to her to be Viennese? How do these characteristics relate to each other? Does Adele’s relation to being Viennese or Jewish change for her over the course of the book?
9. In pages 214 to 216, Maria’s mother asks her if her children will be Jewish, and whether they will speak German, reflecting anxieties she holds about life in the Jewish diaspora. How does the book depict the impact of emigration on Maria’s family? In what ways do Maria’s relationships with Judaism and Vienna parallel or diverge from Adele’s?
10. Was there anything that surprised you about the book’s depiction of the Nazi annexation of Austria?
11. Maria consistently describes Ferdinand as devoted to his wife Adele, claiming “my uncle had never stopped loving her” (page 216). Where do you see the presence or absence of this adoration in the chapters from Adele’s perspective?
12. Maria admires her aunt Adele and strives to live up to her example. Are there figures in your family or life whom you feel driven to emulate, or who you fear you fall short of?Enhance Your Book Club
1. As a group, watch the movie The Woman in Gold
, starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann. Afterward, discuss as group how the film’s depiction of Maria compares with Stolen Beauty
. Are there aspects of the book that you wish had been portrayed in the movie, or vice versa?
2. For more information about Adele Bloch-Bauer and Gustav Klimt’s portraits of her, consider reading The Lady in Gold
by Anne-Marie O’Connor, upon which the movie The Woman in Gold
was based. Compare and contrast O’Connor’s nonfiction with Laurie Lico Albanese’s novelization of the Bloch-Bauers’ lives. What are the strengths and benefits of fictionalizing their stories?
3. A number of artistic movements and artists are referred to in Stolen Beauty
, some in passing and some more deeply considered. As a group, look up the artwork of some of the artists and movements mentioned: the Impressionists, the Symbolists, the Secessionists, the Expressionists, Gustav Klimt, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Rudolf von Alt, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, Carl Moll, Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, or any others. Discuss your favorites. For any artists or movements discussed in the book that you weren’t familiar with, was their artwork as you envisioned while reading? How, or how not?